Olexii Kuchanskyi: It is not the “Ukrainian issue”

A letter from a civil body on activism and cultural production at war

vzhvzhvzhvzhvzhvzhvzhvzhvzhvzhvzhvzhvzhvzhvzh* — what is that? Sirens? Grads? Russian air forces? Oh, it is a refrigerator. Awakening, the third day of Russian invasion all over Ukraine. 3 hours of sleep.
The first day was with real sirens.*Uuuuuuuuummmmmm* — “I have no shelters nearby. I better stay home”. Tried calling my partner, who was in another city. *U-u-u-u-u-u – no answer – u-u-u*.
*Vzhvzhvzhvzhvzh*. Next two secs: I saw a Russian airplane from the window. Third sec: explosion on the horizon. Vibrating walls. Frustrated, went to bed as nothing had happened. Still keeping my phone. *U-u-u*. “Hello…”. Huh.
On the very day of the invasion, I intended to clarify the topic of my future article that I was preparing for a Russian magazine on contemporary art and theory.  The issue was going to be focused on decoloniality. How ironic.
When leaving in a hurry…
(Have to answer queer refugees from Ukraine to link them to comrades from Europe).
When leaving in a hurry, I took a random book from my table, at least something. Not one on decoloniality. I won’t discuss that text now, but there is an observation to be mentioned. What if there is something else, which is a significant feature of decoloniality itself, besides (not instead of) just the arguments and concepts from books?
Maybe decoloniality is not necessarily related to good libraries of great institutions. Such institutions in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg remain open now. Well, a whole lot is different in Kyiv, Odesa and Donetsk. There are explosions (not of texts on the decolonial turn, but literally explosions) in each of these Ukrainian cities. Just like everything and everybody else, universities, theory, museums, artists and art are under fire. Maybe decoloniality is related to that one thing a person experiences in her/his/their current condition(s). A condition(s) with which this person engages without preaching to the choir about the same cliches of „inclusivity.“ Why does that trick with cliches always work?
(My sweetheart is also awake. S/he spent a night in the metro that currently serves as a shelter. I ask,
“How are you?” Answer: “I’m fi… Oh, sirens, again”)
There is probably something fundamentally wrong with all those “progressive” institutions, new institutionalities, etc., if they are so easily captured by Putinism – a very specific form of imperialism that plays an essential role in the global capitalist order. Many of such cultural institutions live in harmony with Putinism and the global art and theory market. Therefore, it is not surprising they cannot even react to the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine.
I mean not only Russian institutions, but all of those, who pretend that art and culture are not a global market and a giant network of practices with a long history of acting transversely as artistic, theoretic and political praxis. Those institutions pretend that art and culture are powerless entertainment, just as La Biennale di Venezia did. This type of domesticated actors discuss the “anthropocene” yet ignore Russian militants capturing the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Yeah, it is unoriginal but this silence is our sirens, explosions, shots and cries. I can hardly see the difference between conformism and “decolonisation of imagination” isolated from its own political and social conditions. Probably, this isolation is the main ingredient of Putinist cultural production – it is generally accepted by the global community and exactly that is a crucial issue. It also seems to be the most effective way to keep critical discourses being…
*Vzhvzhvzhvzhvzhvzhvzh* — what is that? A car. Huh.
… to keep critical discourses being useless fetishes.
Now, there is no possibility for me to work on the “clear” concepts, so implications and metaphors are my only means. You see, there are no libraries here, only one book, sirens and explosions. By Putinism, I mean that strange kind of huge non-human war technology predicated on the merger of legal neopatriarchy, racist violence, neoliberalist capitalism, political isolationism, disinformation and the latest surveillance equipment. Gas, oil, weapons and human flesh to die for nonsense automated war, heteronormative fascism to reproduce human resources. Even that fascist himself is just a fleshy component of that mechanism. His pseudo historical narratives of the “great Russian empire” is a click of a weapon — it is load. Human rights are ignored. Putinism is the dark trajectory of posthumanism in a condition of global capitalism and “carbon democracies“ (A concept by political theorist Timothy Mitchel).
I capitalized “Putinism” not in order to honor, but because I believe it will end soon and will never happen again. It is a name, not a notion. No one can foresee what this non-human technology may do for peoples worldwide, for the planet. Because it may even do “what anyone has ever done in history,” as that fascist said, suggesting a nuclear attack.
Nuclear power plants and radioactive waste storage sites are at risk. This is not paranoia. Russian militants have already jeopardized them.
The war in Ukraine is not the “Ukrainian issue”. “Planetary” is not an accurate concept here, but it fits here much better than in announcements of projects of institutions that ignore war initiated and led by the same sources of their “criticism”.
And yet many people from the Russian Federation have been fighting against Putinism not only nowadays but every day for a long time as cultural and political activists, artists, curators, researchers, volunteers, trade union activists, feminist media activists, environmentalists and many others with uncompromising political overviews, many of those I know personally. Just as many of those who do this on a regular basis in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Georgia, and all the indigenous peoples of RF. Putinism may be seen as a network of social, political, administrative, economic and affective (based on fear and frustration) relations. The dreadful international crime that started in the early morning, Feb 24, which was illustrated with my own experience above, might become not only a huge tragedy, but also an opportunity to consolidate in order to rearrange those relations.
It is absolutely inconceivable, but it seems to be the time when binary opposition is useful. See the difference, neither Russians—Ukrainians nor Russia—NATO. The opposing sides are Putinism, that is force that kills civilians and the environment in order to kill more, — and a transnational network of those, who believe in futures, which are alternatives to this creepy destructive alienated war technology.
That only book I’ve taken is The Right to Truth: Conversations on Art and Feminism, edited by Oksana Bryukhovetska and Lesia Kulchynska, published in Kyiv, 2019. In one of the conversations, artist and activist Dana Kavelina said that empathy is a means of struggle. It is a weapon, which cannot be used by Putinism. And in current conditions, it seems to be no less critical than cerebral books and con…
Siren. I should go. Not really a good time for writing.
Briefly from the shelter:
Solidarity is a way to neutralize Putinism as technology.
But there is no solidarity without a clear understanding of which side you are on.
Cultural criticists, leftists, feminists, eco-activists worldwide, those who read this, it is not the “Ukrainian issue”. It is the issue of fighting global capitalism, patriarchy and saving the environment.

Edited by Tamara Khasanova.

This text was going to be published on TransitoryWhite, but some parts of the platform’s staff are temporarily unavailable due to the war in Ukraine.
This text can be republished open access and online.

Olexii Kuchanskyi is an independent researcher, art & queer writer, whose main interests lie in the experimental moving image art, its ecological impact, and critical cultures of nature. S/he was born in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. S/he lives in Kyiv. His/her works have been published in Prostory, Your Art, TransitoryWhite, Political Critique, East-European Film Bulletin, Arts of Working Class, Moscow Art Magazine, and others.