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Dr. Marina Gerber

Dissertation Project

Empty Action: Labour and Free Time in the Art of Collective Actions


This dissertation develops an immanent and contextual analysis and a social-historical interpretation of the Moscow artist group Collective Actions (active since 1976). It represents an important contribution to existing research by identifying and critically situating the group’s concept of “empty action” as the main principle and method of their wide-ranging practice (which has included planning and organizing actions; documenting actions by means of text, photography, and video and audio recordings; and producing theoretical reflections). In the framework of this contextual analysis, the dissertation also examines the relationship of Collective Actions Group to Socialist Realism, dissidents from the 1960s, Romanticism, John Cage, and religious questions. This contextualization tests the concept of “empty action” as an epistemological instrument. The interpretation of the artistic practice of the Collective Actions Group that is proposed in this project focuses on concepts of labour and free time as they emerge in the context of debates from the 1960s in the Soviet philosophy journal Voprosy Filosofii. These debates exhibit an epistemological break that has remained unacknowledged—both as a phenomenon in its own right and in the context of research about the effects of the period (after the 1960s). This period saw a fundamental questioning of the primacy of labour as the only means of individual development and freedom, with the consequence that free time became more important as the sphere for realizing these possibilities. By analyzing the paid labour of the members of Collective Actions and their activities “after work,” which included the actions they carried out in their free time, the dissertation aims to produce a new perspective on the relationship between art, labour, and free time. Empty action is a specific, temporally limited, ephemeral experience of free time possible only in and through art.

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Marina Gerber studied applied cultural studies (with majors in image studies and art history) at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg (2004–2010) and aesthetics and art Theory at Middlesex University London (2008–2009). Her master’s thesis was titled Art Photography between Photojournalism and Documentation:Conceptual Art Photography in the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s (2010). Her dissertation Empty Action:Labour and Free Time in the Art of Collective Actions (2016) is being advised by Professors Martina Dobbe and Gregor Stemmrich. Since 2016 she is Associate Lecturer at Queen Mary University of London and in 2018 she had a lectureship at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. 


Empty Action. Labour and Free Time in the Art of Collective Actions, Bielefeldtranscript, 2018.

Das Wissen der Arbeit und das Wissen der Künste, hg. mit Daniela Fugellie, Paderborn: Fink, 2017. 

Einleitung, in ebd., S. 7–14.

„Kunst nach der Arbeit: Kollektive Aktionen und die Leere Handlung" in: Das Wissen der Arbeit und das Wissen der Künste, Paderborn: Fink, 2017, S. 73–92.

„Рассказ об акции ,SUMMA‘“, Коллективные Действия. А. Монастырский и др. (ред.), Поездки за Город 4–5 + 11–13 (Вологда, Библиотека Московского Концептуализма Германа Титова, 2016), с. 459–464. [„Bericht über die Aktion ,SUMMA‘“, in: Monastyrski, Andrei u.a. (Hg.): Kollektive Aktionen, (=Reisen aus der Stadt, Bd. 4-5 + 11-13), Vologda: G. Titovs Bibliothek des Moskauer Konzeptualismus, 2016, S. 459–464].

„Das Unwissen der Künste. Eine Besprechung von On Not Knowing. How Artists Think", hg. von Elizabeth Fisher und Rebecca Fortnum (London 2013)“ in:, Onlinepublikation des Graduiertenkollegs „Das Wissen der Künste“, Nr. 2 „Opake Evidenzen“, Juni 2014.

"After Participation", in: Mute (September 2013). 

„In the Bath – Recent Debate on Art and the Aesthetics of Production“, in: Philosophy of Photography, Bd. 3, Nr. 1, Dezember 2012, S. 211–218.

„Interpretationsreflex: Über die Moskauer Künstlergruppe Kollektive Aktionen und den Begriff der Reflexion in der sowjetischen Kunsttheorie“ / "Interpretative Reflex: On the Moscow Artists' Group Collective Actions and the Concept of Reflection in Soviet Art Theory”, in: Texte zur Kunst, Nr. 85, 2012, S. 82–95.

“Groys' Moscow Conceptualism”, Besprechung von Boris Groys, History Becomes Form: Moscow Conceptualism, in: Art History, Bd. 34, Nr. 5, 2011, S. 1068–1070.

Besprechung von Margaret Iversen and Diarmuid Costello (Hg.), Photography after Conceptual Art, in Philosophy of Photography, Bd. 2, Nr. 1, 2011, S. 181–183.

Besprechung vom Symposium “Expanded Conceptualism”, Tate Modern in London, 2011, in: Conceptual Paradise, 2011.

“Third Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art 2009”, Ausstellungsbesprechung, in Third Text, Nr. 104, 24: 3, 2010, S. 390–393.

Artist in Residence: Neue Modelle der Künstlerförderung, mit C. Behnke, C. Dziallas and S. Seidel (Verlag für Wissenschaft und zeitgenössische Kunst, Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, 2008).


„A Reversed perspective on Factography”, Historical Materialism Conference, SOAS, London, 8.–11.11.2018.

„Innere Flucht bei Kollektiven Aktionen”, Tagung „Fleeing Images: Affect // Representation”, Universität Hamburg, 01.–03.12.2016. 

“Towards a Theory of Art after Work”, panel “9 to 5? Arbeit in der zeitgenössischen Kunst”, 3. Schweizerischer Kongress für Kunstgeschichte, Universtät Basel, 25.06.2016.

“Towards a Theory of Art after Work”, Jahrestagung des Graduiertenkollegs 'Das Wissen der Künste'“...macht aber viel Arbeit: Kunst Wissen Arbeit”, Universität der Künste Berlin, 09.10.2014.

“Collective Actions”, First International Forum for Doctoral Candidates in East European Art History, Humboldt Universität Berlin, 09.05.2014.

“Non-Production in the Age of Production: The Collective Actions Group”, symposium “You Were not Expected to Do This: On the Dynamics of Production”, Heinrich Heine Universität, Düsseldorf, 02.04.2014.

“Collective Actions, Cage and Musical Performance”, panel “Performance and Labour”, Historical Materialism Conference, SOAS, London, 08.11.2013. 

“Production of Collective Actions”, symposium “Performance and Labour”, UCL, London, 03.11.2012.