Russian Peter Pavlensky nailed his scrotum on the cobblestones of Red Square in Moscow on November 10.

In full view of tourists and Russians passers-by, the performance artist Peter Pavlensky stripped down and nailed his testicles to the cobblestones of Red Square. Entitled “Fixation,” the performance action was timed to coincide with Police Day, which is celebrated on November 10. It was a protest action against the Kremlin’s crackdown on political rights” and, according to the artist’s statement “a metaphor of apathy, political indifference and fatalism in modern Russian society.”

The action began at 1:00 PM in front of the Lenin Mausoleum. He sat nailed there for an hour and a half. Around 2:30 PM, the 29-year-old artist was taken by ambulance to the First City Hospital. After going to the hospital, he was detained in a local police station.

Pavlensky also said in a statement: “When the authorities turn the country into one big prison, openly robbing the populace and channelling funds to increase and enrich the police and other security agencies, society accepts arbitrariness and, having forgotten its advantage in numbers, brings the triumph of the police state closer through its inaction.”

Some critics, seeing this picture widely shared on Facebook, have compared this Russian artist’s stunt as being not so different from what carnival sideshow performers, hardcore body modification enthusiasts, Indian fakirs and religious fanatics do to their bodies.  Others openly wondered if this action was evidence of severe psychological issues and mental distress. A blogger quipped on Twitter: “The artist Pavelensky nail micro-bloggers to his testicles.”

At least no blood was spilled in the process.

Sympathizers in the Russian arts world praised his Red Square act in comments on, with one calling it a “powerful gesture of absolute despair” and another, “a manifesto of powerlessness.”

If anything, this self-mutilating form of body art can only be understood as a work of insanity, in the sense that Sonja Foss uses it in her 1987 essay “Body Art: Insanity as Communication.” Whether or not we receive the artist’s intended message, Foss’s idiom of insanity works to enable us to approach body art with some measure of sympathy and concern. “While the insanity framework repulses and baffles due to the nature of the activity that takes place within it, its capacity to move viewers beyond the confines of that perspective and to examine the nature of art in general is likely to elicit responses in them such as fascination,” Foss wrote.

Russian Peter Pavlensky nailed his scrotum on the cobblestones of Red Square in Moscow on November 10.

His graphic act was recorded on video: Click below for an extreme close-up view of “Fixation” on Red Square.

Pavlensky is famous for his high-profile protests. This past May, he went to the building of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg while naked and wrapped with barbed wire.  This campaign, called “Carcass,” symbolized “man’s existence in a repressive legal system, where any movement causes severe reaction of the law, bites into the body of an individual.”

Pyotr Pavlensky’s “Carcass,” in front of the City Parliament of St. Petersburg, 2013

In July 2012, Pavlensky held a rally in support of prisoners participating Pussy Riot. He sewed his mouth and stood at the Kazan Cathedral with a placard “Speech Pussy Riot has been famous action replay of Jesus Christ (mf.21 :12-13).”

Pyotr Pavlensky protests the jailing of Pussy Riot

Pavlensky said: “Sewing up my mouth, I showed the situation of the contemporary artist in Russia, living in an environment where there’s a ban on publicity, the tightening of censorship and suppression of public statements in contemporary art.”

Pyotr Pavlensky’s bodily public actions “involve the actual power mechanisms.” His performances of have had wide international resonance. Born in Leningrad in 1984, he got his education from the Saint Petersburg State Art and Industry Academy, named after Alexander von Stieglitz and the program of the Pro Arte Foundation which promotes contemporary culture.

Pavlensky also established a magazine, Politicheskaya Propaganda. He works with actions and performances in public spaces.

He said, “Human body is something that the power mechanisms, the state and the society try to discipline by putting into jail and causing injuries. Working with my body, I show what the state does with the society. These processes reflect and are a metaphor for what is happening with the social body. Working in public space I manage to involve the actual power mechanisms into my actions.”