Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Power Vertical #2: The Universality of Culture - Totalitarianism or Emancipation?

02 November 2018, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm


A talk by Keti Chukhrov

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Masha Mileeva and Michał Murawski


IAS Common Ground
Ground floor, South Wing, UCL
United Kingdom

Culture has long been accused of not living up to expectations of novelty in art, science and theory. Modernism and the avant-garde treated culture as a civilizational homeostasis and an obstacle to any dynamic artistic process, development of thought, or revolutionary political agency.

In Freud’s programmatic text “Civilization and its Discontents” (1930), culture is defined as a universalizing institution of constraint, which inhibits desire, psychical drives and sexuality. In post-structuralism (Lacan, Deleuze, Guattari, Derrida, Foucault) a ferocious criticism of culture is complemented with the critique of language and its metaphysical dimension; culture is regarded as an obstacle hampering the access to the unthinkable, the ineffable, to the Real - i.e. access to something truly material that can only produce the conditions for political or creative subversion.

In post and de-colonial critique, culture as a universal category is seen as a tool of colonial and class domination dispersing into a multiplicity of subcultures and identitarian habits. This counter-universalist critique is, interestingly, perfectly inscribed into the quasi-democratic illusions of both critical theory and the pop-industry.

In Soviet aesthetics, philosophy or psychology (E. Ilyenkov, L. Vygotsky, A. Leontyev) we encounter a converse treatment of both the issue of culture as well as of language. Culture is seen as a generic form of labor that deals with timeless and non-localized human activity; it is possessed of the capability to exceed any confrontation between the old and the new. The talk will inquire into the paradoxes of such an idealist perspective on cultural universality.

Keti Chukhrov is an associate professor at the Department of Сultural Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow. In 2012-2017 she has been the head of Theory and Research department at the National Center of Contemporary Art, Moscow. Chukhrov has authored numerous texts on art theory, culture, politics, and philosophy. Her postdoctoral dissertation dealt with the anthropology and ontology of performativity. Her full-length books include: To Be—To Perform. ‘Theatre’ in Philosophic Critique of Art (Saint Petersburg: European University, 2011), and Pound &£ (Logos, 1999) and a volume of dramatic writing: Just Humans (2010). 

Currently she is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at The University of Wolverhampton. Her present research interests and publications deal with: the impact of the Soviet economy on the ethical epistemes of historical socialism; performance studies; and neo-humanism in the conditions of post-human theory. With her video-play “Love-machines” she participated at the Bergen Assembly and “Specters of Communism” (James Gallery, CUNY, NY, 2015). Her Latest video-play “Communion” was in the program of the Kansk video film festival (Moscow, 2016) and at the Ljubljana Triennial U-3 “Beyond the Globe (2016, curated by Boris Groys).

6pm-8pm. The seminar will be followed by a wine reception, thanks to the generosity of CSCA - the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Art at UCL.

Location: Common Ground at The Institute for Advanced Studies.

South Wing, Wilkins Building
University College London
Gower Street
London WC1E 6BT

No registration necessary, but please confirm your likely or possible attendance by responding to the Facebook invitation; or by sending an email to m.murawski@ucl.ac.uk or m.mileeva@ucl.ac.uk

Power Vertical: Politics and Aesthetics in the Global East

A collaborative, nomadic seminar series launching during the 2018-2019 academic year at UCL.

“I think Putin probably likes Trump from an aesthetic point of view”

Valery Garbuzov
Director of the Institute for US and Canadian Studies
Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow 

Do certain modes of politics and economics – and certain parts of the world – come with particular styles and shapes attached to them? Is there an inherent correlation between authoritarianism and monumentality, and between democracy and authoritarianism? Between populism and kitsch, between liberalism and restraint? Between socialism and austerity, capitalism and luxury, patriarchy and verticality?
How are these politics and aesthetics shifted, reinforced, consolidated and gendered? How can our binary assumptions about political-aesthetic elective affinities be contested, queered and resisted – and what can the experiences of the 'Global East' – encompassing Russia, the former Soviet Union, the former socialist world and their transnational entanglements – tell us about these affinities?

Power Vertical is convened by Masha Mileeva (UCL Art History) and Michał Murawski (Gold Zamt) (UCL SSEES). It is a roving, and restless initiative, currently co-hosted by the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Art at the UCL Department of Art History, UCL Institute of Advanced Studies, The FRINGE Centre for the Study of Social and Cultural Complexity (UCL SSEES) and the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre (CCRAC).