November 4, 2020 - Open? - 2020 Russian Federation Pavilion at the Venice Biennale - Voices (towards other institutions) #23 / Sergei Sitar
e-flux Architecture
November 4, 2020
November 4, 2020

Open? - 2020 Russian Federation Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Drawing: Sergei Sitar.

Voices (towards other institutions) #23 / Sergei Sitar
The Question of Money / Inverse Capitalism
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Below is the beginning of Sergei Sitar's contribution to Voices (Towards Other Institutions). To read to the entire text, visit

"Why, there are the Houses of Parliament!  Do you still use them?"
" may well wonder at our keeping them standing… Well, yes, they are used for a sort of subsidiary market, and a storage place for manure..."
–William Morris, News from Nowhere, 1890

Slogans, formulas, appeals, statements, objections, accounts, declarations, conclusions, conjectures, promises, agendas, programmes… Arguably, the Luhmannian concept of "selective-restabilizing function" is best revealing the essential role of institutions within the inescapable and prolific realm of social communication (within the horizon of our frenzied preoccupation with collecting, sharing and exchanging signs, that is to say). In short, institutions take upon themselves the pains of endowing the course of events with a highly popular quality of being smooth and predictable. On the other hand, among the plethora of channels, registers and levels of informational exchange there is one peculiar modality, which exhibits—presently and historically—the most unwavering capacity to affect actual behaviour of participating agents. This distinct layer of communication consists of financial transactions, the flows and circuits of money. As a means of impelling actors to act, money occupies a paradoxical/hybrid "golden middle" position between sheer violent coercion, which often provokes "jamming" resistance, and "not binding," purely discursive or emotional persuasion. Doesn’t that common "stabilizing" or "levelling" stance of money and institutions imply that all our institutions are ultimately about money, and money-the-capital is in its turn our world’s ultimate institution?

A deep crack has opened up this summer between the least state-integrated faction of Russian artistic community and some highly reputed administrators of presumably most advanced public (state funded) cultural organizations. Widespread and often blazing debates were abruptly triggered by the two non-metropolitan artists-curators’ statement, whereby the top managing directors of an ambitious five-year-long program, officially aimed at supporting contemporary art in Russia’s regional cities and towns, were exposed as having used knowingly invalid financial enticements to attract local participants, and as having eventually blatantly denied responsibility for their widely announced intention to procure funding for two genuinely local projects, selected in the course of tough and time-consuming curatorial competition. (1)

Many actors and witnesses have regarded this situation as just one among the broad array of symptoms, proving that the paternalistic, ignorant, colonial, predatory and hypocritical attitude, which Russia’s metropolitan center for centuries maintained towards its vast "internal peripheries," is being assimilated to and upheld in minimum disguise by its present purportedly ‘post-imperial’ cultural establishment. Others see it as testimony to the fact that the post-soviet "cultural elite" in its rambling development has finally reached the state of ripe, fully unleashed neoliberal cynicism. 

Dissident activists are coming up with alternative prospects and proposals, including demands for complete financial transparency of public sector bodies, fair redistribution of resources, restitution of "former internal colonies," equity in remuneration, rotation in offices and artists’ direct involvement on rotational basis in financial management of cultural affairs. The range of constructive aspirations is wide, but it’s easy to notice how this well-intentioned collective brainstorm systematically circles around the issue of financial decision-making: the question of who, how and with which objectives in mind controls the money—as today’s most consensual form of power.

Sergey Sitar is an architect, architectural theorist, designer and curator. He is a senior tutor of the module Theory and History of the MARCH (Moscow Architecture School) MA program, author of “Architecture of the External World” (Moscow, Novoye Izdatelstvo, 2012), a book on mutual influence between European natural sciences and architectural theory.He was involved as an architect, researcher and planner in development of a series of strategic programs for regional centers of RF, as well as in international research and exhibition projects concerning architecture, urbanism and local-regional cultures.

(1) This statement consists of two parallel accounts of the events, by Elizaveta Kashintseva and Oleg Ustinov, and is yet available only in Russian,,

Open? - 2020 Russian Federation Pavilion at the Venice Biennale
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