Remembering as Future – Rab-Rab on Avant-Garde

Sezgin Boynik 


Rab-Rab Press is an independent platform of publishing activity in Helsinki which supports dialectical encounter of experimental art forms and political engagement. It publishes the periodical Rab-Rab: journal for political and formal inquiries in art, and books dedicated to art practices that are not “blackmailed by theory”. By this, we mean the practices that are not willing to mediate their “thoughts” through institutionalised theory. Instead of reducing artistic practices and knowledge to academic administrations, curatorial mediations, or arbitrariness of art critics, we intend to take the matter into our own hands and ask the very nature of the artistic inquiry. The platform of Rab-Rab, which apart from publishing also includes collective readings, discussions, and all kinds of interventions, considers artistic practices inherently anti-bureaucratic, anti-institutional, against identitarian positions, and uncompromisingly progressive. This also means that Rab-Rab is through art practice looking for the forms of thinking and acting that oppose the objectivities and natural positivism of the given.


Rab-Rab Press will publish, among other things, a dozen of books and articles that are directly engaged with the historical avant-garde from the twenties and conceptual or structuralist/materialist art practices from the seventies. One question that is important to address in regard to this plan is the actualization of the historical past. Since we are against the “theory after the fact” the problem that the project must face is: does Rab-Rab need a theory of actualisation in order to proceed with these activities? My stand is that we don’t: the theory or methodology of actualisation will be shaped through the very practice of discussing, translating, and demounting of the early artistic positions. We cannot have a theory of these acts without engaging in them. This is a simple demarcation from academic historians’ approach: we do not intend to propose any ’objective’ narrative on historical past. On the contrary, the aim is to denounce the ’authority’ of the historical reading by putting emphasis on the subjective moments that we want to actualise. Each case of actualisation will strengthen this position.

Without doubt there will be contradictions in this process, but I believe that the contradictions that are to be leashed through this process are inherent to the activity. There is no need for justification of the act of actualisation through any normative (ideological) understanding of history. Thus, the (subjective) moments that we want to actualise are historical episodes which shatter the existing narratives including the very form of the narrative. These are the October revolution of Shklovsky, declaration of art by Lajos Kassak, the ”East” of Natasha Michel, the communism of Archie Shepp, the militancy of Alberto Hijar Serrano, the wild strike of Erkko Kivikoski, the lights and shadows of Anabel Nicolson, the partisanship of Surrealists, the pamphlets of Mustapha Khayati, and many other examples of Formalism Formaoism.

In fact, the actualisation is not linked with the history, or with the past, but with the question of what is contemporaneity. What should be answered is: how to make use of the ’contemporary’ without linking it with the objectives of capitalist-realism of today (vis a vis its newest technologies, and means)? How to understand what is contemporary without negotiating with the logic of the circulation of the art that is mediated only through objectives of the institutions?

The answer to these question is also an act of demarcation!

By actualising something that took place 100 years ago, we want to demonstrate that these episodes are still contemporary to us. Since we remember things as a future, the very logic of these subjective moments denies the possibility of being indexed through the objectives of the given perimeters. The excessive force of these moments is still present.


As a footnote to the previous remarks, it is important to emphasize that the conceptual understanding of actualisation is directly linked with the question of institutions. It means that we oppose institutional reasoning for the activities of Rab-Rab Press. It does not however mean that Rab-Rab will not take part in the programs of any institution, or receive the funding or grants from the foundations or institution. We are not for the underground or para-institution, or parallel institution, or counter-hegemony, or anything like that; but we are against something more substantial. We are against to the very core of the institutional thinking, which is the inertia of the existing structures. The institutional logic denies movement outside of the apparatus. To schematize: the subjectivity is movement, the objectivity is inertia.

The institutional logic, then, is everything that reproduces the equilibrium of actual state of things: the nation, the gender, the class, the state, the religion, the bureaucracy, etc. This is the logic of identity. This is why Rab-Rab is definitely against any kind of reactionary demands (theoretical or practical) based on the questions of identity.

This position has concrete consequences of which the history os Rab-Rab is an example. The publishing activity did not start because it fitted to the cultural scheme of any artistic institution. On the contrary, it has started and is continuing despite those. There was not any objective necessity, or internal need (as in Thermodynamics) for having Rab-Rab in Helsinki, and elsewhere. It emerged with force through coercion and will continue like that. The common denominator of all subjective movements, anywhere in the world, is that they start from the scratch.

There is no tradition to it.


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