Petr Pavlensky has made radical protest an art. The Russian conceptual artist has staged many disturbing public exhibitions. His political protests include self-mutilation, vandalism and the shock factor. He has wrapped himself in barbed wire, sewn his mouth shut, cut off his own earlobe and nailed his scrotum to the Red Square to protest censorship and oppression.
His most recent stunt entitled “Threat” seems pretty tame in comparison with some of his other work until you realize it has to do with vandalisation of a federal building. NBC News reports on Oct. 9 that Pavlensky set fire to the doors of the Russian Federal Security Service, a building which used to house the Soviet-era KGB.
Video footage showed the gaunt 31-year-old standing in front of the building’s burning doors. Pavlensky was dressed in black, staring straight into a camera and holding a gas can.
The Washington Post described the act as “arguably his most combative artwork yet.” According to police reports, the artist is being investigated for vandalism that is “motivated by hatred or hostility to a social group.” If he is charged, he could face up to three years in prison.
Pavlensky posted a video of “Threat” on Vimeo, but it is no longer available. In the caption, he explained that he was demonstrating against governmental terrorism. “The burning door of the Lubyanka is the glove thrown by society into the face of the terrorist threat,” he wrote. “The Federal Security Service acts using the method of ceaseless terror and holds power over 146,000,000 people. Fear turns free people into a sticky mass of desperate bodies.”
In a 2012 protest against the jailing of Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samutsevitch, Pavlensky sewed his own mouth shut. When asked what he wanted to say by sewing up his mouth, he said, “I showed the situation of the contemporary artist in Russia, living in an environment where there’s a ban on publicity, the tightening of censorship and suppression of public statements in contemporary art.”
Pavlensky’s work is all about publicity. The ability to shock is snatching up the attention of many people and it is also racking up potential jail time. The artist is already on trial for a vandalism charge from 2013 where he and a group of helpers set fire to a barricade made of tires that emulated anti-government protests which overthrew the government of Ukraine.
“There’s no greater evil than law-abiding citizens,” Pavlensky said earlier this month.
As Pavlensky waits for his trial, he has made a vow of silence in the courtroom. Officials have tried to commit him to a mental asylum but he was found to be sane in medical evaluations.. And as far as jail goes, Pavlensky doesn’t seem worried. “Criminal cases open a door for me to get inside the mechanics of the system — the investigators, the court system, psychiatrists — and allow me to work there.”