Is This Club For ‘Members’ Only?

The shock-performance group Voina (War) made its way to Prague today as part of a European road show meant to call attention to its work as the leader of Russia’s new pack of art-protest groups.

Voina, which first gained prominence for an installation involving five copulating couples in a Moscow biology museum, was meant as an oblique comment on the election of Dmitry Medvedev as the nation’s new president.

Since then, it has unleashed a kissing campaign targeting female police officers, staged vodka parties in a metro car, and — most notoriously — painted a 65-meter-tall phallus on a St. Petersburg drawbridge which, when raised, looked directly into the windows of FSB headquarters.

“The police all took pictures of it with their cell phones,” says Jana Sarna, the groups PR coordinator. “They thought it was really funny.”

Oleg Vorotnikov (center), leader of the art group Voina, appears in a St. Petersburg court in February.
​​Such stunts have gained the Voina movement a delighted audience of millions both inside and outside Russia. (The anti-establishment group even has thoroughly establishment moments, like winning an innovation award this year from the Russian Ministry of Culture.)

But it hasn’t been without trouble.

The group’s founder, artist Oleg Vorotnikov, was arrested in 2011 for overturning an empty police car in protest against corruption in the country’s law-enforcement bodies.

Vorotnikov and a fellow Voina activist, Leonid Nikolayev, spent three and a half months in prison before being bailed out by British street artist Banksy. Since then, they’ve been forced to keep a low profile.

“Russia was stupid enough to put Oleg on an Interpol list,” says Aleksei Plutser-Sarno, the group’s head media artist, who helped hang a massive photograph off the side of Prague’s Charles Bridge showing Vorotnikov behind bars. “So we’re taking this banner of him on tour so Interpol can see his face everywhere we go.”

“The Russian opposition is weak,” added Sarna. “But Voina actions hit the most painful points in society. We bring up issues that make people think.”

Certain news editors were heard expressing hope the group would use their time on the Charles Bridge to re-erect the Petersburg phallus. Instead, Plutser-Sarno hung a small banner off the base of the bridge featuring a photograph of the original. Tourists, many of them Russians, glanced curiously at the goings-on, but strolled on without a comment.

— Daisy Sindelar

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