The self-proclaimed republic of the United States of Siberia has become the most ambitious and provocative artistic project on Russian territory. The Siberian separatist movement, though much discussed and fretted about by Russians when mentions of it appear on television, differs from other separatist movements (such as those in Catalonia, Scotland, Chechnya and Abkhazia) in a crucial way. It is entirely the invention of a group of artists: the Blue Noses group, Artem Loskutov, Vasily Slonov, and Damir Muratov. So in place of nationalist parties, referenda on independence, separatist governors – Siberian separatism has artists, exhibitions, funny performances, and other manifestations of Siberian humour.
Despite this, the Russian FSB (the Federal Security Bureau, the successor the KGB) has opened countless criminal investigations into the Siberian separatist movement. The artists are under full-time surveillance and curators exhibiting their art have been interrogated about the ownership of weapons maintained by any supporters of the United States of Siberia, the Island of Siberia Freedom, and the United Kingdom of Siberia.
It is worth mentioning that the above-mentioned artists do not group themselves together in the way that the members of Pussy Riot do. Each artist works independently and lives in a different city: Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Tomsk, Ekaterinburg, and Ufa, all of which are hundreds of miles away from each other. Thus the only mechanism these artists have to make themselves heard is to tap into and amplify (even if in the form of a caricature) the deep-set fears of ordinary citizens – which is likely why each of their performances is so violently opposed by the authorities.
Damir Muratov’s work mocks the remoteness of Siberia from any cultural hubs. His Poortown installation was created as the ultimate provincial town. Within the installation, the artist’s studio promoted Siberian independence and created symbols of statehood, such as a flag, a coat of arms, postal stamps, awards; these were copies of famous images, borrowed either from other countries (such as Great Britain or America) or from the titans of the art world (such as Andy Warhol and Jasper Jones). The symbols of Siberian statehood that Muratov created were so convincing that that many of his sketches for them were included have been included as evidence in criminal investigations of him.