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.
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