Russia's Art War - An Interview with Voina
"The Palace Revolution" - Overturning cop cars in St. Petersburg
Things aren't going so well in Russia at the moment. Years of war with rebels and jihadis in the southern Caucasus regions have brought the suicide bombers to Moscow and other Russian cities, many of which – if that canny silver fox Julian Assange is to be believed – are in the hands of the mafia. Freedom of expression is tightly controlled, too. Journalists who disagree with the government are often beaten and in some cases killed, while public demonstrations are brutally crushed and artists routinely imprisoned for 'endangering the state'.
One such group of artists go by the name of Voina. 'Voina' is Russian for 'war'. Voina are at war with the Russian government.
The art-prank collective have spent the last few years doing everything they can to annoy the powers that be – things like staging orgies in public museums, drawing 200ft dicks on drawbridges opposite KGB HQ, and throwing cats at McDonald's employees on International Workers' Day.
Recently though, the state have grown tired of public humiliation. In the autumn of last year, state police arrested and detained two of the group's leaders, Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev, after the pair were found overturning police cars. They were imprisoned after a show trial, but then a figure emerged from the darkness to snatch freedom from the jaws of the gulag bed bugs – Banksy (yeah, that guy) splashed some of that funky urban professional money he's been stacking for their bail.
Unfortunately for Voina, the trouble didn't stop there, and Oleg and his wife Natalia Sokol were brutally attacked by security forces on their way home from a press conference. The attackers went as far as to injure their 2-year-old son, Kasper. Those scenes repeated themselves in front of the world's watching media on Friday (April 1) so I thought it would be a good time to transcribe the huge interview I did with them a couple of weeks back.
VICE: When and why were Voina formed?
Alexei Plutser-Sarno: The group was founded by Oleg Vorotnikov and Natalia Sokol on February 23, 2007. I joined the group in December 2007 after drinking vodka with Oleg. In February 2008, I participated in the group's most infamous action, “Fuck for the Heir Medvedev’s Little Bear!”, which was staged just before President Medvedev’s election. I'm the one wearing a tuxedo and a top hat and holding a black pre-electoral banner. I was surrounded by the copulating activists.
"Casually launching cats at McDonald's workers"
To the outside world, it seems that Russia is becoming more and more oppressive. So why aren't there more groups like Voina?
Oleg Vorotnikov: We aren't the only young people protesting. There are fearless anarchists, anti-fascists and others. They remain unrecognised in the West, as they act anonymously and in secret.
Alexei: People here are really intimidated. Oleg, Leonid and Natalia are brave artists, they don’t hide their faces and are not afraid of repercussions from the system.
What are the objectives of the group?
Alexei: We are proprietors of left-wing protest street action art. Our principles are honesty, intrepidity and monumentality. The most monumental action was one dubbed "Dick Captured by KGB!" The phallus on the Liteyny drawbridge was 65m high (213ft) by 27m (89ft) across. When the bridge was opened, our dick erected just opposite the headquarters of the KGB’s successor, the Federal Security Service, and laid its head against the cloudy sky.
Natalia Sokol: There were nine activists who painted the dick in 23 seconds. And there were seven guards on the bridge, who rushed at us at once.
Do you think Voina could help inspire the promotion of democracy and freedom in Russia?
Oleg: Courageous young people appear in Russia because of someone like us. We have a rule – every next action should be stronger, more impressive and monumental than the previous ones.
Natalia: It seems to me that the Russian authorities are impressed more and more every time. That’s probably why they want to destroy us so persistently.