“It would be nice if citizens did not see the spawn of the Devil in the face of every cop they meet,” Anton Kotenev comments on his LiveJournal. This is Hug a Policeman, his “art project” raking in thousands of views in Russia. In Russia, it’s viral-ish. Here, it’s obscure, mysterious and creepy. Now watch various cops hug the camera for six minutes.
The alleged motive is clear: Associate the Russian police with the friendly, the warm and the huggable — and not… say…. the indiscriminate and deliberate violence of cinematic proportions and general uselessness that they’re notorious for. It is scored with a sappy seasonal New Year’s Eve-themed song — the one and only holiday Russia really celebrates and goes all out for. It’s all about love thy fellow man in uniform, guys.
Only it’s not. It is lethally saccharine propaganda or a video art piece of viciously dry irony? Well…
In response to a Russian news story with some high-ranking officer calling it a fake, Anton Kotenev defends his video’s documentary authenticity of with deadpan eloquence. The officer said there were tell-tale signs, like the very un-cop-like “demeanor.” Kotenev inquires why that officer can’t imagine that “cops too can express human emotions.” He snaps: “I, for one, would like to believe that even police officers — at least so close to New Year’s Eve — can be normal people.”
And then Kotonev was taken into a police station for a little chat, where an officer inquired specifically about Kotonev’s ties to the radical performance art actionist group Voina. He denied and still denies any association, any current one anyway… He hasn’t been part of the group in many years.
Now it gets bizarre. Why would any former participant of Voina’s theatrical anti-corruption antics make this video? Is it a then a response to this “Other” Voina’s video of guerilla performance artists force-lesbian-kissing cops? It can’t be a coincidence, right?
Oh, this video? See, one day there was Voina. Then, they split. The famous “real” Voina in St Petersburg, responsible for the best graffiti piece ever made — a gigantic dickon a draw bridge that rose to flip off the modern day KGB headquarters. The “impostors” in Moscow were denounced on the St Petersburg Voina blog for years. There has an ongoing, endlessly tangled feud I’ve personally had the naivette to indulge, around the YouTube release of these cop kissers’ performance specifically… until some of them — Nadya Tolokonnikova and Katya Samutsevich — got arrested and jailed as members of now world-famous Pussy Riot. Then, it was only Pyotr Verzilov — Nadya’s husband/”the face” of Pussy Riot/now exiled as a “conman” — that St Petersburg Voina appears to have a problem with.
And also, apparently this guy Kotonev, with the St Petersburg Voina henchman Alexander Plucer responding with a vehement, confusing rant against any affiliation with “traitor” Kotonev.
So what does this have to do with free hugs from cops?
It’s art. It’s in dialect with Voina, at least visually, regardless of how much either side doth protest. Uh, viral video and internet scandal. A one-two net art punch. Russia’s hottest new movement.
Or something like that.