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Nailed for Hooliganism? A Political Artist Talks

Alexander Reed Kelly
Associate Editor
In December 2010, Alex was arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House alongside Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, healthcare activist Margaret Flowers and…
Alexander Reed Kelly

The Russian activist and artist who earlier this month nailed his scrotum to the pavement outside Lenin’s Masoleum in Moscow’s Red Square spoke with n+1 about the media and the public’s response to his political statement as uncertain reports surface that he, like members of the punk band Pussy Riot, has been charged with hooliganism.

The Moscow-based news agency Interfax reported the hooliganism charge Friday. If sentenced, Petr Pavlensky may face up to five years in prison for his performance. On Friday, however, the artist hadn’t received notification of the charge, a fact that left his legal status unclear. In a statement to the media, he reportedly said of his work, “A naked artist, looking at his testicles nailed to the cobblestone is a metaphor of apathy, political indifference, and fatalism of Russian society.”

N+1 reported the following about Pavlensky’s performance:

Pavlensky’s performance, called Fiksatsia (fixation oraffixment) or, more simply, Nail, took place on Police Day, a state holiday honoring police officers. In an artist’s statement, Pavlensky said that the performance was “a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference, and fatalism of contemporary Russian society. It’s not the lawlessness of our politicians and bureaucrats that deprives our society of the ability to take action, but the fixation on our defeats and losses that nails us down to the Kremlin pavement, that has turned our people into an army of apathetic idols, patiently awaiting whatever is coming to them.”

Pavlensky himself had the following to say about how he came up with the performance, the strong negative reaction it received and whether its intended audience got the message:

I got the idea when I was in Moscow and went for a walk on the Red Square. In general, I am interested in places with close ties to power. I saw that there were a lot of FSB agents and police dogs around, watching everyone. These nondescript, poorly dressed people, all walking around on their own. For me, this became the symbol of the police state, a never-ending Police Day, where you’re face-to-face with the stronghold of authority and everything is permeated with FSB agents, security cameras, people surveilling one another. For the current administration, this would be the perfect state. 

There’s nothing wrong with a negative reaction. If I wanted to do things in order to get a positive reaction, that would be like populism. Even when people have a negative reaction, it still involves reflection, something comes out of them. It’s worse when there’s no thought behind a negative reaction. I am addressing people, I just need to do things in order to start a discussion.

You can explain everything after the fact, in interviews, artist statements. I don’t believe that everyone is exclusively fixated on my scrotum. Of course, they perceive a certain visual code: a scrotum pierced with a nail. But then they read the statements anyway, as well as the positive and negative reviews. They start to question why this performance took place on Police Day.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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