Cobblestone Weapon of the Proletariaty, 2015

Installation View: Rare Earth, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna 2015. Photo: Joe Clark | TBA21

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 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 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. 
Cobblestone Weapon of the Proletariaty has been commissioned by TBA21 for the exhibition Rare Earth at TBA21-Augarten. 

Arseniy Zhilyaev is an artist, writer, and political activist. Born in 1984 in Voronezh, he now lives in Moscow and Voronezh. Exploring the heritage of Russia’s artistic avant-garde, Zhilyaev’s practice poses questions about the political and social legitimation of art, its institutions and production of knowledge. Zhilyaev graduated from Voronezh State University, Philosophical Faculty (2006), and Moscow Institute of Contemporary Art (2008) and holds an MA from Valand School of Fine Arts in Göteborg, Sweden (2010). Recent projects include Museum of Proletarian Culture: Industrialization of Bohemia, Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow; Pedagogical Poem, Presnya Historical Memorial Museum, Moscow; M.I.R.: New Paths to the Objects at Kadist Art Foundation, Paris; and M.I.R.: Polite Guests from the Future at Kadist Art Foundation, San Francisco. 
He is a member of the editorial board of the Moscow art magazine (Khudozhestvennyi Zhurnal) and a contributor to e-flux Journal. Zhilyaev received the Innovation 2010 Russian state award for contemporary art and the Soratnik 2010 and 2012 awards and was nominated for the Visible Award 2013 and Absolute Award 2014.
Interview with Arseniy Zhilyaev on the occassion of the exhibition RARE EARTH at TBA21, Vienna 2015