How Ukrainians in khaki uniforms took over the Russian pavilion at the Biennale

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A group of anonymous Ukrainian activists staged a “vacation” inside the Russian pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

At the opening of the largest forum of contemporary art in the world, the pavilion occupied by the Russian Federation was invaded by people wearing military uniforms with a badge that said “on vacation.”

Imitating the Russian “little green men” they all declared that they were on vacation. As they handed out uniforms the activists called on all interested parties to come join “the vacation.” The best “vacation photograph” would be awarded a prize: a trip to the Crimea. Yuriy Marchenkoriy Marchenko and Aleksandra Kovaleva were able to pose a few questions to one of the people “on vacation.”

Among the performance participants we noted Ukrainian artists and social activists Maria Kulikovskaya, Nikita Shalenyi, Liubov Mikhailova, and others. People from other countries were there, as well, who became curious after reading the leaflets distributed by anonymous activists at the entrance to the Giardini (at the Biennale).

According to the activists, the Russian pavilion was selected for the performance because its theme is the occupation of the Crimea by “anonymous” soldiers in the spring of 2014, an event that most of the world has insisted is a violation of international law.

“What was the initial reaction of the employees and visitors to the pavilion?”

“There were different reactions. Some said ‘This is very Russian.’ Others wondered whether this was a legitimate part of the pavilion exhibition. Some wanted to call in the police. We spent about an hour in the pavilion before people realized what was really going on and the police were summoned. But in general lots of people reacted intuitively and wanted to be a part of the action. We handed out more than a hundred uniforms with the badge ‘on vacation.’ People were pleased and seriously interested. They were glad to take part. All the more because a prize will be awarded for the best photo taken at the pavilion – a trip to occupied Crimea.”

“How did the foreigners react?”

“Most of the participants and spectators were, in fact, foreigners. The Biennale is an international event, after all. Our team had long and serious discussions about the occupation with people who wanted to know more. But some just wanted to be a part of an art project, they put on the uniforms and took pictures. Overall it gives us an extraordinary opportunity to exchange information about the situation [in the Crimea and in Ukraine], which was what had inspired us to execute the project in the first place.”

“What is the objective of the project?”

“The object is to force the viewer to be informed and to amend his opinions and beliefs in regard to the occupation. The main idea of the project is that people must ask questions about the conflict in Ukraine.
We will keep the act going until June 8th. Next time we will present the award, a trip to the Crimea. In the meantime we will continue to hand out the uniforms and the leaflets that explain what is happening. Including next to the Russian pavilion. I’m not sure if we will we be performing other acts in the pavilion. Our task was to make sure that people who are completely uninformed and uninvolved start thinking about the occupation and visit the aggressor’s pavilion for ‘a vacation’ in uniforms. And we’ve accomplished that.”

“What can you, the organizers of the action, tell us about yourselves?”

“Well, we’re ‘on vacation.’ Have we done anything special? No, we didn’t do anything that anyone ‘on vacation’ wouldn’t do. Haven’t the recent events in places like the Crimea shown us that people ‘on vacation’ are capable of amazing sorts of activity? Our action is relevant to how the mass media can present the ‘activity.’ By acting out those images we want to call attention to them. But most of all we want the spectators to ask themselves what their personal attitude is in regard to situations like this. We want the spectator to feel like the ‘vacationing’ occupying force. That is, if that is even possible.”

“How many of you are there?”

“Nine of us initiated the project. And we are everywhere.”

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In conclusion the anonymous activists invite all who wish to participate in the project #onvacation to do so, and to share relevant pictures in social networks. The winner of the best picture taken of the action in the pavilion will receive a great prize: a free trip to Balaklava, Crimea. The instructions for participating in the project can be found on the official site of the project:

– put on the military uniform provided by the project organizers;

– take a selfie in the pavilion of the occupying country;

– post the photo on your Instagram or Twitter account with the hashtag #onvacation, and identify the pavilion;

– win a trip to the Crimea.

Officially one of the largest forums of contemporary art in the world, the Venice Biennale opens on May 9th and runs until November 22nd. The Ukrainian Pavilion was opened May 7,2015 with a concert featuring Okean Elzy.

EMPR, O. R. contributed to this publication.

Original article in Russian is available here.

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