We met Artur Żmijewski in St. Petersburg in the spring of 2011. That summer he invited us to become curators of the 7th Berlin Biennale. He told us he needed our help to transform art into politics. This doesn’t mean that as Biennale curators we are going to occupy ourselves with exhibition management, which in our opinion is rather useless: exhibitions harm contemporary art. All artists ever think about nowadays is what they can exhibit and where. Therefore the fewer art pieces the Biennale will have, the better. The basis of our curatorial activity in the Berlin Biennale is this: we work without any limitations, and the Berlin Biennale hasn’t mandated any kind of frame. We have a close exchange with Artur. He knows about the difficulties we face and how exhausting it is to live underground. Our work with the Berlin Biennale doesn’t mean that we are leaving our country for this. Our activities here in Russia make up part of our work for the Biennale. All our actions as curators have an official status; we act as associate curators of the Biennale, and the government has to accept this. Our most recent actions were radical. The rulers don’t dare to bring charges against us; they will probably not arrest the entire Berlin Biennale. Trying to leave the country wouldn’t be such a hard thing at all, but to live in St. Petersburg — where the “Commission on Fighting Extremism,” the criminal police, and the Russian department of Interpol search for us, and where our mug shots are even posted in the porter’s lodges of the museums—to live under such conditions is much more dangerous than the kind of elegant adventure of crossing a border. In principle, my position is: I’m staying here. The Russian government is at war against its own people. Many Russians, particularly those with a good education, have already left Russia. Millions of people have never been able to realize their life goals. This is the government’s fault. That’s why I can’t leave. My front line is in Russia. And this is also my aesthetic position: to stay in the most beautiful city in the world. In our opinion, it’s part of the ethics of an artist to resist against the ruling system and to make this goal accessible to the public as well. This is why we seek to make our aim shine in the best possible way. There is an anecdote or perhaps it’s just someone’s memory of Kazimir Malevich: after the revolution in Petrograd, armed with a pistol, he passed through artists’ studios asking who was still painting birches and demanded real art. Armed with a weapon. That is real art.
Aesthetics is the precondition of ethics. Today, ethics are much more important for art. Voina doesn’t tolerate cowardice nor greed—both are the source of betrayal which is the worst and most unforgivable thing for the art activist. I personally cannot deal with apathy or ineptitude. When both occur, moreover in combination with an inflated self-assessment, I become very unpleasant company.
We want to make a type of art that no longer inspires anyone to the idea of awarding us an art prize. But if the museums and institutions can’t let go and continue to suggest us for their idiotic competitions, they are going to regret it. It’s impossible to bribe revolutionary art, and playing games with geniuses is dangerous. It’s my friendly advice that one should take us very seriously. For us, art is not the measure of life. We create new life, new events, that one can refer to. Our rifles are charged and aimed at art so that it stays at a distance and will not spread its art stench over here. We hate PR. We are an underground group. Voina has become very popular. Books and films about us are everywhere, people copy our actions—and none of this has anything to do with us. It’s other people playing copycat. Lazy assholes that advertise for us… this does not have anything to do with our future.
In the Russian press hardly anything has been published about us that paints a true picture of reality. Here, the dishonest writing of lackeys has become the ideology of journalistic work. If one third of what they write is accurate, it’s already a big success. A typical example of this is how the press wrote serious articles about our participation in the corrupt Moscow Biennale in spite of our loud and public boycott. Since 2005 when we have existed as a group there has been a substantial flow of disinformation about us. But sometimes this also has positive aspects: when the police investigated about our action “Palace Revolution” they couldn’t find any evidence, except the wildly contradictory media rumors and artistic interpretations on blogs. Thus the whole thing collapsed in on itself.
Now it’s our aim to present the people with a convincing impression of decisive actions. Passive protest and symbolic actions—now when it is again about “big history”—are immoral. The events in Russia of December 2011 and February 2012 show us: both the government and the opposition (which humiliates itself in front of the government) make fools of the people by degrading protests to the level of consuming Internet memes. There is laughter and ironizing rather than arming ourselves for street fighting. We have taken Berlin. The next thing is the Russian revolution.