Russian performance artist, Pyotr Pavlensky, known for his extreme stunts, stripped naked and nailed his genitals to the ground in Red Square in Moscow. He mutilated himself in this way to draw attention to Russia’s descent, as he sees it, into a “police state” under Vladimir Putin. He timed his protest to occur on Police Day, an annual celebration of the law enforcement agencies.
Pavlensky is known for his artistic expressions involving self-harm. Previously, he has sewn his lips together in reaction to the prison sentences meted out to members of the Pussy Riot punk group. He has also coiled himself in barbed wire, as a living emblem of what he described as “the existence of a person inside a repressive legal system.”
He is admired by many for his audacious acts. Kirill Serebrennikov, a famed director in the Russian theatre world, posted a Facebook comment in which he called the genital nailing “a powerful gesture of absolute despair.”
The artist, presumably in some considerable agony, was arrested and taken first to a hospital, where he refused any but the most basic treatment. He was then taken to a police station and has already appeared in a Moscow court for sentencing. The Judge decided not to convict him on criminal charges.
Judge Yelena Stashina determined that the torment inflicted on the testicles did not count as breaking the law. His charge, of petty hooliganism, was dropped. It is now expected that he will be fined and released. The fine will be in the order of 1,000 rubles ($33). This is likely to anger the police who considered the act to show disrespect for society and the Russian public.
Damage to property is also taken into respect; but in this case, it is thought that Mr Pavlenky’s scrotum probably suffered more damage than the cobblestones he nailed it to. He used one large metal nail in the assault on his own naked body.
Before he went into Red Square and bared all before the St Basil Cathedral, Pavlensky had written on the website grani.ru. In it, he stated,”A naked artist, looking at his balls nailed to the Kremlin pavement, is a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference, and fatalism of contemporary Russian society.”
Russia has a long and traffic history of artists who have suffered to have their voice heard above the state. None to date have gone quite so far as to use a hammer and nail on their own genitalia to draw the world’s attention to their cause.
Extremes in performance art are not altogether new, although the intent to shock sees artists seek exaggerated procedures. In 1964, Yoko Ono famously proffered herself to New York audiences in the Carnegie Hall, where she knelt on stage, accompanied by a pair of scissors. She then invited the audience to come up and cut away pieces of her clothing. In the end, she was left in her underwear, as the audience got more and more frenzied in their demolition. She called the act “Cut Piece.”
Last year, in another male gonads inspired enactment, Mao Sugiyama, from Japan had his testicles surgically removed. He then went on to cook and serve them to his friends. He did this as an awareness raising exercise for asexual rights. The method of cooking and how they tasted, are not recorded.
The latest artist to make a painful protest is Pytor Pavlensky with his interpretation of “pavement art.” Putting a nail through your own genitals is a prospect that will make many male eyes water. In Russia today, it seems that artists will be driven to such extremes to drive their point home.
By Kate Henderson