He has been called crazy, awarded a prize for creative dissent and charged with sexual assault. Now Russian performance artist, Pyotr Pavlensky, has made headlines once again following his arrest after he set fire to a bank in Paris on Sunday (15 October).
Pavlensky, who is perhaps best known for nailing his scrotum to the cobblestones in Moscow’s Red Square in 2013 to demonstrate Russian political apathy, set fire to the window gates of the Banque de France in the Place de Bastille in an act of political performance art. Photographs of Pavlensky with the fire raging around him were shared by photographer Capucine Henry on Twitter. The artist was quoted as denouncing “the bankers (who) took the place of the monarchs”. According to an activist from radical feminist group, Femen, Pavlensky also stated that “the revival of revolutionary France will trigger the global fire of revolutions.”
Originally from St Petersburg, Pavlensky’s political activism once enjoyed the support of the artistic community in Moscow and he even received the Vaclav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent in 2016. He began to divide opinion when he pledged to donate the US$42,000 (£31,680) prize money to a group convicted of killing policemen in eastern Russia. Pavlensky fled Russia for France in January 2017 with his partner, Oksana Shalygina, and their two daughters. The couple sought asylum after they were charged with sexually assaulting an actress from a Moscow theatre. Pavlensky and Shalygina claimed that the actress had consented to the sexual encounter.
According to accounts on Twitter, Pavlensky was detained by French police at 4:10am on 15 October following Sunday’s incident. The Banque de France building suffered minor damage but remained shut on Monday (16 October). It is not the first time Pavlensky has used arson in his art. In 2015, he set fire to the doors of Moscow’s Russian federal security agency, the successor to the KGB, or secret police, in a performance called ‘Threat’. He was jailed for six months.