In 2011, Russian artist Make designed and installed a series of unsanctioned and alternative street signs in the Russian cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. This guerrilla art installation was a self-motivated project – part satirical, part awareness raising and part practical.
The signs – part of his partizaning strategy of re-appropriating urban navigation systems as a form of art and political intervention – received a lot of attention and feedback from the media and city residents.
From February 26 to March 4th, 2012, Street Signs was exhibited at the Welcome Back, Putin! festival in Amsterdam.
"Warning! Tandem Ahead" Red Square, Moscow
The tandem is a symbolic reference to the political power sharing that exists between Medvedev and Putin in Russia. This satirical sign was installed as a reaction to the last minute ban of a cycling parade in order to host a public meeting near the Kremlin where Medvedev and Putin announced that they would be changing places. It is ironic, because cycles are banned around the Red Square.
"A Thief's Hat is on Fire" in front of the Parliament, Moscow
This warning sign plays off of an old Russian proverb in which a thief steals something in a market square. As he runs away, the seller shouts: "The thief's hat is on fire," which helps to identify and catch him.
The sign plays off of the public reference to the pro-Kremlin United Russia political party as 'crooks and thieves', an unofficial title given to them by the political opposition before the 2011 parliamentary election. This name, The Party of Crooks and Thieves, acquired popularity because of the allegations of corruption during their rule over the last decade.
"Drunk Pedestrians" Solyanka Street, Moscow
Installed outside of the Moscow nightclub Solyanka, the most popular hipster hangout in the city, the sign is both practical and funny. It warns drivers to watch out for drunken pedestrians who fill the streets after a long night of partying. It also comments on the increasingly excessive lifestyles and hedonistic consumption in the city, as well as on the drinking problem, which is rampant in Russia.
USE/LESS cycle lane sign, Pokrovka-Maroseyka Streets, Moscow
Pokrovka-Maroseyka is one of the busiest roads in terms of bicycle traffic, and was an appropriate place to install the sign. This is part of a larger cycling project, begun in 2010, in which the artist created an unsolicited cycling navigation system using maps and signs to mark cycling routes and bicycle parking spaces. These signs were the most useful of the series, and sought to reclaim city streets for bicycling.
"Voykovskaya: Named after the Murderer of the Royal Family" Metro Voikovskaya, Moscow
Voykovskaya is the metro station and area near the artist's home, named after one of the murderers of the royal family during the Bolshevik revolution. This sign comments on how authorities tend to romanticize the past – in this case by honoring a person who did something terribly inhuman. It was an effort to publicize the real story of who the street was named after. It stayed up for three months and prompted municipal authorities to consider renaming the metro station.
"Zone for Free Political Protest" Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg
Since 2010, on the 31st of each month, opposition parties have organized protests across Russia. This zone was demarcated the night before one such protest – in a square where opposition supporters were going to gather. Police didn't notice the sign during the meetings, and removed it only after the protest was over.
"Zone to Freely Express Oneself" Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg
The sign was placed in front of Catherine Alexandrinsky theater in Ostrovsky Square. The Square has historically been a popular dating spot for the city's gay population. The sign remains relevant given the recent law passed in St. Petersburg, which has made it illegal to read, write or say 'gay'.
"Zone of Greater Tolerance" Sredniy Prospekt, St. Petersburg
The sign was installed near the Kuryokhin Center for Modern Art, which is named after the experimental Russian musician Sergei Kuryokhin. It was put up while a film festival on movies about tolerance was taking place.
"Zone for Legal Marijuana Distribution and Use. Tobacco Smoking is Prohibited" Dumskaya Street, St. Petersburg
This sign was installed in the middle of a popular drinking spot in the city. It is a subtle comment on the widespread drinking in Russia, and on the legal restrictions in the country – which like in many others, bans smoking marijuana, but not cigarettes. Incidentally, a common tactic used by the police to arrest artists is to place baggies of marijuana in their pockets. This zone, in some ways suggests itself as a safe haven for artists.
"This Place is Already Occupied" New Holland Island, St. Petersburg
This sign was installed at the Foundry Bridge, at the entrance to the island of New Holland. In the summer of 2011, for the first time ever, the island opened to the public as part of a "Summer in New Holland" event. The event was, however, financed by billionaire Roman Abramovich, and in a sense the island was 'privately occupied'.
Street Signs from Partizaning on Vimeo.