Cobblestone Weapon of the Proletariat

For Arseniy Zhilyaev rare earth elements enable nonmaterial labor: the work of the contemporary proletariat. Moreover, as his installation suggests, they also facilitate weapons wielded by all parties in today’s class struggle. This insight is communicated through a historicizing installation. The work is a star-shaped vitrine, whose look invokes the visual language of Soviet museology, as well as Russian revolutionary art, to discuss both technological and social upheaval. Each compartment is dedicated to a particular class of revolutionary actors from history, from ancient times to the present: slaves, peasants, proletarians, and precariat (nonmaterial workers). Each of these groups is represented by a small-scale sculpture and a collection of exemplary weapons or tools of revolt appropriated from their oppressors. Slaves highlights weapons from the revolt led by Spartacus: representations of iron swords and similar items, along with the hero’s sculptural likeness. Peasants contains a Gothic-style sculpture in wood and agricultural implements, including pitchforks, rakes, axes, and hoes. Proletarians contains a miniature copy of Ivan Shadr’s socialist realist masterpiece Cobblestone as a Weapon of the Proletariat (1927), along with stones and pieces of pavement. The sculpture in the Precariat section is transparent and seemingly immaterial—a masked youth clutching a mobile phone—accompanied by a collection of consumer communication devices. Each vitrine also contains explanatory texts and assorted contextualizing ephemera.

Boris Ondreička and Nadim Samman