VOINA MEANS WAR

Voina´s activities have ranged from street protests, symbolic pranks in public places, and performance-art happenings, to vandalism and destruction of property. More than a dozen criminal cases have been brought against the group.

VOINA MEANS WAR

This is the story of the Russian post-artist, pirate street-family known as Voina. The mother and father of 3, Natalie “Koza” Sokolo and Oleg “Vor” Vorotnikov, once famous for leading the art group that defied the Russian Federation through artistic satire, today sit with their children in a jail in Graz, Austria.

Background:

Having fled Russia for Europe in 2010, and having renounced the use of money, they spent a decade crossing borders, squatting, shoplifting, and blogging from the underground all the while being pursued by the police and the Russian press.

But bridges burned and support dissipated and they soon found themselves forgotten vagabonds living on the streets and running from the police with 3 young children at their side.

I wanted to meet them. I wanted to see how these crazy superstar Russians who had inspired an artistic generation of Russian Actionism could have fallen into invisible homelessness. And so I set out to meet them. This is that story.

The radical art collective Voina knows no limitations in their fight against police brutality and corruption, reportedly widespread throughout Russia. 

With the objective of a rebirth of political street-art, the group created on 23rd February, 2007 sought to create “monumental patriotic street art” in Russia. The group acknowledged it drew inspiration from the Russian Decembrists Revolt of 1825, Russian traditions of Futurism of 1920s, and the Russian traditions of Skomorokh and carnival middle-age art. But most importantly, they drew inspiration form the Russian artist Dmitri Prigov.

Voina, like the historical avant-garde movements that preceded them, was concerned with pure art, or art proper – that which blurs the line between art and non-art, that which in a sense raises the bar and/or expands the parameters of the imagination. Art proper, or pure art, deals with politics proper, or pure politics. Many avant-gardists sought the same result – to create an authentic body-politic out of the body-plastic.  

Background

I would like to quote BBC at length here:

Although the name of the group is Voina, or War, their methods are nonviolent, and their weapons are satire and showmanship, rather than knives and shotguns. Last June, the politically-conscious art collective caused a stir when they painted a huge penis on a drawbridge in Saint Petersburg. As the Liteyny bridge opened to let ships pass down the Neva, the erect phallus (65meters tall/ 27meters across) sent an unmistakable message to a building directly opposite, the local headquarters of the KGB successors, the Federal Security Service. In another stunt designed to expose police impunity, one member of the group went into a supermarket wearing a police uniform. He filled 5 bags with the most expensive food he could find and calmly walked out, without paying. Nobody challenged him. Still more daringly in September, Voina members overturned several police patrol cars. That involved 30 activists: 5 to do the heavy lifting, while the rest filmed what was happening, acted as lookouts, or distracted police by pretending to be lost tourists. (Lucy Ash, BBC Radio 4, 27 November 2010)

STORMING OF THE WHITE HOUSE, Moscow, the night of November 7, 2008 The assault brigade sent a beam of Voina to the House of the Government of Russia. The Skull and Bones of Voina served as a signal. Activists climbed over the fence and attacked the White House, destroying CCTV cameras along the way.

PALACE REVOLUTION (Section 2 of VOINA DIY Handbook Fuck by Yourselves’ — ‘Help the child – help the nation!’) Help the child – help the nation! 15 September 2010, Saint Petersburg, Michailovskiy Castle Voina group Handbook “Fuck By Yourselves!” – Chapter 2: How to stick a сhicken on a skewer. After President Lyonya Yobnutiy’s action, he made the statement “While helping the child – I help the country”. 

Dick Captured By The FSB: On the night of 13 to 14 June 2010, Voina art group drew a giant dick on the Foundry Bridge for half a minute before it was raised. When the dick erected, it became visible to all of St Petersburg and the whole world. Behind it, horrified by the staff from the windows *** В

NEW YEAR AVTOZAK action (Section 3 of VOINA DIY Handbook “Fuck by Yourselves”) Forsaken Santa Claus congratulated the New Year 2012 with the human rights activist and public figure Philip Arkadyevich Kostenko currently undergoing political repression in prison. “A modest gift from the heart.” It’s not artistic, it’s an extra-divine action. “Fuck practicing art when there is a struggle.” RADIO STATION “FREEDOM” ANNOUNCES: In St. Petersburg, the art group “War” burned a police paddy wagon, expressing anger against the appearance of political prisoners in Russia. The action called “auto-da-fe”, reports about which appeared only today, took place on the night of Sunday a few minutes before the New Year’s TV show of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. One of the activists of the art group entered the territory of the Internal Affairs Directorate and with the words “One, two, three – Christmas tree, burn!” set fire to a police vehicle.

Goals and objectives of  the Art-Group Vojna in the period 2008-2010.

   1. Rebirth of heroical behavioral ideals of an artist-intellectual, in a manner of Russian libertarian decemberism. Creation of image of artist as romantic hero, who prevail over the evil. Creation of lively romantic models in today`s soulless commercial conceptual art.

   2. Rebirth of lively expressive art, which is sincere and honest and provoking observers` deep emotional experience. Actualization of monumental expressive genres, where large scale harmonizes with totally rich in content orientation, in contrast to outdated hypertrophy of forms, which deovid of sense.

   3. Creation of innovative topical art-language, which is producing for pure art, but not for a money. It is mean language, which is adequate for today’s cultural and socio-political context, which is can show actual of the new epoch, which have no analogues in the past. Creation of Russian national actual art, without outmodedness and provinciality, and which provokes admiration of intellectuals all over the world.

   4. Rebirth of Russian laughing culture, traditions of absurdity and sarcasm in context of high art, that is Rebirth of lively merriment in the art-spaces. Creation of political street-art in Russia in the best traditions of skomorokh and carnival middle-age art.

   5. Conceptual destruction of glamour timeserving and conformist Russian art-market, which is reproducing outdated forms of art, artificially falsifying processes of pricing of art-market and creating financial pyramid from devalued art-junk.

   6. Creating of real left front of art in Russia in traditions of futurism of 1920 years, which is radically shift all ideological poles by the facts of its being. Rebirth of political protest art all over the world.

   7.  War with “werewolfes in straps” for the freedom of contemporary art. War with socio-political obscurantism and ultra-right reaction for the triumph of nano-modernization in Russia. Subversion and destruction of outdated repressive-patriarchal socio-political symbols and ideologies. Art-war against all global world for total triumph of justice in Art-Area.

“We’ve had sex in public and are no longer scared of it. We’ve invaded a police station and are no longer afraid of it. What else is there to scare us? Death, we will deal with in the future. Soon we will be completely fearless.” 

– Koza

Artists in Exile or Fugitives?

I always viewed Vor (Thief) and Koza (Little Goat) as the Mickey and Mallory or Bonnie and Clyde of the art world. And I must admit, I felt a little like Robert Downey Jr. in "Natural Born Killers" when I spent a few months with them last year to document their lifestyle.

Ten years ago, this renegade couple drew praise from both art world and activist circles for their courage and cleverness in using artistic interventions to challenge the corruption of politics in Russia. They spoke of a silly revolution with serious conviction and their art was both playfully childlike and politically sophisticated. Voina used what they called “parody to the point of insanity” to express the venom and despair of the Russian youth under mafia-like rule.

Famous for drawing a 250ft penis on a draw bridge across from the Russian secret service headquarters, famous for having an orgy in a biology museum, and famous for flipping cop cars – all in the name of art and revolution – Vor and Koza never shied away from putting themselves on the line to make an aesthetic gesture of defiance. But as soon as they acquired fame, they acquired the threat of prison.

After Banksy bailed a few members out of jail and the Moscow faction disbanded to become Pussy Riot, Voina, the Saint Petersburg faction, disappeared from the public eye. In order to avoid prison terms, they snuck out of Russia into the labyrinth of Europe and stopped coordinating art actions. They never sought asylum or accepted cash support like Pussy Riot. Instead, they got kicked out of every place they slept and their fame and reputation soon dwindled.

No Money

SHOPLIFTING WITH VOINA IN BERLIN

For over a decade, the Voina Art Family has refused to use money. They shoplift from stores and squat from place to place and illegally cross borders between countries without documents…all the while escorting 3 small kids and bouncing in and out of jail and refugee camps. Over the years, Vor and Koza grew paranoid and bitter and refused to trust anyone but each other. They lived on the edge of society, in between the gutter and the broken glass of some “post-aesthetic bygone rebellion”. If we can call it that.

Are they anarchists? Not really. They are more like Russian post-artist fugitives. Or pirates. And they are some of the most unapologetic and uncompromising people I have ever met.

But how does the Voina Pirate Family survive? How do they eat and take care of their 3 kids today?

Here is a series of what they call “hunts”, weekly grocery shoplifting sprees for the family.

Personally I find this footage fascinating. People often wear body cameras to snowboard or surf. But this family wears body cameras to commit “criminal survival life art”. If we can call it that.

Shoplifting with Voina #1
Shoplifting with Voina #2

Swiss Action

Voina´s activities have ranged from street protests, symbolic pranks in public places, and performance-art happenings, to vandalism and destruction of property. More than a dozen criminal cases have been brought against the group.

“Voina Means War” is a short immersive documentary about the post-artist, pirate family Voina, once known for their brave and unapologetic stunts against the Russian Federation, find themselves alienated in exile, squatting, stealing food, and running from the cops from country to country. This is the story about the art world’s Russian Bonnie and Clyde.