|"Notes from the Russian Underground" Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)|
|"Wash Your Dirty Money With My Art" A work by Janos Sugar, at the Ludwig Museum, Budapest Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)|
Declaring “Voina” on each other (“war” in Russian), the Putin-bashing, corruption-busting street performance art activist collective crashed and burned, splitting apart in 2009.
Like many a once-happy couple, they attacked each other with palpable anger and angst.
The breakup is well known in Russia.
When curators for the 4th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art refused to remove or change an exhibit by “Voina Group (Moscow fraction [sic])", among about 50 international art activists showing at the festival, the war went global and Voina from hiding in St. Petersburg called for artists and others to boycott the art fair.
Curator Tatiana Volkova lists 34 Russian artists or groups in the Media Impact International Festival of Activist Art.
Voina Group this week accused the Russian curators (except Peter Weibel) of corruption, “plundering” sponsorship money.
|From the Free Voina website|
I expect curator Volkova to permit some kind of interview as I requested or provide some statement responding to serious allegations.
What troubles me about this post-divorce feud is the role of curators and their duty to the public.
Curators deal with provenance and authenticity. Should curators at the 4th Moscow knowingly display works claimed to have been stolen?
Another concern: Is the orchestrated confusion surrounding Voina at the 4th Moscow part of a state-sponsored effort to sanction a less radical Voina while Russian police and prosecutors neutralize certain, high-profile Voina members in St. Petersburg?
Is this part of a much larger picture of ongoing repression of artistic and press freedoms to attack the Putin-Medvedev oligarchy?
Tales of corruption, most true, abound in today´s Russia.
|"Welcome to the Underground" Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)|
Here is the exclusive online interview I had with Peter (Pytor) Verzilov, speaking for his Voina Group:
1. Were you expelled from Voina Group, and if so, what is your side of the story about what happened? What was the date of the split from the group? A month and year is fine.
No, Voina activists were ever expelled from the group for a very clear and precise reason - there is no procedure for expulsion of Voina activists and there is no legitimate body inside the Voina group to carry out such "expulsions".
The only thing that can happen between various Voina activists is their decision not to work with one another - this is exactly what happened in November 2009, when Peter Verzilov, Kat Samutsevich and Nadezda Tolokonnikova decided at the last meeting with their counterparts - Oleg Vorotnikov and Natalya Sokol - that trust in each other has vanished and it is no longer possible to function together as one collective.
This meeting was held in the city of Kiev in the presence of the writer Vladimir "Adolfych" Nesterenko, who is a highly respected figure for both of our collectives and at the time was a moderator during our breakup.
Since November 2009, the two separate collectives had no direct contact with each other due to deep dissatisfaction with each other's behaviour.
The whole story with "expulsion" of certain members of Voina was a cheesy hoax staged inside Internet blogs of people friendly to Oleg Vorotnikov.
Russian media, political and activist circles never gave much credibility to such statements, because the reputation of several other Voina members speaks for itself as they are highly active inside the artistic and political communities in Russia.
There hasn't been a single prominent figure inside Russia, who has been at some point close to Voina, who has supported the absurd allegations that certain members of Voina were ever expelled from the group.
Since the breakup in the end of 2009 the public and the media have been occasionally using the informal names of "the Moscow faction" and "the St. Petersburg faction" to distinguish the two various collectives, which have continued their activities under the name of “Voina”.
Both collectives prefer not to use this informal identification and name themselves and their activities simply as the “Voina group.”
2. Did you take archives or works of created by Voina Group with you and use them in the 4th Moscow Biennale?
Certainly! Voina's world-famous "Smooch the cop" action was featured in the Media Impact festival which was part of the 4th Moscow Biennale.
3. In your contacts with Ola Carlsson or Martin Schibli, did you inform them that you had split off from Voina in St. Petersburg and felt justified in using the "Voina" name? Explain details, please.
Representatives of the Voina group feel that it is highly unnecessary to present the funny world of Oleg Vorotnikov's personal intrigues to the international art community.
The majority of Voina activists believe that these insinuations do not deserve much attention and are quite boring to anyone outside the Voina group.
Just as The Yes Men's Mike Bonnano wrote with disappointment after learning that they have been deliberately disinformed [sic] on the situation inside Voina: "The world needs to know what kind of repression is happening inside Russia, but this experience has not been helping us to clarify that"*.
*letter to organizers of the Media Impact festival, part of the 4th Moscow Biennale (in Russian and parts in English) - http://zhiruzhir.ru/post/2526
4. How do you feel about being called “traitors” by the spokespeople for Voina in St. Petersburg?
The majority of Voina activists treat messages like that as spam mail. It is something like issuing public statements that call a person who was once your dear lover "an arrogant bitch".
One Russian publicist, Anton "Lavrentij" Kotenev, who is close to Voina, has even written a big article on this particular situation, which focuses around one question - "How ethical is it to call someone a traitor in order to reach certain media or political goals when you are absolutely sure that this person is not a traitor?"*
Outside of interviews and public statements, Oleg Vorotnikov has admitted that he is simply using this term as a poetic metaphor, because he has bad personal feelings towards other Voina activists.
*mentioned article, "Several notes on the moral attitudes of the St. Petersburg folks" (in Russian) - http://liberty.ru/Themes/Para-
5. Why do you feel entitled to use the name, “Voina”?
For three specific and clear reasons:
1. The founders of the group have full power to control the life of their own group. There were four original founders of Voina (see answer to Question 1 above) - and after the breakup they evenly split - two in one collective, Peter Verzilov and Nadezda Tolokonnikova in what can be called "the Moscow faction", and two in the other, Oleg Vorotnikov and Natalya Sokol in "the St. Petersburg faction".
2. The basis of Voina group's artistic and political attitude is anarchism and when applied to the problem of the "brand name war" this means that to be part of a structure you need to fit a certain ideological and stylistic criteria, rather than receive a formal approval.
3. For ideological reasons there is no and has never been any formal body, which controls the use of the brand name and holds the copyright for "Voina".
Voina belongs to the Russian people and to the international community and any dedicated activist can try to put Voina's mark on his work - but the public will easily distinguish between a real Voina stunt and a hoax - it's all in the power and in the integrity of the work.
6. Would it be more accurate to call your group of two something like, “The New Voina” or “Voina Moscow?”
"Group of two"? There are, in fact, more Voina activists in "the Moscow faction" than in "the St. Petersburg faction". Our latest public statement was signed by 13 Voina activists*, and no, thank you - we prefer to be called with the name we have used since we founded the group back in 2007 - simply Voina.
*public statement from September 23, 2011: "Official reaction of Voina activists on disinformation by the St. Petersburg faction of the group" (in Russian) - http://wisegizmo.livejournal.
7. Are any of the works you have shown as Voina works created by Voina before you and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova split off from Voina in St. Petersgburg? If so, please describe.
We have extensively featured all of Voina's numerous actions done in 2007-2009 in exhibitions around the world, since we've played a vital role in the production of all of these actions. We have never shown or have claimed to be the authors of any works that we personally did not organize - this is a very strict policy.
8. What art action or actions have you personally done or orchestrated and published in any way since you left Voina in St. Petersburg?
During and after the breakup Voina activists have staged the following actions, where members of "the St. Petersburg faction" did not play any role:
"Puppy Bear, do you take it up the arse?" action and river boat trip, September 2009 - http://wisegizmo.livejournal.
"Cockroach Court" courtroom intrusion, July 2010 - http://wisegizmo.livejournal.
"Smooch the cop" action, January-February 2011 - http://wisegizmo.livejournal.
"The feeding road" action (together with impoverished families of police officers), August 2011 - http://wisegizmo.livejournal.
9. In "A Complicated Relation, part II" who wrote the description of works and of Voina?
Voina members themselves wrote those descriptions.
10. Is this description in "Complicated Relation, Part II" accurate? Anything you would want to add or change?
Since the descriptions were written by Voina activists they are very accurate. Nothing to add or change, thank you!
11. Has any sponsor or official of the 4th Moscow Biennale paid you any money for participating in the 4th Moscow show?
12. Has the Ministry of Culture or any other government body or organ of the state helped you in any way with any of the works on show in Moscow or Sweden?
Voina activists are known as key organizers of social events for Russia's political and cultural opposition.
Peter Verzilov, for instance, was the programme director of the biggest such recent gathering in Russia, the "Last Autumn Civil Forum", which took place a week ago.
Any Russian government authority would immediately be fired from his position for making any sort of official contact with figures who are associated with such events.
|An uncredited artist for the Moscow Times, 30 Sept. 2011 depicts an aging, paunchy Putin in L. Brezhenev´s uniform. |
«Voina принадлежит русского народа и международного сообщества и любой выделенный активист можно попробовать надеть его работы - Марк Voina но общественность будет легко отличить реальные Voina трюков и обман - это все во власти и в добросовестность работы».— Питер Verzilov
Единственное, что может произойти между различными активистами Voina является их решение не работать друг с другом - это именно то, что произошло в ноябре 2009 года, когда Петр Verzilov, Кэт Samutsevich и надежда Tolokonnikova было решено на последней встрече с их коллегами - Олег воротников и Наталья Сокол - которые исчезла доверие друг к другу и он уже невозможно работать вместе как один коллектив.
|Islamic art and design at Granada´s Alhambra, photograph by Stefan van Drake (2009)|