Well, not to the mast and not exactly his colours, but otherwise the idiom works.
On 10 November the Petersburg conceptual artist (whatever that means) Pyotr Pavlensky travelled to Moscow to commemorate the annual Russian Police Day.
Or rather, to be more precise, he decided to use the occasion to score some valid political points about police curtailing the freedom of political self-expression.
To demonstrate exactly what he meant, the chap went to Red Square, stripped naked and affixed his scrotum to the pavement with a huge nail hammered into (more likely between) the cobbles.
Western papers coyly ran the photo of the event taken from the side, but Russian websites obligingly provided face-on pictures, thereby exposing both Pyotr’s shortcomings and their own lack of inhibitions.
The police arrived, removed the nail, wrapped the conceptual artist (whatever that means) in a blanket and took him to hospital. He had chosen the site well – had he done the same thing in a less visible place the cops would have probably yanked him to his feet without bothering to remove the nail.
Later Pavlensky was charged with petty hooliganism and released pending trial, where he’ll probably be sentenced to 15 days in prison.
It has to be said that young Pyotr has a bit of previous with that sort of thing.
In July 2012 he had his assistants wrap his naked body in a cocoon of barbed wire and deliver him to the main entrance of the Petersburg Legislative Assembly. In the cocoon he stayed until the police released him with garden shears.
That particular performance was called ‘Carcass’. The aim was to symbolise… well, you can guess what it was supposed to symbolise.
Last July the conceptual artist (whatever that means) went even further, this time to protest against the imprisonment of the Pussy Rioters, the young girls who themselves had protested against something or other by singing obscene rap lyrics in a cathedral. Their prior political action took the form of public copulation in a museum.
In defence of their God-given right to manifest their innermost feelings, Pavlensky turned up at Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral, his mouth sewn up with a coarse thread. He was carrying a banner saying, “Action of Pussy Riot was a replica of the famous action of Jesus Christ (Matthew.21:12–13)”.
Without entering into a full-blown theological debate, one should instead comment on the lamentable state of Russian psychiatry. For after his protest was all sewn up, Pyotr was examined by shrinks and found sane.
His latest stunt was called ‘Fixation’ – by affixing his private parts to the cobbles he was making a statement about the people’s fixation on something they shouldn’t be fixated on, not sure what. A bit weak as far as visual puns go, especially in the original Russian, but there we have it.
“A naked artist, looking at his testicles nailed to the cobblestone is a metaphor of apathy, political indifference and fatalism of Russian society,” declared Pavlensky in his statement to the media. I suppose this clarifies the matter.
Far be it from me to suggest that there’s nothing to protest against in Putin’s Russia. On the contrary, Russia is already bearing many hallmarks of a fascist state, and things are getting worse.
But surely every normal person must realise that the escapades of an obvious madman or of a couple of blasphemous whores compromise and trivialise all serious protest? The next time a meaningful anti-Putin action is undertaken it will be lumped together with self-mutilation, blasphemy and public indecency.
Yes, any normal person would probably realise this. That’s why it’s particularly worrying to read comments by the crème de la crème of the Russian intelligentsia. One may get the impression that normal Russians are in short supply. To wit:
Kirill Serebrennikov, film director: “…A powerful gesture of absolute despair… The action is called ‘Fixation’… Affixing one’s sex organs to the cobbles of the country’s main square is a fixation on one’s own impotence… Everything is perfectly honest.”
Marat Gelman, political technologist (whatever that means): “I think it’s a sign of despair. I think, yes, a normal person won’t act in this way. But evidently the situation in the country isn’t normal. This is certainly no longer an act of protest. It’s a MANIFESTO OF IMPOTENCE.” Also its possible cause, the cynic in me is tempted to add.
Irina Kosterina, culturologist (whatever that means): “Personally, this kind of body art makes me feel terrible physical discomfort, shock and incomprehension of how it’s possible to DO THIS TO ONE’S BODY. But the meaning and message are absolutely intelligible: this is political art-activism. Alas, those to whom this message is addressed aren’t sufficiently advanced to understand it.”
Neither am I and neither, I suspect, are you. However, if you still think there’s hope for Russia yet, such comments – and I could cite many more ad infinitum – should disabuse you of this notion.
A country is utterly hopeless when its intellectual elite sees disgusting self-mutilation as a legitimate form of political protest. As to the frankly pathetic attempts to intellectualise madness, Russia has a long, if not necessarily honourable, tradition along those lines.
I am however curious how the conceptual artist (whatever that means) would protest against ‘homophobia’, another burr under his blanket. Actually, forget it. This sort of thing doesn’t bear thinking about so close to night-time.