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  • Pyotr Pavlensky during The Burning Door of the Lubyanka Performance
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Set Fire to the Security Building - Russian Artist Arrested for Arson Attack in Moscow

November 9, 2015
Web journalist, coffee junkie and art fanatic. Cares about the environment, writes for Widewalls. Alias of Milica Jovic

On Monday (November 9th) around 1 am, Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky was arrested for setting fire to the entrance of the headquarters of FSB security service in the center of the Russian capital Moscow. FSB service is the successor to the infamous Soviet KGB and this building, dubbed “Lubyanka” was often used to interrogate KGB prisoners. This intervention was only the last in line of numerous politically themed performance pieces done by the artist as a sign of rebellion against the human rights violations in this country.

Pyotr Pavlensky Performance at Red Square in 2013
Pyotr Pavlensky Performance at Red Square in 2013

The Burning Door of the Lubyanka

The performance was filmed and the video entitled The Burning Door of the Lubyanka captured both burning of the entrance and arrest of the artist. Video shows Pyotr Pavlensky holding a gas canister and the fire that rises behind him, just before the police officer comes over to make the arrest. Two unidentified journalists, that were filming the event were brought in for questioning but than quickly released. According to the NBC, Pyotr Pavlensky named this action Threat and its goal was to draw attention to “the terror tactics employed by the security agency.” This was an act aimed at video and audio surveillance that government agencies use to control the public. “The threat of inevitable reprisal hangs over everyone who can be tracked with devices, have their conversations listened to, and who faces borders with passport control,” the artist wrote in a script accompanying his performance.The video has been taken down from Vimeo but can be found on various websites such as the NBC news.

The Burning Door of the Lubyanka Video

Politically Charged Performance Art by Pyotr Pavlensky

Artist Pyotr Pavlensky (also known as Petr Pavlensky or Petr Pavlenskij) is one of the most controversial art figures in Russia and beyond, known for his brutal, self-harming, politically charged performance acts. Last year, the artist staged a performance entitled Freedom which involved setting fire to stacked tires and waving to the Ukranian flag. The event was meant to simulate the Maidan protest in Kiev that led to the dethroning of a pro-rusian leader. For this performance, the  artist has been charged with vandalism and could face up to three years imprisonment if pronounced guilty. Two years ago, just before the Police Day in Russia, (which law enforcement officials celebrate every year), the artist nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones of Red Square in order to protest omnipresent police control in his country. In 2012, Pyotr Pavlensky cut his earlobe as a sign of revolt against the use of psychiatry for political goals. This performance entitled Segregation was staged on the roof of Serbsky centre that’s known for giving questionable diagnoses to many of political dissidents in the USSR.

Pyotr Pavlensky Protesting the Pussy Riot Arrest in 2012
Pyotr Pavlensky Protesting the Pussy Riot Arrest in 2012

The Arrests of Artists in Russia

Moscow police confirmed the artist’s detention, adding that he could be charged with hooliganism, an offense that usually carries a fine and a jail term of up to 15 days. The artist’s lawyer however, claims that Pyotr Pavlensky is more likely to be charged with arson, a crime with a much longer sentence of 5 years imprisonment. “I think it will be a criminal case, everything points to that. It’s hard to say what charge: anything can happen in our country,” she stated for The Guardian. Pyotr Pavlensky is only the last in line of Russian artists that have been arrested for politically themed performances. In 2012 the Russian band Pussy Riot was sentenced to two years in penal colony, after staging a performance alluding to the ties between Russian Orthodox church and the Russian president Vladimir Putin. Pyotr Pavlensky supported his fellow artists by sawing his lips together shortly after their arrest.

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Featured images:Pyotr Pavlensky Portrait and Pyotr Pavlensky during the Burning Door of the Lubyanka performance All images courtesy of The Guardian