Prosecuted Political Artist Pyotr Pavlensky Makes His Russian Interrogator Flip

Political art makes an impact in Putin's Russia.

Pyotr PavlenskyPhoto: via The Moscow Time
Pyotr Pavlensky
Photo: via The Moscow Times

The Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky has gained notoriety in the last few years with a slew of extreme political performances that included nailing his scrotum to the cobblestones of Moscow’s Red Square, cutting off his earlobe while sitting naked of the roof of the infamous Serbsky psychiatric center, sewing his lips shut to support Pussy Riot, or burning tires on a St. Petersburg bridge in support of the Euromaidan protests in February 2014—a performance that led to his being charged with vandalism.

But probably not even Pavlensky himself could have anticipated that one of the individuals most touched and transformed by his controversial political message would be Pavel Yasman, the young investigator in charge of interrogating him.

According to the Moscow Times, after spending just over four months interacting with Pavlensky, Yasman quit his job at Russia’s Investigative Committee and began preparing to become a lawyer. And, at a court hearing in St. Petersburg last week, Pavlensky even called Yasman to testify in his own defense, Meduza reported.

“Pavlensky is a very strong person. I think it’s great to believe so fervently in what you are doing,” Yasman told the Moscow Times last week.

Pyotr Pavlensky sewed his lips shut in protest at the prosecution of Pussy Riot in the summer of 2012 Photo: courtesy of Petr Pavlensky via The Quietus

Pyotr Pavlensky sewed his lips shut in protest at the prosecution of Pussy Riot in the summer of 2012.
Photo: Courtesy of Petr Pavlensky via The Quietus.

The interrogation sessions between Pavlensky and Yasman took place between March and June 2014 and, according to transcripts published on the website of Snob magazine, they were peppered with constant references to art and discussions about the boundaries between performance art, activism, and vandalism.

The Moscow Times also reports that Yasman’s change of heart regarding his work for the Russian state can be traced in the transcripts of the sessions, with Pavlensky telling Yasman: “So you agree that you are just a tool. The government simply makes tools out of people,” and Yasman responding: “I agree.”

“I think [Pavlensky’s] work has made many people become more critical and change their worldview,” Yasman told the Moscow Times, revealing that his conversations with Pavlensky had simply helped him to make a decision he had been considering for some time already.

According to Dmitry Dinze, Pavlensky’s lawyer, himself a former investigator, Yasman’s transformation is not unique, but pointing in fact to a broader trend in Russia’s law enforcement system. “The system is completely corrupt at present and many people do not want to be a part of it,” he said.

“Many people write me letters of support saying that their worldview has been transformed because of my work,” Pavlensky told the Moscow Times. “Often they apologize for thinking at first that I was crazy and that what I do is nonsense,” he added.

Pyotr Pavlensky cuts his earlobe off last Sunday,on the roof of Moscow’s Serbsky psychiatric centerPhoto via: Oksana Shalygina's Facebook

Pyotr Pavlensky cuts his earlobe in October 2014, on the roof of Moscow’s Serbsky psychiatric center.
Photo: via Oksana Shalygina’s Facebook.

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