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Voina Tests Boundaries of Art

The Finnish-Russian Civic Forum (FINROSFORUM) promotes cooperation between the peoples of Finland and Russia by supporting civic initiatives for democracy, human rights, and free speech.




Russia has a deep tradition of avant-garde art that has tested the boundaries of art and expression. The work of the art group, Voina (“War”), is part of this tradition. As Russia’s political and economic system continues to centralize and grow more sclerotic, corrupt, and reliant on natural resources, this group is seeking to shake things up, juxtaposing humor and the absurd next to the grayness of Russian official life. The performance and public guerilla art of this collective is dedicated, in their words, to the “destruction of outdated repressive-patriarchal socio-political symbols and ideologies.”

Their group organized its first major stunt two days prior to President Dmitry Medvedev’s stage-managed election as successor to now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. About twelve activists, one of whom was a pregnant woman, entered the Biology Museum in Moscow and staged an orgy. The group’s leader and chief ideologist, bearded Alexei Plutser-Sarno, donned a top hat and unfurled a banner that said: “Fuck for the Teddy Bear Heir!” The slogan poked fun at what the group said were “farcical and pornographic elections” in which Medvedev was to inherit Putin’s “throne”.

Some of their more attention grabbing events since have been: Painting a large phallus on a bridge in St Petersburg that when raised faced the FSB headquarters. Flipping over police cars in a “palace coup.” This is the act that has brought criminal charges. Having young women kiss female police officers. Their work has attracted alot of attention. The elusive British street artist Banksy has pledged an 80,000 pound donation to the Voina art collective. It has also led to the arrest of two of its prominent members (who are charged with hooliganism), and the group’s leader is on the run from authorities.

Voina was nominated for an award from the Ministry of Culture for its phallus on the bridge. (The ministry later announced that Voina was no longer being considered for the prize.) This piece of work in particular has attracted good reviews from critics. “Voina has inherited the tradition of the Russian futurists from the early 20th century. This is not just art, but revolutionary art,” said Olesya Turkina, curator and research fellow at the Russian Museum in St Petersburg. “The Dick Captured by KGB was an absolutely genius artwork that demonstrated the phallic, patriarchal character of our state,” she said.



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