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Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Alek Epstein on 'Voina' and Art Activism in the era of Tandemocracy.

Alek Epstein's book 'Total 'Voina'(War): Art Activism in the Era of Tandemocracy' gives one a particularly fresh insight into the movement which led up to the recent Pussy Riot scandal. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova - one of the three alleged Pussy Riot members- played a significant part in the 'Voina' art group. Epstein- an Israeli journalist and scholar who has previously specialised in the Israel-Palestine question- has given an insiders account of this group and the development of its many actions. Perhaps most famous was the painting of the huge phallus outside the FSB headquarters in St Petersburg but there were many others which achieved greater or lesser public resonance. Epstein explains the development of the group, the schisms, the ideology and the origins in earlier art activist and artistic trends as well as the movement from art to political activism which has been especially true of the Moscow wing of the group in recent times. Epstein is well acquainted with the members of the 'Voina' group and herein lies his especial attention to the inner workings of the group. He also pays a lot of attention to the role of Aleksei Plutser Sarno who, in many ways, controlled the way that the group was received as well as, according to Epstein, influencing the process of exclusion of certain early members of the group. The book is, perhaps, the first full-scale attempt to describe this art activism in contemporary Russia and the group 'Voina' and it is to be hoped that a translation could be in the offing. While it doesn't give too much detail on the genesis and context of the group in terms of contemporary Russian art movements it does mention names like Alexander Brener, Monastirsky and others such as Edward Limonov who are in some way predecessors. The availability of material on the group in English is detailed in Plutser-Sarno's blog on Voina and while awaiting a more detailed, scholarly and dispassionate account of Voina, this book by Alek Epstein is a reasonable beginning filling in many details of the history of one of Russia's most radical art group.

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