A Ukrainian-born actor who made his name in Moscow’s independent theatre scene staged a three-part guerrilla performance lampooning President Vladimir Putin outside the Russian pavilion at the Venice Biennale this morning. A small group of journalists and half a dozen police officers with riot shields were awaiting Aleksey Yudnikov as he emerged from the bushes in front of the closed national pavilion wearing a latex mask and a long dark coat.
Yudnikov spoke in English and Russian, referencing Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 satirical short story The Nose, and eventually opened his overcoat to reveal a mask of Putin over his crotch. He returned to the bushes for an outfit change before re-emerging dressed as a thug in a vest and gold chain wearing the Putin mask on his face. Despite attempts by local officials and police to interrupt the performance, Yudnikov managed to change back into the dark figure based on the fictional French criminal anti-hero Fantômas, which was popular in Soviet Russia.
Yudnikov was immediately escorted off the site by police. According to Ivor Stodolsky, the co-director of Artists at Risk, a Helsinki-based non-profit which supports Yudnikov, the actor self-funded his trip to the Biennale. Yudnikov is currently based in Helsinki after escaping from Moscow where he had been living. Stodolsky said that Yudnikov and his Artists at Risk co-director Marita Muukkonen were being held by police for questioning.
Artists at Risk, which only announced Yudnikov’s performance yesterday evening, collaborates with arts non-profits and government funders internationally to assist artists facing political persecution. According to a recent statement, the organisation has received applications from more than 600 artists and cultural workers from Ukraine as well as 240 dissident Russian and Belarusian artists and cultural workers since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.
The Russian pavilion is closed for this edition of the Biennale after the artists and curator pulled out following the invasion of Ukraine. The empty pavilion has been patrolled each day by an armed guard.