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.