Performance art becomes political protest

Moscow-based art collective Voina's latest stunt ends with a police vehicle in flames
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Radical Russian art collective Voina’s controversial performances have repeatedly landed it in trouble. Founded in 2005 in Moscow and at the very forefront of the Russian avant-garde its performances are a mark of creative resistance against the country’s ruler, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and an expression of hatred towards the country’s ruling class. In the words of Leo (the group’s president, Leonid Nikolaev) those in Voina "lead a deeply underground existence, living the honest lives of Russian paupers."

The group’s activity (organised using channels via furtive messages on Gmail and Skype) has involved a sex orgy in a museum, the staged hanging of two gay men in a supermarket and painting a 210-feet penis on the roadway of a bridge in St. Petersburg in 2010 (for which it won a contemporary art prize).

Russian political art collective Voina Russian political art collective Voina

Working under the principle of highlighting that which everyone sees but dares not mention, another Voina stunt involved a member of the group walking out of a supermarket with a full trolley of shopping without paying, dressed as an Othodox priest and wearing a police hat. The performance aimed to highlight the fact that both priests and police officers in Russia appear to be above the law.

The latest intervention on New Year's Eve (which you can just about make out in the amateur video above) consisted of an orchestrated attack on a police station in St. Petersburg where members used gasoline bombs to incinerate a police vehicle used to transport prisoners. The line between political and art terrorism has become progressively more blurred in recent months. In their latest communiqué the group stated "we don't care about art anymore. We're politicians, fighters. The path of a Russian activist is tragic. Once you're engaged in actions, you don't belong to this world anymore. You belong to actionism."

Voina's funeral feast on the Russian metro for dissident poet Dmitry Prigov in 2007 Voina's funeral feast on the Russian metro for dissident poet Dmitry Prigov in 2007

In 2010 two of the members of the group were arrested on charges of 'hooliganism' but later released on bail thanks to an £80,000 donation made by street artist Banksy. Afterwards the group published a message reading: “Tell Banksy that he is helping to finance the next Russian revolution”.

As Russian politics undergoes widespread turmoil support for the group is currently being demonstrated via the ‘VOINA Wanted’ international campaign in which activists and artists around the globe hang banners around their cities in protest against the addition of Vorotnikov and Sokol to the Russian government’s list of international wanted persons. So far the campaign has reached Paris, Berlin, Brussels and Atlanta.


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