Petr Pavlensky is a “living-pain” artist who believes in exposing the human condition through physical pain. His art displays have included sewing his mouth shut, wrapping himself up with barbed wire, and in 2013, nailed his scrotum to the cobblestone on the Red Square.
He told local media at the time that nailing his scrotum was “a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference and fatalism of modern Russian society”. Police would arrive, and later arrest him for “hooliganism motivated by hatred of a particular social, ethnic or religious group”.
Pavlensky has now just finished a live Q&A with The Guardian where he answered people’s questions about the incident in real time.
Here are some of the more interesting questions and the responses:
Q: Have you made a difference? Does the Russian press support your actions or are you labelled “mad”?
A: Yes, I think that changes are gradually happening. For example, after “segregation” performance authorities didn’t even initiate a case against me. Some members of the media support me, while others hint at what the investigative authorities would want to accuse me of.
For example, the idea of my “insanity” was put to the investigation officers by pro-Kremlin media.
I’m sure that the reasons I wasn’t arrested on the second criminal case was thanks to Pussy Riot: the authorities wanted to frighten everyone but in the end the whole world laughed at them instead .
Q: Petr – is there a concern that your audience might more easily dismiss you precisely because in their minds the issues you are highlighting have not yet reached a level where such “pain” is necessary?
A: I don’t want to immediately and equally understood by everyone. If I wanted that, it would be easy to label me a populist. My objective is to make others see sense of the political situation, to make others experience it and relate to it. My ultimate goal is to help people articulate the uncompromising situation we are in today.
Q: Yeh, who is paying you?
A: If money was involved it would completely discredit my message. There are simpler ways to make a living. I don’t sell anything, not photographs or videos of my performances. Everything is free and accessible on the internet, people can access it at their own discretion. I’ll say it again, there are much simpler ways to make a living.
Q: When you were planning your protest did you think about more extreme forms of bodily self-harm? How far would you go?
A: To continue to be able to be a nuisance to the authorities, who have several ways to eliminate their problems. Firstly, to scare people, secondly, to put them in jail (this causes unnecessary noise so the authorities try to be careful); thirdly to make a person flee the country.
It’s not in my interests to eliminate myself as a problem for the state.
Q: Did it hurt much?
A: Not really, my barbed wire stunt hurt the most.
I recognize that it is a super bold political statement, but I just can’t stop wincing.