Monday, December 12, 2011

Russia intensifies repression against Voina art activists in St Petersburg

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"Dick Captured by the FSB" won Voina Group Russia´s first prize for contemporary art in 2011

Those who control the images control us. And while we have been entranced by the celluloid shadows on the walls of Plato´s cave, these corporate forces, extolling the benefits of privatization, have effectively dismantled the institutions of social democracy.

“And when anarchic violence begins to disrupt the mechanisms of governance, the power elite will use these acts, however minor, as an excuse to employ disproportionate and ruthless amounts of force against real and suspected agitators, only fueling the rage of the dispossessed.

“The new paradigm of power, coupled with its bizarre ideology of limitless progress and impossible happiness, has turned whole nations, including the United States, into monsters.”

Chris Hedges: Zero Point of Systemic Collapse, 8 Feb. 2010.
Ai Weiwei´s symbolic self-portrait and photograph against Chinese government corruption
Stalin must be rolling over in his grave.

Lenin must be squirming in his mausoleum in Red Square.

During their regimes, Voina Group members and sympathizers would be rounded up and summarily shot or shipped to Siberia and worked to death in a couple of years.

If they were lucky to survive a “tenner” (10 years) like Alexander Solzhenitsyn and suffered another few years in exile, you could perhaps one day write about the horrors of such repression.

Voina, now endures increased, harsh Kremlin repression for invoking art as political protest with its image of its 65-meter phallus or finger, painted on a draw bridge in St. Petersburg last year, which when drawn erect (closing the bridge), gave the big one to the headquarters of the FSB, read KGB. (Voina called it, "Dick Captured by the FSB.")

What triggered the Kremlin´s current hunger to crush Voina, now living squat to squat in hiding (or in jail) in St. Petersburg (most of them, anyway), are two incidents: "The Palace Revolution," when Voina members flipped over a cop car in St. Petersburg as a performance protest against the Russian police and judicial system.

The other, which affects Natalia Sokol (aka Kozlenok)--spraying urine on cops during a March 2011 protest.

Police were not amused.

This inspired investigations and abuse of judicial process by police, including wrongful or illegal detentions.

In January this year, a jury of contemporary art apparatchiks named by the Russian Ministry of Culture awarded Voina first prize – the coveted Innovation Award for Contemporary Art.

Voina shunned the award, demanding the equivalent $15,000 USD prize support Russian political prisoners.

When the Kremlin Kuratorium launched the 4th Moscow Biennale (23 Sept. - 30 Oct.), Voina suddenly reappeared in a few works, a couple of which were stolen by two ex-Voina members, kicked out in 2009 for cooperating with police and stealing Voina works and archives.

The 4th Moscow withdrew the two stolen works but paraded new pabulum protest videos by the exiled members as activist art during its activist festival, which included a politically benign work by Ai Weiwei.

The 4th Moscow withdrew the stolen works but paraded the two ousted Voina as the original art activist group.

That effort appeared fatally flawed.

During Voina´s protest against the imposters, the Kremlin, however, took notice its disinformation campaign was flagging.

From the most recent to earliest events during this time, here´s the chronology of Russian schizophrenic repression of Voina Group:

The new paradigm of Russian corporate power, an old story

7 Dec. St. Petersburg district court issues an arrest warrant for Voina co-founder Natalia Sokol (Kozlenok). She is mother to 2.5 year-old Kasper and 8 month´s pregnant, and in hiding. She is charged with using violence against police, spraying them with urine.

Kozlenok has been wanted by police since 11 November for allegedly failing to return to a police station to be interrogated.

6 Dec.  At request of Russian federal police, Interpol issues international alert against Kozlenok, requiring her arrest anywhere.

6 Dec.  Voina Group artist Philip Kostenko, after his arrest on 4 Dec. during protests against election fraud in St. Petersburg, begins hunger strike.

Philip Kostenko being arrested on 4 Dec. in anti-Duma election protest rally (Photograph by Vladimir Telegin)
He was arrested near Gostiny Dvor at a peaceful rally against widespread violations in the federal Duma elections on 4 Dec. 

He was charged with disobeying cops, sentenced to 15 days in jail.

Another activist, Viktor Demyanenko, joined Kostenko on the hunger strike demanding releasing all people detained at the peaceful rallies of 4– 6 Dec.

Kostenko faces other pending charges (vandalism, insulting a public official and using violence against a public official).

5 Dec.  Leonid Nikolaev (“Leo the Fucknut”) escapes police custody after a few hours of playing hard-ball, refusing to disclose identity and submit to fingerprinting. (Latest word from Voina is Nikolaev may have been re-arrested. I await details.)

4 Dec. Nikolaev arrested, beaten, roughed up and intimidated by St. Petersburg police at two stations before escaping custody.

"Notes from the Russian Undergound" Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)
2 Nov. Charges of malicious vandalism and hooliganism (up to 7 years in prison) reinstated against Nikolaev and Oleg Vorotnikov growing out of the Palace Revolution art action, turning over a police car causing minor property damage.
30 Oct. 4th Moscow Biennale closes.

23 Oct. Kozlenok refuses to return to St. Petersburg police station for interrogation, defying authorities (again).

18 Oct. Police arrest, detain Kozlenok and son Kasper after meeting with journalists in St. Petersburg. After four hours of detention, police release her on her promise to return.

14 Oct. Charges dropped against Nikolaev and Vorotnikov over cop car incident. The prosecution appeals.

4 Oct. Voina starts worldwide boycott of the 4th Moscow Biennale claiming fraud and misappropriation of its name and works.

23 Sept. 4th Moscow opens.

From left, Leonid Nikolaev, Oleg Vorotnikov and Natalia Sokol
Since most global news since 4 Dec. on the Russian elections focuses on the 50,000 protestors in Moscow, Voina Group´s valor in consistently opposed Russian corruption and abuse of power and individual freedoms with its activist metaphors, its images, born of pure political dissent, should not be ignored.

Russia named them their best contemporary artists for 2011.

Now it actively represses them, even more than China oppresses Ai Weiwei.

As former U.S. combat photo-journalist and political philosopher Chris Hedges wrote on 8 Feb. 2010, among other things:

“But resistance, however marginal, continues to affirm life in a world awash in death. It is the supreme act of faith, the highest form of spirituality and alone makes hope possible.”

Rock on and practice peace and love.

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will be at peace." Jimmy Hendrix 

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM).

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Maurizio Cattelan's telling hand, left, remain at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, Ca.,

ArtTraveler notes:

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