27 January 2012

On the Uses of Bridges for (Democratic) Politics

At The Guardian today is this report on various extremely creative protests against authorities in Russia. Among the most creative is pictured in the sequence images above. It is a really big penis hastily painted by the group Voina on a drawbridge in St. Petersburg. As the bridge was raised the member appeared to become aroused and poked out directly facing the building housing the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Apparently, the bridge stays up for several hours each night to facilitate traffic on the river.

You can more detailed report on the June 2010 action - apparently entitled "Dick Captured by the FSB" - in an earlier piece here in The Guardian, here at Der Spiegel and here at The New York Times. Among the fun facts revealed there are that last April the Russian Ministry of Culture awarded Voina a €10K contemporary art prize for this "project" and that, subsequently, a Russian Court issued an international arrest warrant for Oleg Vorotnikov, one of the group's leaders, on charges of hooliganism. That has prompted solidarity protests like the one captured in the image below of the Charles Bridge in Prague last November.

Having said all of that, it is important to keep one's focus on the politics here and not write all this off as silliness, just the antics of idiosyncratic personalities. This is not, in other words, a matter of aesthetics or of law - those are the terms in which the Culture Ministry and the Courts respectively frame Voina's actions. What is at stake, and what Voina calls attention to, is the lack freedom and democracy in Russia.

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