After the stunt: Pyotr Pavlensky cuts off his own earlobe. Source: Reuters
The headline “Pyotr Pavlensky Cuts Off His Own Earlobe” has been causing quite a buzz on the internet over the last two days, following the St. Petersburg-born conceptual artist’s latest provocative stunt. Pavlensky sliced off part of his ear with a large knife while sitting naked on the roof of the Serbsky Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry in Moscow.
“The knife separates the earlobe from the body. The concrete wall of psychiatry separates reasonable society from mad patients,” begins the artist’s manifesto, posted on journalist Oxana Shalygina’s Facebook page. Attached to the post is a photograph of Pavlensky with the knife and another photograph of police officers taking the knife away and trying to remove the artist from the roof.
“By reclaiming the use of psychiatry for political goals, the police apparatus is reclaiming the authority to define the boundary between reason and madness,” the manifesto reads. The artist was administered first aid after the action.
The stunt was not the first time Pavlensky has exposed himself to bodily torture. According to the artist, he has a low pain threshold and resorts to such methods to express his political views.
In February, Pavlensky constructed makeshift barricades out of tires and decorated in the Ukrainian and anarchist flags, before setting them on fire. The action was dedicated to the Euromaidan movement and the street protests in Kiev.
Here is what Pavlensky had to say in his manifesto about the action: “Burning tires, the flags of Ukraine, black flags, and the crashing blows of iron are a song of liberation and revolution. Euromaidan is spreading irreversibly and penetrating the heart of the Empire.”
Firefighters quickly arrived to extinguish the artist’s flaming ‘installation’, and Pavlensky was arrested. However, the intervention of a lawyer resulted in his release. Later, a criminal case was filed on the charge of vandalism, and the house of the artist and his companions was raided and several personal items were seized.
In November 2013, Pavlensky nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones of Red Square while naked. A YouTube video of the artist sitting naked and surrounded by onlookers, including children, spread like wildfire on the internet.
After some time had elapsed, police officers covered the artist in a blanket and managed to pull the nail out, after which they removed him from Red Square.
Pavlensky performed the action on Russian Police Day. According to the artist, his performance was “a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference, and fatalism of modern Russian society.”
Six months before that, Pavlensky wrapped himself in a cocoon made of barbed wire in protest of the ban on homosexual ‘propaganda’ to minors, the law protecting the feelings of religious believers, and other laws that have caused a public outcry. The artist said these laws were repressive and aimed to censor society, and his comment on the performance read as follows: “The human body is naked like a carcass, there is nothing on it except barbed wire, which was invented to protect livestock. These laws, like wire, keep people in individual pens.”
Police freed Pavlensky from the barbed wire using garden clippers. No criminal case was filed.
The first scandalous political action that brought Pavlensky to the attention of the media took place in July 2012 in St. Petersburg. The artist sewed his own mouth shut in support of the members of the group Pussy Riot who were convicted for singing a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
“By sewing up my mouth in front of the Kazan Cathedral, I wanted to show the position of the modern artist in Russia: the ban on free speech. I am sickened by the intimidation of society and mass paranoia, the manifestations of which I see everywhere,” Pavlensky explained.
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