Russian Performance Artist Pyotr Pavlensky Charged After Setting a Bank on Fire in Paris

The Russian provocateur is being held in pre-trial detention following his latest fiery protest.

Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky in November 2015. Photo by Sergei Savostyanov via Getty Images.

The polarizing Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky has been charged with property damage after setting fire to the Banque de France building in Paris.

On Wednesday, the 33-year-old performance artist, who was granted political asylum in France, appeared before a Paris judge alongside his wife and partner, Oksana Shalygina. Both were charged with causing property damage that endangered the lives of others, according to the New York Times.

In recent years, Pavlensky has become infamous for a number of highly publicized stunts, some involving acts of self-mutilation. The artist sowed his own lips shut when two members of feminist punk collective Pussy Riot were jailed in 2012. And, in 2013, he nailed his scrotum to the Red Square to protest Russian police.

Pavlensky’s latest performance quickly went viral after the incident occurred on Monday. Pictures of the artist standing sternly in front of Banque de France as it went up in flames circulated on social media. The photograph echoed similar images from November 2015, showing Pavlensky standing before the burning door to Russia’s Federal Security Service in Moscow, after he lit it on fire.

Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky poses after setting fire to the doors of the headquarters of the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB, in central Moscow early on November 9, 2015.Photo: Nigina Beroeva/AFP/Getty Images.

Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky poses after setting fire to the doors of the headquarters of the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB, in central Moscow early on November 9, 2015.
Photo: Nigina Beroeva/AFP/Getty Images.

On Monday night, human rights activist Inna Shevchenko posted a message from Pavlensky on Twitter, which she translated from Russian into French. In the message, Pavlensky referred to the bank as the new “symbol of despotism” and compared his action to the one that ignited the French Revolution 228 years ago.

“The Bastille was destroyed by a people in revolution; the people destroyed its symbol of despotism and power,” he said. “The Banque de France has taken the place of the Bastille, and bankers have taken the place of monarchs.”

After being detained on Monday, the artist was first taken to a psychiatric unit but was later moved to a pre-trial detention center per the orders of a judge. Pavlensky has spent time in psychiatric wards before, with two stints at Moscow’s Serbsky Institute—one in 2014, after burning tires on a bridge in St. Petersburg, and again in 2016 following the Federal Security Service fire. The 2016 detention was particularly controversial, drawing comparisons to the Soviet-era practice of ordered forced psychiatric evaluations on political dissidents. Pavlensky himself protested this cause—and his own institutionalization—in 2014, by slicing off his ear in front of the Serbsky building.

Russian artist Piotr Pavlenski (L) and his wife Oksana Chaliguina (R) pose on January 16, 2017, in Paris.
Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images.

This is the first time the Russian provocateur has appeared in headlines since being granted asylum in Paris earlier this year. In 2016, Pavlensky fled his home country after being accused of sexually assaulting a Russian actress with his wife—allegations which the couple denied and claimed were part of a politically motivated attack. Had they been convicted, the couple could have faced up to 10 years in prison.


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