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The System Made Me Do it​

Alena Ledeneva invites viewers to explore the invisible and immeasurable dimensions of informal power that compels us to feel powerless against 'the System'. In Greek, σύστημα means creation, constitution, synchronised order, or structure of correlated and coordinated parts. In hippie jargon, 'sistema' is a self-definition of the hippie subculture and, more widely, dependence on the systematic intake of substances, living from dose to dose.

In this exposition, the System is complex, anonymous, unpredictable, and seemingly irrational, but it serves to glue society together, to distribute resources, and to mobilise people; and above all to control and to co-opt to ensure its own reproduction. Each piece captures patterns of ambivalence: the doublethink, double motivation, double-deed, and double standards.

This first solo exhibition of Ledeneva's work offers a thought-provoking examination of the deep structures of informal power - its open secrets, unwritten rules and hidden practices, assembled from around the world and published in three volumes of The Global Encyclopaedia of Informality (UCL Press, 2018, 2024).

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Le Système m'a forcé à le faire

Alena Ledeneva invite les spectateurs à explorer les dimensions invisibles et incommensurables du pouvoir informel qui nous pousse à nous sentir impuissants face au "Système". En grec, σύστημα signifie création, constitution, ordre synchronisé ou structure de parties corrélées et coordonnées. Dans le jargon hippie, "sistema" est une définition de la sous-culture hippie et, plus largement, de la dépendance à l'absorption systématique de substances, le rythme de vie de dose en dose. Dans cette exposition, le Système est complexe, anonyme, imprévisible et apparemment irrationnel, mais il sert à cimenter la société, à distribuer les ressources et à mobiliser les gens. Chaque œuvre capture des schémas d'ambivalence : la double pensée, la double motivation, le double-acte et les doubles standards, qui soutiennent le fonctionnement du Système et sa reproduction. Cette première exposition personnelle de Ledeneva propose un examen incitant à réfléchir sur les structures profondes du pouvoir informel - ses secrets entrouverts, ses règles non écrites et ses pratiques cachées, venant du monde entier et publiés dans The Global Encyclopaedia of Informality (UCL Press, 2018, 2024).

Collection 1

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Collection 2

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Join our PiraMMMida scheme!

Launched on 1 July 2020,, an experimental exhibition platform curated by UCL SSEES Lecturer in Critical Area Studies and FRINGE Centre Co-Head Michał Murawski, in collaboration with David Roberts (Bartlett School of Architecture), Masha Mileeva (Courtauld Institute) and Denis Maksimov (Avenir Institute).

PiraMMMida features the work of over 20 contributors: scholars, artists, architects, practitioners and others. SSEES contributors include Lecturer in Eurasian History Philippa Hetherington, Associated Professor in Czech with Slovak Literature Peter Zusi and Professor of Sociology Alena Ledeneva.  

Straw man


Just like the Scarecrow, in the Wizard of Oz, my Straw man lacks a brain. A believer in miracles, each Straw man knows one’s own limitations and hands over the management of his finances to a Patron, who eventually uses them to serve his own purposes. Tetrahedron, the structure behind this work, is the most stable mechanical form, but its stability in the context of financial pyramids is fragile. One day the straw men, lacking substance and integrity, will wish for a ‘death to the patron!’



Insiders exploit outsiders, yet they are the hostages themselves. Outsiders seek competitive advantage and super-profits, yet lose more than they gain. The deep structure of the pyramid is a double-edged sword. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Incriminating evidence


The black box of financial pyramids is complex, yet has a kick-ass effect.

2022 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition Submission

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