Pyotr Pavlensky, the performance artist and political activist, was removed from the roof of a Moscow psychiatry institution on Sunday after he cut off his right earlobe with a kitchen knife in protest against the politically motivated use of psychiatry in Russia. Staging his performance — entitled Separation — at the Serbsky State Scientific Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry, an institution which became notorious during Soviet times for declaring political dissidents as mentally ill, Pavlensky’s performance was a commentary on the resurgence of corrupt psychiatric practices in contemporary Russia.
In a statement from Pavlensky published on the Facebook page of his wife, journalist Oksana Shalygina, the artist wrote: “The knife separates the body from the earlobe. The concrete wall of psychiatry separates the sane society of the insane patients. By returning the use of psychiatry for political purposes, the police apparatus regains the power to determine the border between sanity and madness. Being armed with psychiatric diagnoses, a bureaucrat in a white robe cuts off from the society those pieces that prevent to establish a monolithic dictate of the norm, which is the same for all and necessary for everyone.”
The letter continues: “Devils, demons and other beasts have died, but their deaths have given birth to a creature that is insatiable in his service to the letter of the law. The mental illness. The psychiatric institution is the device of exception that society cannot eliminate until it gets rid of the faith in the new demons.”
In the past year, the artist, known for his outrageous and often gruesome performances, has been certified as sane three times having been sent for psychiatric evaluation following his performances. In July 2012, Pavlensky wired his mouth shut in front of St Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral to protest against the persecution of the feminist punk group Pussy Riot. Last year, Pavlensky again courted controversy after he nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones of the Red Square to protest against “the apathy and political indifference and fatalism of modern Russian society”.