Ukrainian Guerrilla Art Group Protests Occupation With a Vacation

Katrina Gelze's winning #OnVacation photo. Photo: Katrina Gelze, via Instagram, @swarkastika.

The Ukrainian guerrilla art collective known as On Vacation announced the winner of a free vacation for two to the seaside the town of Balaklava, Ukraine.

The group occupied the Russian pavilion at the opening of the Venice Biennale in order to spread their message about the current political situation in Crimea.

On May 24, artist Katrina Gelze, posted her selfie on Instagram under the handle @swarkastika, and was chosen as the winner of the contest in a drawing on June 9.

The On Vacation name and the trip giveaway are both meant to critique the ongoing Russian occupation of eastern Ukraine. The group mocks Russian separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko, who claimed that the Russian soldiers leading the invasion were enjoying a “vacation… among brothers who are fighting for their freedom,” according to a Reuters report.

On Vacation takes over the Russian pavilion at the Venice Biennale in protest of the Ukrainian occupation. Photo: Alisa Ruban, via Twitter.

On Vacation takes over the Russian pavilion at the Venice Biennale in protest of the Ukrainian occupation.
Photo: Alisa Ruban, via Twitter.

The announcement was timed to the one year anniversary of the invasion of Donetsk, which saw the Donstsk People’s Republic (DPR), an unrecognized eastern Ukrainian pro-Russian separatist state, seize control of the local arts organization known as Izolyatsia Center for Cultural Initiatives.

On Vacation is one of a number of projects from Izolyatsia responding to the ongoing occupation of the center, which is now renamed the the Platform for Cultural Initiatives. The group is operating from exile in Kiev.

“They say it’s been almost a world art center which we have seized. Considering what kind of art they showed here they had to be occupied,” said a member of the separatist group in a video released by Izolyastsia. “This art won’t exist on the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic. . . . it will be punished here.”

A statement from On Vacation alleges that the occupying forces have looted and vandalized “major site-specific works” by Daniel Buren, Leandro Ehrlich, and Cai Guo-Qiang and now use the center as a prison and military base.

Photo: Izolyatsia Platform for Cultural Initiatives.

Photo: Izolyatsia Platform for Cultural Initiatives.

In Venice, On Vacation’s guerrilla art action invited Biennale visitors to don camouflage coats and enter the pavilions of exhibiting nations currently occupying other countries.

On June 10, which the center named Izolyatsia Day, the organization held a retrospective of its first residency, held in 2010, at a temporary Kiev exhibition space in an old shipyard.

“At such chaotic times when people are no longer acting with rhyme and reason, and there are no laws to protect one against the Donetsk People’s Republic’s armed militia, we must do all we can to support the artists and people from the region that are being displaced from their lives,” Cai Guo-Qiang said in a statement. The artist created work for Izolyatsia’s inaugural exhibition.


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