Ukrainian Activists Occupy Russia’s Venice Biennale Pavilion

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.

It seems no one is happy at the Venice Biennale. But while some are angry that the show is too political (see Okwui Enwezor’s 56th Venice Biennale Is Morose, Joyless, and Ugly), others are working to inject still more politics into the affair. Today, a group of activists wearing camouflaged army gear occupied the Russian Pavilion in a critique of the Russian takeover of the Crimea region of Ukraine that took place this past year.

The group, calling itself On Vacation, is handing out uniforms to Biennale visitors, encouraging them to occupy various national pavilions in the Giardini, with a particular emphasis on Russia. The next step, naturally, is to take a selfie and post it on social media with the hashtag #onvacation, an act which enters you into a free vacation sweepstakes.

Curated by Margarita Tupitsyn and titled “The Green Pavilion,” the Russian pavilion features the work of painter and installation artist Irina Nakhova. She has painted the interior in graphic green and red abstract design, in homage to Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s 1993 Venice presentation, “The Red Pavilion”—the perfect background for the #onvacation campaign.

The idea behind today’s protest is to dramatize the idea of Russia’s occupying forces are masquerading as vacationing tourists. The phrase “On Vacation” is a mocking reference to a comment made by Russian separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko, who claimed that the Russian soldiers were enjoying a “vacation . . . among brothers who are fighting for their freedom.”

“The project offers an entirely genuine engagement in a well-known structure—the free vacation sweepstakes, but it also positions this engagement in a conflict that is constantly denied by the occupying power,” reads a statement on the group’s website.

The contest winner, of course, gets a four-day stay at Crimea’s seaside town of Balaklava. The drawing will take place on June 9.

The Russian pavilion protest was actually the second activist event of the day for Venice, coming on the heels Gulf Labor‘s takeover of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in protest of treatment of migrant workers at the forthcoming Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (see Gulf Labor Stages Protest at Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice). What comes next is anyone’s guess.

Check out this video of the On Vacation activists:


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