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Label: russia

Friday 17th June 2016Artist Spotlight: Petr Pavlensky

In the West and around the world, most people involved in the art scene - and quite a few who aren't - are aware of the (in)famous Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei. Far less known is the name of Petr Pavlensky, the Russian performance artist and dissident, although it's hard to say why, exactly.
 
Perhaps it's that the West is far more obsessed with the astonishingly rapid economic growth of China than the rather more alarming cultural regression of Russia, but whatever the reason, Pavlensky has had a rather incredible career that deserves more attention than it gets. 
 
He has been in the news most recently as a result of his latest performance piece / activist statement, which took place last year. As part of a piece entitled Threat, Pavlensky doused the massive wooden doors that serve as the frontpiece for the Moscow headquarters of the FSB ( the Russian equivalent of the GCHQ or FBI) and set them ablaze. He then posed for photographs holding a petrol can, but was arrested immediately on the spot and has been held in captivity ever since.
 
The truly strange thing is the way it was handled by the Russian authorities. After simply staging a concert at a Russian cathedral in 2012, members of the punk band art collective Pussy Riot were famously jailed for two years before being released. Naturally, most people following the case expected Pavlensky to get an equally harsh sentence as his trial concluded in early June. 
 
Astonishingly he was instead let off with no additional jail time and ordered to pay a fine of 500,000 roubles for damaging the site, and another 491,000 roubles to compensate the state for the cost of repairs. This amounts to roughly £10,000.
 
It's hard to imagine a British subject being let off so easily for a performance art piece that damaged the headquarters of the GCHQ in any respect, and the fact that Russia of all places was more lenient makes the whole event even more noteworthy. 
 
After leaving the courthouse, Pavlensky said, "“It does not matter how the trial ended. What is important is the fact that we were able to unmask, uncover the truth: the government is founded on the methods of terror.”
 
Despite the fact that he received no additional jail time as part of the sentencing, his lawyer says that Pavlensky apparently has no intention of paying the fines, which will likely land him in jail eventually anyways. 
 

Posted on June 17th 2016 on 03:15pm
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Wednesday 19th August 2015Moscow Art Exhibit Attacked

While it was never exactly a haven for the culturally adventurous, Russia seems to be going through a bad time for artists lately. After the feminist activist group/punk band Pussy Riot staged a protest in the main cathedral in Moscow in 2012, the government enacted some tough new legislation aimed at curbing such protests in the future. The legislation was ostensibly around protecting the faithful, and like much of such legislation, it didn't take too long before it was being twisted around in the opposite way.

There is a large exhibit space next to Moscow's Red Square known as the Manezh, which is currently playing host to an impressive collection of pieces from some of Russia's most prominent and popular artists, in an exhibit entitled Sculptures We Don't See. Last week, the exhibit had some extremely unhappy visitors from the God's Will right-wing ultra-conservative religious group. So unhappy, in fact, that they took the opportunity to damage many of the artworks, tearing them off their plinths, throwing them on the ground, stomping on them and smashing some of them to pieces.

Several of the pieces were admittedly provocative, some featuring the severed head of John the Baptist, and a naked Jesus, among many others. Regardless, none of this justifies the violence and destructive nature of the attack. During video of the attack, the leader can be heard to shout, “Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary are being mocked. This is punishable under the criminal code.” Surely, however, if that were the case, they would have been dealt with by the proper authorities instead of being vandalized. Surely destruction of property is a crime as well, yet it seems that no charges have been laid against those responsible to date.

Naturally, the religious authorities in Russia were quick to denounce the actions of the God's Will group: “What so-called Orthodox activists do, as a rule, has nothing to do with religion,” Vladimir Legoida said, speaking on behalf of the Moscow Patriarchate. It's unclear where any kind of security staff were during the incident, but Enteo, the leader of God's Will, was detained only briefly by police after the destructive attack, and then released the same evening.

Hopefully, this vague and half-formed law will be stricken from the books, and self-proclaimed activists who deface national treasures will be treated with just as harshly as those who the law was originally supposed to protect.
 

Posted on August 19th 2015 on 03:09pm
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