Thursday, October 13, 2011

Russian philosopher & cultural expert Vadim Rudnev probes Voina Group

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"Dick Captured by the KGB" won Voina Group the 2011 Russian contemporary art Innovation award

“The tweet, which calls for Putin’s assassination, was posted before the prime minister’s visit to the Higher School of Economics ( Pyotr chose to post this tweet on behalf of Voina despite knowing that Twitter accounts and blogs are being monitored by the police. At that time, Oleg and I were kept in pre-trial detention.

“This tweet could become a reason for the police to charge both of us under article 277 of the criminal code (which implies a life-term in prison).”

"As the Truth Turns" Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2006)
Why do Pyotr (Peter) Verzilov and Nadezhda (Nady)Tolokonnikova call themselves the Voina Group although they have nothing to do with authors of the “Dick captured by KGB” and “Palace Revolution” actions: Oleg Vorotnikov, Leonid Nikolayev, Natalia Sokol and Alexei Plutser-Sarno?

Moscow-based cultural expert, philosopher and author Vadim Rudnev (b. 1958) decided to explore this in an interview he conducted in St. Petersburg with Voina members in hiding, specifically for publication in the ArtTraveler blog.
Dr. Vadim Rudnev

Here it is:

Vadim Rudnev: What’s the ideological cause of this discrepancy in the Voina Group?

 Why are the authors of the “Dick captured by KGB!” and “Palace Revolution” actions--Vorotnikov, Nikolayev, Sokol and Plutser-Sarno--trying to disassociate themselves from the imitators Pyotr Verzilov and Nady Tolokonnikova?

Natalia Sokol: It’s not just an ideological difference of views that we have with them. Those provokers and betrayers were expelled from the group. In 2009, soon after they were drummed out of the group, they occupied themselves with plagiarism and fraud.

Vadim Rudnev: What was their role in the group?

Alexei Plutser-Sarno: In 2008-2009, Pyotr and Nady were ordinary “walking people” in the actions of Oleg Vorotnikov and Natalia Sokol. In my presence they didn’t suggest a single idea for an action. They never did creative work. They were occupied with self-promotion. 

Vadim Rudnev: Do you have a concrete example?

Alexei Plutser-Sarno: Let’s take a look at how one of the Voina actions, say, Decembrists Commemoration, was planned. Brainstorming started with Natalia’s idea to stage something horrifying with a lethal outcome in the end. Oleg suggested the whole group should hang themselves in public.
Alexei Plutser-Sarno

Oleg Vorotnikov: Plut <Alexei Plutser-Sarno’s nickname> said then that the effect would be more dramatic if we’d be hangmen – not “suicide” victims. Koza (Natalia’s nickname) and I agreed. Plut told us that it would be great to dedicate this action to Decembrists and suggested a slogan “No one gives a fuck about Pestel!”

Yana Sarna: Pyotr Verzilov didn’t participate in this creative work. As usual, he came to the action to show off in front of the photo cameras. As usual, he drew supermarket security by his silly behavior and nearly ruined the action.

Oleg Vorotnikov: Nady Tolokonnikova was told to go up the ladder, attach a loop around the neck of one of the “victims”.

Well, she went up the ladder all right, but she completely forgot about the loop. That’s why one part of the photo shoot failed. Usually we tried not to give her two tasks at a time, but that time we hoped that she could handle it. Apart from that, all she could do was march in front of the cameras with a “revolutionist-like” face.

Yana Sarna: After the action in various interviews Pyotr and Nady called themselves the authors of this action, as well as leaders and ideologists of the group. They always plagiarize and take the credit for other people’s works.But you know, an apprentice can’t take credit for his teacher’s masterpieces even though he helped him to mix colours and handled him brushes.

Natalia Sokol: Four activists were arrested within this action. Plut and Vor <Oleg Vorotnikov’s nickname> went to liberate them from the police office in the supermarket. Among them there were two photographers. Plut secretly managed to take away all the memory cards with photo documentation.

Alexei Plutser-Sarno: Pyotr and Nady disappeared from the place immediately. They didn’t help anyone.

 Vadim Rudnev: What was the final reason of Pyotr and Nady’s expulsion from the group? 

Alexei Plutser-Sarno: In Kiev, Pyotr and Nady were going to make an action together with activist Alexander Volodarsky. As the action started they left him in the hands of the local cops and ran to give interviews to mass media.

Oleg Vorotnikov: Pyotr ratted out Volodarsky to the cops and informed us about it with joy and satisfaction.

He tried to convince Koza and me that it’d be a good PR move for the Voina Group. He is so immoral that he didn’t even understand why we were so outraged by his words. He said to us: “Are you insane! It’s such a good opportunity and an incredible PR move for us. I’ve already given a dozen interviews!”.

As a result, Alexander spent two months in pre-trail detention. He got one year in a labor camp. This incident led to their expulsion from the group.

This decision was carried unanimously at the meeting of the Voina Group’s leaders on December 20, 2009 ( 

Natalia Sokol: Pyotr and Nady not only ratted out Alexander, afterwards, they also stole his personal belongings – laptop, money etc. 

Oleg Vorotnikov: Pyotr even suggested to share the money with other activists, assuming it’s normal to do so.

Leonid Nikolayev: To prevent the spread of information on his expulsion, Pyotr planted a lie about “a split in the group” and “a Moscow fraction”, which never existed.

Yana Sarna: The lie about “Moscow fraction” sounds ridiculous, as Tolokonnikova is from Norilsk and Verzilov is a Canadian citizen. 

Plutser-Sarno, Nikolayev, Curpen and some others were born and have lived their entire lives in Moscow. Vorotnikov and Sokol have lived in Moscow for 16 years. So what we have is Verzilov and Tolokonnikova, provokers and plagiarists, and the Voina Group – Oleg Vorotnikov, Leonid Nikolayev, Natalia Sokol, Kasper, Jenny Curpen, Alexei Plutser-Sarno.

Leonid Nikolayev: In 2010, Pyotr and Nady kept on giving interviews about the actions, in which they never participated and which were held by Vor, Koza and me, - namely Dick captured by KGB, Palace Revolution, Crazy Lenya is our President and others. Despite not having been involved in them in any way, Pyotr claimed authorship in an interview to REN TV.

Oleg Vorotnikov: In this video as a proof of being a Voina leader Verzilov shows our banners and other stuff, which he stole from Voina secret storage. Earlier he denied the fact he committed the burglary.

Leonid Nikolayev: In summer 2010, when Pyotr was already expelled, he called me and asked “for old time’s sake” to inform him about new actions so he could give interviews on our behalf.

The unprincipled man promised me benefits in return. Now Pyotr travels all over Europe with the works by Oleg, Natalia, Alexei and shows them in galleries, claiming that he is the group’s leader.

For example, now he is exhibiting Oleg and Natalia’s work of authorship – “All cops are bastards: Punk-concert in the courtroom” in Sweden. Neither Pyotr nor Nady thought up that action. They just were present in the courtroom along with many other activists.

There are three creative authors and an ideologist in the group who are responsible for all the old actions – Oleg Vorotnikov, Natalia Sokol and Alexei Plutser-Sarno, group’s media artist.

Vadim Rudnev: What happened to the group’s archive?

Oleg Vorotnikov: In May 2010, Pyotr Verzilov and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova broke into our storage and stole the whole Voina archive: banners, my personal library, original video footage of the actions, disks with various info, our music library, equipment, including amplifiers, loud speakers, DVD-players, projectors etc. They stole my desk top with all the info on Voina. They denied the fact of burglary, but a bit later their friend Katya asked us to take some of the stolen stuff from her balcony – things that Pyotr and Nady left there as useless.

Natalia Sokol: I caught Peter once when he was downloading all the data, including a Voina photo archive from my laptop.  He didn’t return anything and insisted he didn’t do anything. Later I realized that his theft was much more extensive than I thought before. For example, he also got all my usernames and passwords to various websites. He changed passwords to several Flickr accounts, where to I uploaded photos of Voina actions. In happened in January 2009. Now I don’t have any access to them.

Alexei Plutser-Sarno: Peter stole the idea of the “Cockroach court” action from Oleg. The idea of using insects, such as cockroaches or bees, was discussed at the group meeting in 2009, when Peter was still in the group.

At the “Cockroach court” action Peter didn’t manage to get the cockroaches inside the courtroom. But he lied about it to journalists. You won’t be able to find any pics or video of this co-called action as they don’t exist – cockroaches were confiscated by the court security at the entrance. 

Natalia Sokol: Pyotr tried to compensate this total failure by his usual clownery, posing and lying to the cameras in front of the court.

Oleg Vorotnikov: There is only one glamorous pic of this action - naked Nady lying with cockroaches on her breasts ( Thats not Voina style. That’s a disgrace. Pyotr simulates protest and counts on gutter press.

Alexei Plutser-Sarno: Our slogan, “Anyone can make actions!” is still alive. But if Oleg, Natalia and Leonid make new risky actions, Peter and Nady only use this slogan as a cover to steal our ideas and make feeble copycat actions.

Leonid Nikolayev: When they try to do their own actions it turns out to be a complete disaster. Take for instance, their latest shallow action in which they hugged cops and fed them with chicken. Previously, they once again discredited Voina’s name by frenching young female police school students in the Moscow metro. 
Alexei Plutser-Sarno: Their actions are a mere clownery that has nothing to do with heroic art of the Voina Group.

Oleg Vorotnikov: We provoke the authorities. Pyotr is occupied with provocations against Voina.

When Volodarsky was taken to the police, he called Pyotr three times to warn that cops were heading to the flat where Pyotr, Nady, Koza and I stayed. Pyotr and Nady packed their belongings very quickly and told us they were going “for a walk”.  They didn’t give us any hint at what was going on. A bit later we saw the cops from the window coming for us. We managed to escape, but we had to leave all our stuff there.

Natalia Sokol: Pyotr tried to rat the Voina Group to the police many times. When asked to turn off his cell at the group meetings, he never did it as he knew his phone was tapped. It was an absolutely deliberate act. Other activists not only turned their phones off but they also took out batteries. 

Oleg Vorotnikov: But the most hideous of his provocations was one when he filmed anarchists’ faces during the well-known Khimki forest rally. He afterwards uploaded this video to the Internet and credited it to the Voina Group (

This aroused honest anarchists’ hatred towards our group. You see Pyotr introduced himself to them as a Voina activist and wormed himself into their confidence. Anarchists believed his words that he would never publish their faces. That’s why they didn’t hide their faces from him.

Natalia Sokol: He set up a lot of people, even journalists. Peter justified his title of provoker.

Leonid Nikolayev: Pyotr and Nady are using their fake Twitter account ( to publish statements on behalf of the group. One of those statements appeared to be a provocation aimed at initializing a new case against the Voina Group.

The tweet, which calls for Putin’s assassination, was posted before the prime minister’s visit to the Higher School of Economics ( Pyotr chose to post this tweet on behalf of Voina despite knowing that Twitter accounts and blogs are being monitored by the police.

At that time, Oleg and I were kept in pre-trail detention. This tweet could become a reason for the police to charge both of us under article 277 of the criminal code (which implies a life-term in prison).

Natalia Sokol: When Oleg and Lenya were arrested, Pyotr rushed to give interviews in which he misinformed everyone about their location. He said they were kept in the Kresty prison.

This provocation led to dramatic consequences – in the first 10 days all the food, letters, clothes etc, sent by Voina supporters didn’t reach our guys. The lawyers were also misled by this lie.

Leonid Nikolayev: Neither Pyotr Verzilov nor his wife Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who claim to be Voina leaders, supported or helped us while we were in prison. They never sent us a single food parcel, never wrote us a single letter; we got nothing from them.

At that time Pyotr Verzilov had the nerve to lie in mass media about his generous help to us. To help a prisoner you don’t need to have anything but goodwill. This is exactly what Verzilov is lacking.

Oleg Vorotnikov: At the same time Verzilov blacked other activists, who really helped us, while we were in jail. While Plutser-Sarno launched a campaign in mass media in our support, helped to organize food parcels – he transferred an honorarium for his new book to Lyubka, who was buying food for us, Peter in his blog wrote fantastic cynic lies about him.

Alexei Plutser-Sarno: Verzilov and Tolokonnikova maintain the LiveJournal account which has been used by them to discredit the group by publishing fake news about Voina actions that never happened and to fling mud at real activists.

Oleg Vorotnikov: Verzilov is a liar, a thief, a police provoker and dexterous deceiver.

Vadim Rudnev is a Russian linguist, philosopher and theoretician of psychiatry, having earned a PhD in philology from Tartu University. He authored 18 professional publications, according to Wikipedia, including “Encyclopedic Dictionary of Cultural 20th Century,” “Madness and Success in the Culture.” He lives and works in Moscow.  

Islamic art and design at Granada´s Alhambra, photograph by Stefan van Drake (2009)
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