Does violence have a place in art? Whether it does, it has featured to a growing extent in the “actions,” or protest-performances, of Petr Pavlensky. The Russian-born provocateur first made a sensation of himself when, in 2012, he sewed his lips shut and stood in public protest of the jailing of members of Pussy Riot. (They were convicted of hooliganism for their punk demonstration, within the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, against the Russian Orthodox Church’s support of then-candidate Vladimir Putin.)
The following year, assistants laid his nude body, wrapped within a tangled nest of barbed wire, before the Legislative Assembly of Saint Petersburg. This action was intended to protest the Russian state’s turning its citizens into “gutless and securely guarded cattle, which can only consume, work, and reproduce.” He was left to be pried free by police.
The year after, Pavlensky sat, (again) in the nude, before Lenin’s Tomb in Moscow’s Red Square, with a nail driven through his scrotum and into the paving beneath. Pavlensky declared that a “naked artist, looking at his testicles nailed to the cobblestone is a metaphor of apathy, political indifference, and fatalism of Russian society.”