Would You Be Willing To Nail Your Scrotum To The Pavement In Protest?

Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism, Saatchi Gallery ★★★☆☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 54 months ago

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Would You Be Willing To Nail Your Scrotum To The Pavement In Protest? Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism, Saatchi Gallery 3
Purry Riot perform their punk prayer entitled Putin pissed himself.

How far would you go in the name of art? Act like a dog and lunge at others? Go to prison for it? Or nail your scrotum to the pavement?

All of these happened, and the evidence can be seen in Saatchi Gallery's free exhibition on Russian protest art over the last 25 years.

Pussy Riot in rehearsal for a performance.

Pussy Riot are the most recognisable artists in this exhibition. Two members were given two years imprisonment for a punk prayer performed at a Moscow cathedral, which made headlines highlighting that not all forms of freedom of expression are welcome in modern day Russia.

Despite their recognition, there is very little work to see here except a few grainy videos of their performances. The very nature of their work makes it very hard to display in a gallery. The rest of the Pussy Riot section is more of a tribute to them — including member figurines behind bars and massive portraits — which doesn't really capture the spirit of their performances.

Oleg Kulik turned into a feral dog for one of his performances.

It's a similar story for Oleg Kulik living like a dog and Pyotr Pavlensky being wrapped up in barbed wire. The photographs and documentation suggest they are powerful performances but don't capture the strength of what it would have been like to witness the event. These protests are important artworks that challenge the oppression of creativity that is still present in Russia.

Collective AES+F display playful works by mocking unfounded fears of Islamisation with minarets surrounding Big Ben, and the Statue of Liberty wearing a veil. The Blue Noses Group have a lot of fun with group photos where all the people are wearing masks of famous dictators — we can't help but smile at Putin, Assad and Kim Jong-Un larking about in their underwear.

Pyotr Pavlensky is wrapped in barbed wire for a protest performance. Still it's not as bad as when he nailed his scrotum to the pavement.

What's most shocking about this exhibition is that this show probably couldn't be displayed in Russia, and for that reason it remains very important that these artists are drawing attention to this oppression.

Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism is on at Saatchi Gallery until 31 December. Entrance is free. There's also a related immersive theatrical experience; our review is here.

Last Updated 10 December 2017