- Title: RUSSIA/FILE: Artist-provacateurs released from jail with help from Banksy
- Date: 3rd March 2011
- Summary: ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA (FEBRUARY 27, 2011) (REUTERS) VARIOUS MEMBERS OF ART GROUP 'VOINA' WALKING IN SNOW
- Embargoed: 18th March 2011 12:00
- Location: Russian Federation
- Country: Russia
- Topics: Crime / Law Enforcement,Entertainment,Quirky
- Reuters ID: LVADVO81LX9K36WNHVIBTE5MASGY
- Story Text: Two artists from the provocative art group 'Voina', are free on bail of 10,000 U.S. dollars each, after spending four months in a St. Petersburg jail.
Famed British street artist Banksy has pledged 147,000 USD to help defend Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev, who were arrested last November for turning over police cars on a Moscow street. Called "Palace Revolution," the action was meant to demand the reform of the Russian Ministry of the Interior, which controls the police.
Voina, which means "war" in Russian, is a group of artists who have said that their actions criticise the establishment in a country where traditional opposition to the government has been dulled by public apathy and a diet of pro-Kremlin television news.
Nikolayev and Vorotnikov, who were released on February 24, still face charges of criminal mischief motivated by political, racial, national or religious hatred or hostility-- charges their attorneys and rights activists say are being incorrectly applied.
If convicted, the two face up to five years in prison.
Despite their discomfort in jail, the artists said their stay only emboldened them and proved the merit of their actions.
"The serious issue for me is that jail shows you that what you did was right. And the price you paid for it...you confirm that your words, ideas and views were right while you're in jail. It's useless to think that you'll put a person in jail, and he'll think and change his mind. He'll think deeply about it and keep his position," Vorotnikov said.
Voina has staged numerous absurdist events over the past few years in Moscow and St. Petersburg, which the mainstream art community has not always supported.
After staging events like painting a giant phallus on a St. Petersburg bridge, and overturning police cars, many have called into question whether or not the group's exploits should be classed as art or vandalism. Group member Vorotnikov, however, doesn't shy away from being accused of hooliganism, insisting that hooligan acts have a legitimate and important place in culture.
"'Culture' is what we are doing, what we are building. Culture isn't just what is given to us - something we should save and pass on to the next generation to later throw away like a worthless old thing. Culture, in general, is what we are doing, and for that reason differentiating between an artist and a hooligan or an artist and non-artist is outdated. In the avant-garde approach to culture, everyone contributes to the creation and changing of culture. Everyone contributes to this each and every day, including hooligans and their actions," Vorotnikov said.
Vorotnikov and Nikolaev's friends and relatives say the two were mistreated following their November arrest and jailed in substandard conditions. However, their plight caught fellow guerilla artist Banksy's attention and led to international headlines.
Nikolaev said the increased publicity has helped their cause and is awakening the attention of Russian citizens.
"We hit at these unhealthy places (in Russian society) - we sharpen people's attention to it. And I hope that we are having success in bringing people hope and belief in their own strength. That is, we're showing that even just a few people can do a lot," Nikolaev said.
Milena Orlova, the editor of a Russian art magazine, "Art Chronika," who herself attracted authorities' attention last April with an issue on art and religion, said the arrests show that the authorities are beginning to realize the effect art can have on the public.
"It seems to me that the authorities' attitude to these kinds of actions has changed, and the authorities have started to take artists seriously, almost as politicians and the opposition. But it's still art. Of course, it's fairly weird to see these kinds of sanctions against the people doing these actions," said Orlova.
Voina stunts over the past few years in Moscow and St. Petersburg have ranged from holding a dinner party on a Moscow metro car to painting a giant phallus on a drawbridge in St. Petersburg that, when lifted, faced the city's Federal Security Bureau headquarters. The drawbridge action was nominated for a prestigious Russian government art prize in early February but has since been dropped from the shortlist of nominees.
A day before the presidential election that Medvedev won by a landslide in 2008, five couples, including one heavily pregnant woman, secretly undressed in Moscow's Biological Museum. With video cameras rolling, they had sex in front of a banner calling for copulation in support of "the bear cub-successor" - a pun on Medvedev's family name, which is derived from the Russian word for bear.
Banksy himself often operates outside of the artistic mainstream, working at night, creating murals and absurd scenes on private buildings and public property, in addition to paintings and sketches collected by high profile buyers like Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Christina Aguilera.
Bansky sold 175 prints of his piece "Choose Your Weapon" in December to benefit Voina artists and their families.
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