Activists Seize Russian Pavilion

VENICE -- Mimicking the Russian military involvement in east Ukraine, a group of Ukrainian artists and activists have staged a mock-occupation of the Russian pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale, descending on the venue in camouflage fatigues.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network were in the pavilion during the protest performance.

The protest titled, 'On Vacation,’ saw the activists, like Russia's infamous "little green men,” referencing the soldiers that appeared before the annexation of Crimea and invasion of east Ukraine.

The protesters handed out uniforms to Biennale visitors and called on those interested to join them "On Vacation" in Crimea.

Among the participants were Ukrainian artists and cultural figures such as Maryia Kulikovska, Mykyta Shalennyi, Lubov Mikhailova as well as representatives of other states.

The artists then urged visiting tourists to take selfies wearing military uniforms they handed out.

The uniforms had the words “On Vacation” printed on them -- a reference to the now-infamous remarks during Russia’s 2014 invasion of eastern Ukraine, when the separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko said the Russian soldiers were enjoying a “vacation ... among brothers who are fighting for their freedom”.

On their website, the activists are asking visitors to the Venice Bienniale art show to find an #onvacation representative, as they call themselves, put on a uniform, and then take a selfie in “an occupying power of your choice” and post it to Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #onvacation.

“#onvacation challenges the viewer to actualize their opinions and beliefs about their understanding and experience of occupation,” said a statement on the group's website.

It added: “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.”

On June 9, the group will announce on their website an award of the best photo of the pavilion occupation with "a trip to Russian-occupied Crimea". Some entries have already been posted on Twitter.

Pavilion visitors reacted differently to the performance-piece demonstration. Most participants and onlookers were international and didn’t have a clue what was going on. Some said "This is all done in a Russian manner". Others wondered if it was part of the Russian pavilion exposition, Still others suggested calling the police.

The demonstrators spent nearly an hour in the pavilion, before visitors realized what was going on and started calling the police.

In general, many people wanted to take part in the demonstration. People showed a sincere interest and were happy to join them. Overall, the audience loved the protest piece.

This year's Russian Pavilion is a dry display of photo and video installations created by conceptual artist, Irina Nakhova.

Her 'Green Pavilion' is a play on the 1996 'Red Pavilion'. She is the first woman to represent Russia in a solo pavilion. Born in 1955, the artist graduated from the Moscow Institute of Graphic Arts in 1978, and has been living and working in Russia and the US since 1992.

The Biennale is always an international project. Some protesters were involved in serious discussion with the attendees about occupation issues. Many others visitors wanted to take part in the art-project so they put on uniforms and made photos.

If this is a reflection of this year's theme, 'All The World's Future' then it is doing an effective job of challenging our perceptions of society visualized through art.

Today's homepage Featured Art Video provides an overview of the 56th Venice Biennale which opened on Wednesday.