Russian jail and jails of daily life

Author : Pyotr Pavlesnky

18:57, 20 June 2016

Russian jail and jails of daily life

Author : Pyotr Pavlesnky

Russian political artist Pyotr Pavlensky shares his experience of serving jail sentence in Russia during his first public appearance after his release.

18:57, 20 June 2016

Lesia Bidochko

Thank you for your support! Without you, I would not be here today.

A half and a year ago, I had a lecture here in Kyiv; I told about the repressive modes of the power, modes of freedom, social control of the societal institutions.

Today, I would like to share my experience of serving jail sentence in Russia.

The power has formed the society in a special way; now the power has freed its hands. The functions and the attributes of the power are served through its objects, namely people. A person is her own judge, investigator, and lawenforcer. As an artist, my intention is to free my own hands and to create art with the help of the power. This raises a question about correlation between the power and the society: does power exist for the society or vice versa? As an artist I think that art must be upheld and protected from being instrumentalized by the power. Now the power use medicine, psychiatry, and philosophy as powerful instruments.

Related: Kolchenko: fight for Ukraine without slaves and without masters

Since 2012, I have been working in the sphere of political art. And only now I have got the best video recording my art performance. I mean, this time, my performance was filmed by the FSB cameras (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation – Ed.), without any color corrections or Photoshop. Many documentarians have been filming my performances, but this is the first video made by FSB representatives.

Let us go back to the question about people for the power or power for the people. Of course, Russian power wants the society to work for it. As a part of the nation, I force the power to serve the society. And we must fight for that.

We can see that Lubyanka (headquarters of the KGB and affiliated prison on Lubyanka Square in Meshchansky District of Moscow – Ed.) is closed with an iron curtain. They thought it was the best way to hide the facts. They have made a statement (in terms of public discourse – Ed.). Let us see their political logics. KGB has kept the country behind the iron curtain until 1991; KGB was fed up with the fact that the power was concentrated in the hands of TsK KPSS (Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – Ed.). KGB has created its own “security force” to become the power. Through the long years, it has been coming to the official power headed by Putin. Putin is just a talking head of this “security force” structure; and the structure rules the 146 million (of Russian citizens – Ed.). FSB is trying to build the iron curtain over Russia and other territories that are occupied in a terroristic way.

Related: Russian Court sensationally releases dissident artist Pavlensky

I do not know what did they mean, but they have made this statement. I could not even dream about it; Lubyanka has closed itself behind the iron curtain.

This is a sign. Political art involves working with the worldviews, systems of ideas. We are talking about the form. The sense of Lubyanka and its discourse belongs to political art. It happened during the judicial process, when they decided that [my actions] fell under the article 214 (vandalism) and then reclassified charges to the article 243 (destroying cultural objects). They have proclaimed themselves a cultural object embodying the destruction of this very culture. It was presented as an official reasoning of the charges. Numerous cultural workers, politicians, military commanders were repressed here.

The more have you destroyed the bigger cultural monument you become!

What have I personally done? I have damaged the paint coating of the door of Lubyanka. Actually, I have done nothing, and it was the power who became the actor. This actor brought everything to the conclusion.

When being in the jail I have understood that people’s needs are a political instrument. It is like going through some major withdrawal; your personality is broken, you become destroyed by your needs. The power manipulates you as it manipulates your needs. I mean those needs a bit different from some basic ones (eat and sleep). It is about having leisure time, playing chess, watching TV. A person must find a compromise with her consciousness; fulfill something that she does not understand in order to fulfill her needs. In a jail you have a need to cut your nails or to sew up your clothes. If you behave in a proper way, the jailer would give you what you need. Going outside… you must keep your hands behind you back; you must turn your head as they say. Those who do not behave properly are not allowed to use the toilet, for example.

Early-release program is a real instrument for manipulation. It makes a person very obedient. A person goes along those rules and orders.

I thought everything is based on the fear. But here come the needs for the first place. What is jail and what is freedom? Freedom is something very relative. Being out of the jail means trial of everyday life. In a jail you have a lack of space, but the surplus of the free time. When you are out of jail, the power controls your time and takes it.

The legal system means an animal-like obedience. My action Carcass is about this; you are just trying to do something, and the barbed wire is damaging you.

In 2013, Pavlensky held a political protest against repressive government policies. His art performance was called Carcas. His assistants brought him naked, wrapped in a multilayered cocoon of barbed wire, to the main entrance of the Legislative Assembly of Saint Petersburg. The artist remained silent, lying still in a half-bent position inside the cocoon, and did not react to the actions of others until he was released by the police with the help of the garden clippers.

To be frank, I felt like in a rest house. You can do sports, read, or gain some weight. But at the same time a person must not become obedient to the system.

Now let us talk about the glorification of the heroes. I am not a hero, I am an artist. A hero for me is like a symbol. Heroism refers to military sphere; it concerns military awards and privileges. Hero of USSR, Hero of Socialist Labor, Mother-heroine… A hero of the Greek tragedy is in pain, he suffers the deistic authority of the power. The choir echoes him. Hero is just a role, a character. I do not want to play any roles I just want to live.

In military terms, hero is a highest distinction. I am the part of my people, and I do not want to be separated. Glorification of a hero means his exclusion. Hero is always carrying responsibility. Heroization means segregation. I cut off my earlobe, I put it to death, and amputation is death. The same thing is with heroization.

In 2014, Pavlensky cut off his earlobe with a chef's knife while sitting naked on the roof of the infamous Serbsky Center to protest political abuse of psychiatry in Russia.

In Russia, the people, the masses are dead; maybe, they are just sleeping. Ukraine’s masses are rising, as we have witnessed it during Maidan. In Russia only few do resist, while in Ukraine the masses are acting.

Let us talk about the system of beliefs and the worldviews. I have corrupted the prostitutes to testify on my behalf in the criminal trial against me. I wanted to make their opinion voiced in public. To be frank, I was surprised, because I have expected them to be more loyal. But this was the way they wanted to be represented during the hearings, I appreciate their frankness. It was a vivid demonstration that the prostitutes, the judges, the witnesses, the politicians, the prosecutors are equal. The rhetoric of three prostitutes was consonant with the rhetoric of the school teachers who also witnessed against me. What does it mean? It means that the social cleavage is not based on class division, but on the division of needs. Both a school teacher and a prostitute want to have a better life and to be able to satisfy more needs. The needs determine their political position.

A good example of those who are on the opposite side of barricades refers to Primorsky Partisans (a controversial paramilitary group in Russia's Far East; its members are currently imprisoned for waging a deadly guerilla war against the police – Ed.). Six people of 146 million upraise to fight against the police rampage. Police are the occupants that have set their own order, turning the reality into the jail of everyday life. These people should be called insurgents, because they come from the society. At the same time, FSB is sending special groups to erupt the war in Ukraine. For example, Igor Girkin (Strielkov) is one of the self-proclaimed leaders of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. Terrorism is connected with the state interests. Terror comes from the state, while the insurgents come from the people. 

Related: Ukrainian political prisoners: We have a lot to tell about Russian lawlessness

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