“Thinking Matter, Thinking Body, Talking Hands”
Film screening and talks with Emanuel Almborg, Maria Chehonadskih, and Alexei Penzin

Talking Hands is presented here in full until 11/05/18.

“Thinking Matter, Thinking Body, Talking Hands” is a film and discursive program relating to the work of Marxist philosopher Evald Ilyenkov. The evening featured a lecture by philosopher Alexei Penzin on Ilyenkov’s essay “Cosmology of the Spirit,” followed by a screening of artist Emanuel Almborg’s film Talking Hands (2016), and a conversation between Almborg and philosopher Maria Chehonadskih.

Penzin’s lecture takes llyenkov’s early speculative work on the “entropic death of the universe” as a starting point from which to salvage the powers of “thinking matter,” while Almborg’s film and conversation with Chehonadskih engages with llyenkov’s later work on pedagogy, theories of (dis)ability, and the “thinking body”. While both lecture and film propose a materialist understanding of thinking outside the individual, one is located in matter and the universe, and the other in sensuous activity with objects and between people, leading to unique understandings of communism.

Alexei Penzin, “‘Thinking Matter’ in the Universe: Evald Ilyenkov’s Communist Cosmology”

In this lecture, Penzin will argue on the contemporary relevance of Evald Ilyenkov’s essay "Cosmology of the Spirit," and explore its historical and philosophical contexts. This short treatise was written in the first half of the 1950s, but only published posthumously in the 1980s as it was considered too heretical in the author’s lifetime due to its enormous speculative drive. Addressing the physicist idea of the “entropic death of the universe” and using a combination of materialist dialectics and Spinoza’s concept of attribute, Ilyenkov claimed that thought is a necessary attribute of matter as it is able to prevent the terminal entropy of the universe. Ilyenkov's argument also had an implicit but crucial assumption of the future achievement of “classless society,” i.e. full communism. Penzin will discuss the ideas of Cosmology in light of Ilyenkov's later ideas about the “ideal” and the “ascension from the abstract to the concrete,” and his interpretation of seventeenth-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. The lecture will also use the ideas of Ilyenkov’s Cosmology in order to critically assess the contemporary currents of “speculative” philosophy.

Emanuel Almborg, Talking Hands (Говорящие руки)2016
HD video and 16mm film transferred to HD video, 48 minutes

Talking Hands is a film about the 1960s Zagorsk school for deaf-blind children outside Moscow, and its pedagogy.  The school was established by Evald Ilyenkov, who, in contention with dominant Soviet ideology, began developing ideas of how human consciousness is socially constituted and emerges in relation to material culture, objects, and tools. Inspired by Spinoza, Ilyenkov conceptualized the “thinking body,” that is, a body’s capacity to “mould its own action actively to the shape of any other body, to coordinate the shape of its movement in space with the shape and distribution of all other bodies” as a fundamental feature of “thinking” or “reason.” For Ilyenkov, communism was a pedagogical project for such a vision and subject to emerge. Or as Alexander Suvorov, one of Ilyenkov’s deaf-blind students described, “Who told you we see nothing and hear nothing? We see and hear through the eyes and ears of our friends, all people, the entire human race.” The film focuses on Suvorov, whom Almborg met in his home in a Moscow suburb. For a few evenings, they spoke with the help of two translators, from English to Russian and from Russian to tactile signing and back—a slow, fragmented conversation marked by misunderstandings and translation errors that served as the basis for the film’s dialogue. The film also includes 16mm archive footage documenting the teaching and activities around the Zagorsk school in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  The filmmaker and exact date of the footage are unknown; when Almborg found it in the archives in Moscow the only information attached to it was the title “Talking Hands.”

Emanuel Almborg is an artist based in Stockholm and London. He works in a wide range of media with a focus on the moving image. He finished the Whitney Independent Study program in New York in 2015, and is currently a PhD candidate at The Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm. His work has recently been shown at the Kyiv Biennial, at Bienal de São Paulo, and at Whitechapel Gallery, London.  

Maria Chehonadskih is a philosopher and critic. She received her PhD in philosophy from the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University in 2017. Her research and work concentrates on Soviet epistemologies across Marxist philosophy, literature, and art, as well as on post-Soviet politics. She has given talks in various universities and art institutions on these topics and published in journals and magazines such as Radical PhilosophySouth Atlantic QuarterlyCrisis and Critiquee-fluxMute, and Moscow Art Magazine. In 2014, she co-curated together with Ilya Budraitskis the exhibition Shadow of a Doubt at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, which was dedicated to the topic of conspiracy. She lives and works in London. 

Alexei Penzin teaches at the University of Wolverhampton (UK), and is also a Research Associate at the Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow. Penzin is a member of the collective Chto Delat (What is to be done?). His research has been published in the journals Rethinking Marxism, Crisis and CritiqueMediationsSouth Atlantic Quarterly, and e-flux, among others. He co-edited the English translation of the book Art and Production (Pluto Press, 2017) by Boris Arvatov, one of the key theorists of the Soviet avant-garde. Currently, he is preparing his book Against the Continuum: Sleep and Subjectivity in Capitalist Modernity for Bloomsbury Academic.

For more information, contact program@e-flux.com.

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Film screening and talks with Emanuel Almborg, Maria Chehonadskih, and Alexei Penzin
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