Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ai Weiwei & Voina prosecutions overshadow 54th Venice Biennale

"Dick Captured by the FSB," St. Petersburg, Russia by Voina (2010)

Ai Weiwei & Voina art collective give authority the finger, pushing limits of China´s and Russia´s tolerance.

Performance art  is an essentially contested concept: any single definition of it implies the recognition of rival uses. As concepts like democracy or art, it implies productive disagreement with itself.” --Wikipedia

As the 54th Venice Biennale takes flight on 4 June (Saturday), the fate of Ai Weiwei and two Voina (War) performance-intervention artists, the latter charged with hooliganism and each facing seven years in prison, weigh on the minds of many in the pavilions.

Moscow performance art or hooliganism?

Weiwei´s words and Voina´s actions—turning over several cops cars in a Moscow square—reflect different degrees of similar gestures.

Both brought their authors criminal prosecution and loss of freedom.

S.a.L.E. Docks, active in this year´s Venice contemporary art fiesta, lobbies for heightened political action against state repression of  creative, provocative and politically subversive artists like Weiwei and Voina art collective members, Leonid Nikolayev and Oleg Vorotnikov.

The pair were jailed on 10 November last year and charged with hooliganism (the control bromide of the Soviets, a catch-all crime).

In China, it´s tax evasion.

After three months in jail, authorities released Nikolayev and Vorotnikov on $10,000 bail each, paid mid-February by Banksy, part of a $130,000 donation the UK urban artist made to their defense fund.

The duo appears in a Moscow court again on 21 June, according to online commentary.

"Fuck for the Heir Puppy Bear," intervention protest by Voina
In May, the court dashed a series of defense motions, according to

Their trial was previously set for 18 February.

Voina continues gaining notoriety if not popular acclaim.
On 18 April, Russia awarded its highest contemporary art award—Innovatsia (Innovation)—to Voina, worth about $15,000, specifically for giving the FSB the up yours.

Founded in 2007 by a group of Lomonosov Moscow State University philosophy students—Voina--enlarged on a popular theme, giving authority the finger by painting a 65-meter long penis on Liteiny drawbridge across from the 
St. Petersburg HQ of the KGB´s successor, the FSB.

When the drawbridge rose, the penis became erect; the message to the secret police was abundantly clear.

Voina later called their whitewash on Liteiny drawbridge, one-testiclde  penis “A Dick Captured by the FSB.”  

Voina first titled it, “Giant Galactic Space Dick,” but shelved that for something more potent.

(Police broke up the painting party before the second testicle could be painted, arresting the group´s leader, Bucket Man, later released.)

Russia´s minister of culture, Alexander Avadeyev, defended the decision of the jury and art freedom, naming Voina the 2011 Innovatsia winners.

No one from Voina picked up or signed for the prize, thus avoiding detection or capture.

Voina sympathizers celebrating Innovatsia prize

The prize loot instead will go to help defend other political dissidents.

Weiwei also likes advertising his disdain for authority.

He painted “Fuck” on his chest, photographed himself giving his finger to icons of authority like the White House in Washington, D.C. and crafting fickle fingers of aggressive opposition in marble, currently on show. 

Ai Weiwei
But when does symbolic speech become vandalism or hooliganism?

Voina may have pushed the limits of Putin´s tolerance by staging a live orgy with five couples engaged in a 2008 live sex demonstration in Moscow´s Timirayzev State Museum of Biology.

Voina dubbed their fleshy display of feigned passion, Fuck for the heir Puppy Bear, staged a day before Dmitry Medvedev was elected President of the Russian Federation.

According to detailed online reports on, Voina defendants have been repeatedly interrogated, beaten and harassed.

S.a.L.E. this week in Venice called for the immediate freedom of Weiwei and amnesty for all Voina collective members, ending all persecution of politically active artists.

Ai Weiwei´s familiar gesture

Rock on and practice peace and love.
Stefan, the ArtTraveler ™

Visit Andalusia for a walking holiday or week-long sculpture or mosaics workshop. See: and

"Spanish life stilled," photograph by Stefan van Drake (2009)

 ArtTraveler´s video: an interview with Scottish illustrator and painter, Gordon Wilson, about his new "I Love Fish" exhibition, inspired by a commissioned mural he did 12 years ago for a West Glasgow gangster, who loved supporting writers and artists as well as organized crime.

You may reach me at or by calling (34) 915 067 703 or from the UK at BT landline rates, 0844 774 8349

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