Published: September 21, 2011 (Issue # 1675)
The art group Voina has asked international artists to boycott the 4th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art that opens on Friday, Sept. 23 for exhibiting a work that does not belong to the group under its name.
The work in question is the “Kiss the Cops” stunt, which was staged in Moscow by former Voina members Pyotr Verzilov and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and a number of volunteers earlier this year. During the stunt, female activists forced kisses on policewomen on duty in the Moscow metro.
The video documenting the stunt was uploaded onto YouTube on Feb. 28, four days after Leonid Nikolayev and Oleg Vorotnikov, who did three months in prison, were released on bail — paid by British graffiti artist Banksy — in St. Petersburg.
On March 1, Voina made a statement denouncing the stunt and denying any involvement with it.
Alexei Plutser, who documents every Voina stunt with photos and text descriptions in his Livejournal.com blog, said then that “Verzilov and his girlfriends” had been kicked out of Voina for allegedly handing in a Kiev activist to the Ukrainian police in November 2009.
(The activist, Alexander Volodarsky, spent six weeks in prison and three months in a penal colony in Ukraine before he was released on July 22.)
Plutser also noted that the “Kiss the Cops” stunt appeared to have been timed to coincide with the much-publicized release of Nikolayev and Vorotnikov in order to draw maximum attention from the public.
The video and photographs of the stunt are scheduled to be part of “Media Impact. International Festival of Activist Art,” an exhibit within the biennale.
In a statement Friday, the real Voina wrote that the activists have been deprived of the opportunity to take legal action against the Moscow curators because they are still under investigation, while Vorotnikov and his wife Natalya “Kozlyonok” Sokol are on a police wanted list and in hiding.
In their response to Voina posted on the Internet on Sunday, the organizers refused to withdraw the work, saying that Verzilov and Tolokonnikova claim they have the same right to the name Voina as the other members, and that the organizers have no way of influencing the names of participants.
Meanwhile, the media appears to be confused — again — as many preview articles for the Biennale mention Voina’s award-winning “Dick Captured by the KGB” stunt on Liteiny Bridge in St. Petersburg in June 2010, the group’s criminal charges and Banksy’s support.
These are in fact what Voina is best-known for, and none of this has anything to do with Verzilov and Tolokonnikova.
Meanwhile, footage of the real Voina’s stunts was included last week in an official video for the protest song “State Bulldozer” by the Moscow band Center. The video is available on YouTube and the band’s web resources.