Breaking news: artist nails down his scrotum to Red Square

I am sure you’ve seen this in the news. A lone naked man is sitting on the cold cobbles of the Red Square. He is then approached by a policeman who urges him to stand up. The camera shows the naked man can’t do it, because his scrotum is nailed down to the stones.


The video link is here:

The man was then taken to a hospital where doctors classified his art as a suicide attempt. It is very likely the man would be sentenced today to psychiatric treatment. Most Russians would support this decision, at least this is the impression you get when you read through online commentary.

The artist’s intentions are clear: this Action is a metaphor illustrating that the fatalist, passive, subjugated Russian public has been reduced to a system slave in Putin’s Russia.

It is the third time the artist harms himself to send out a politically charged message.

He first became known when he sewed up his mouth protesting against the imprisonment of Pussy Riot girls, as a symbol of the muffling of free speech in today’s Russia.


His next metaphor was putting himself naked inside a roll of barbed wire and revealing the resulting installation on the steps of St.Petersburg legislature office. It was meant to show that an artist in today’s Russia is not free; each time he tries to move the system punishes him by a cut.


And now, this, done in the heart of Russia, the soul of Moscow, on the cobbles of the Red Square that have seen centuries of bloodshed, executions, and victory parades. It is, perhaps, the only public square in Russia where smoking is not allowed. Mummified Lenin is still there in the Mausoleum, and Stalin’s grave is just slightly off to the right from it. And from now on tourists would be taking photographs of themselves standing on the “Scrotum Spot”.

Is this art?

Why I think it is not.

All the metaphors are weak, because they are way too obvious, and don’t add anything new to what we already know. They do not delve into the problems they are highlighting at a level deeper than just stating the problems exist. A newspaper cartoonist could do it (and some of them do it very creatively and artfully).

Imagine a life-like mannequin instead of the living person. It would be the same metaphor, same message, but less impact because people are not interested to know how a dummy wriggles itself out of the barbed wire roll, or gets unnailed.

With a dummy, it would be a cute (but not exciting) installation exhibited in galleries (for a short time), travelling around the world (once) and promoting discussions (among people who like chewing on the obvious).

With a live man being a part of it, it becomes a performance that makes the system – against which it is directed – jump with joy. It is easy to present the guy as a lunatic, and thus show that anyone who is against the system is a similar whacko. This performance does the opposite of what the artist intended.

As my readers are probably aware, I believe the act of Pussy Riot was great art.  I explained why, here. Their message was multi-layered and it sent ripples around the globe. For instance, Pussy Riot girls didn’t just state the problem of the Church being a perfect lover for a Police State. Their art has shown that when Christian values get in a contradiction with the Police State objectives, the former are easily betrayed by the Church for the greater good which the Church sees in continuing governmental support of its institutions. They made it crystal clear that the Russian Orthodox Church was always ready to betray its Christian principles, and that it was not  good for you (not Christianity itself, though!)

The scrotum act is solely interesting from the art history point of view because it is an unusual mix of installation and performance. 

It is widely known that when you do a poo on your neighbour’s porch and then press the door bell button, it is an installation. If you press the bell button first, and then do a poo, it is called a “performance“.

When this artist reveals himself, he is an installation. When the police covers him with a blanket, and takes him to hospital, it becomes a performance. Is body mutilation in a public place worth making a statement that belongs solely to the domain of art criticism? I am not sure.

I am pretty sure though that I won’t want children witnessing this. I don’t know if that’s a good thing for children to see. I could live with that were it done inside a gallery space, but not in a public square.

It is political protest in the form of body mutilation, but it is not art.

UPDATE of Novermber, 12th: The guy pierced his scrotum in advance, waited until it healed and then just inserted the nail through an already safely existing hole. Good for him. The idea of his “action” was offered to him by his cellmate the last time he was locked up by the police. It is what prisoners do when they protests against unfair treatment.

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    1. He is not getting publicity for the cause. He is getting publicity for himself. As of now, he’s been freed and walks free and cheerfully. Isn’t it a contradiction to what he was claiming with his actions? The more I read on this, the more I feel it was all pure publicity for himself. It is not a bad thing at all. And it will be remembered as such, if, of course it will be remembered. Perhaps, it is a work of art in personal publicity. Yes, I can agree to that. As for its longevity, only time will tell. I think it will be remembered as a curious incident, nothing more. He didn’t even punch the nail through his scrotum. No pain, no gain.

      1. It may very well be selfish, and I don’t particularly see it as art either. But by getting publicity for himself he is getting publicity for the cause. Maybe not a lot of publicity, maybe not good publicity but a little awareness could very possibly go a long way.

        1. I just thought that this action is a perfect illustration of the Russian attitude to things. Instead of looking into a problem, diagnosing it, finding a cure, and meticulously applying it over years and years (because societal problems don’t get solved by a decree), it is just easier to behave as a clown. Get naked, nail yourself down to a brick, pretend to be an idiot, being smarty pants all along. I don’t think the guy wanted this message to come across to me, but it did 😉 – largely, though, thanks to your comment! Thank you )

          1. No problem 😉 and I do completely understand where you’re coming from. There is a responsibility to address problems in a better way than this man has. But even in America you have “artists” doing crazy things that in no way evoke social change. The world will always be an interesting one 😛

  1. Agree with you that it is not art be ause the message is too obvious. Id call it graphic design or communication of a message in visual form.

    I disgree with you that it should be in a gallery though. The correct stage was where it was. In a gallery, it would probaly find a sympathetic audience and perhaps preach to the converted. I admire the artists because by taking it to the public, he is opening himself up to ridicule by the public. Furthermore, it is the public he ultimately needs to persude. If children are terrified by his message, perhaps that is not a bad thing. I think the greater good would outweigh a few hurt feelings.

    1. Hi, thanks for disagreeing on the gallery issue. In fact, you are not disagreeing with me on it )) I wrote it would be a “cute installation” meaning that it won’t be great art or good art, but just a cute something generating little interest. So, I am – in fact – of the same opinion. It is not worth the gallery space it requires.

      Witnessing an act of body mutilation can be a serious psychologic traumatic experience for someone not prepared, conditioned, grown enough. Until kids grow up we won’t know if that was a bad thing or not. I doubt it can be a good thing, though. Who is this guy to decide what is or is not a PSE for kids? But even this I could forgive the guy, were there any greater goodness in this act. I think there’s more greater bad than good in this act because it allows the very system against which the guy was protesting to portrait protesters as people with psychological disorders. In my view, this act discredits protest against the system, not helps it.

      Thanks again!

  2. Anyone expressing themselves through emotion by imagery is ART! To say it is not…is taking away individual expression. Freedom of expression. We all have our own interpretation of what is good art and bad art…that is in the eye of the beholder. These images, and any way that people express themselves is in fact art to me. What is not when people conform and do not express themselves… OPENLY and without the fear of being persecuted for what they want to EXPRESS!
    People that remain silent and NON-expressive!! That is not art. That is the only thing that is not art, in my opinion!!!
    I saw in an artical that it was saying he nailed his testicIe to the ground…I am sure it was his scrotum and not his testicles….I highly doubt anyone could every drive a nail through there testicle and sit anywhere…besides in a hospital. Funny how stories get exaggerated. What a great display of deception though, and by making his own body a piece of propaganda. for a very respectable cause….like INJUSTICE!!! Driving a nail through your srotum is less painful than getting your ear pierced. There is still room for plenty of infection…just driving a nail into the ground where everyone walks.
    This guy is a very good artist of imagery though. I hope he accomplished something for the group he was trying to support and bring awareness too…he definitely brought awareness to himself… besides showing of his PRETTY nuts or nut sack and his own artform..or in other words his naked body!
    Great effort on his part though. Not many people would have the BALLS to do that anywhere in public..without getting paid for it! 😉 Much respect to this guy and his scotum!
    1 world UP! Y..ours and MINE!!! Free…Pussy, RIOT…NOW!!!

    1. My dear, my dear… First of all, thank you for taking the time to express your opinion, which is obviously different from mine. There’s no need to shout though. Three exclamation marks in a row draw attention not to what is being said, but to the emotional state of the speaker. Imagine doing a marriage proposal, like, “Will you!!! Marry!!!! ME!!!”. It is very unlikely any reasonable being at the receiving end would agree. At least not until the echo dies away, right? Likewise, when you end your comment with “Free…Pussy, RIOT…NOW!!!” it really sounds as a feminist call to liberate vaginas and start rioting immediately. I am all for freeing the two girls from Pussy Riot from the Ural and Siberian prison camps, but I am not left-wing enough to welcome destruction of property (often involved in rioting) by vaginal violence. It might be an interesting topic to discuss, but, perhaps, not right now. I am sure you didn’t mean vaginas to go violent, but that’s what shouting often does to well-intended meanings.

      And of course it is your sacred right to use one, two or three exclamation marks – but if you want to share ideas, that is to deliver the meaning of your words to readers intact, let’s stay within the generally accepted punctuation. That’s not a demand of any sort, I am just asking – because I am interested in your thoughts. I am so truly interested, that if I knew how to play with fonts, this sentence would be written in large friendly letters.

      I am sure there is a dozen definitions of art in active use right now. The most uncompromising of them all is this: Art is anything that is considered as art by at least a single person, even if it is art for that single person only. Basically, it is “art in the eye of the beholder” in formal lingo.

      The problem is that I do not agree with it. I believe in normal distributions, neural networks, and brain scans. And I believe that art is anything that creates a long-term impact on the neural networks of people above the average level of such impact, calculated as the integral of sustainable neural links created by the work of art, over time that tends to infinity, for a representative sample drawn from a nation that produced the artist. Arguing with me on that territory is ill-advised unless you’ve done a course in Applied Mathematics, Neuroscience, Sociology, and Art History. You see, if art is in the eye of the beholder, the definition of art can also be in the mind of the “definitioner”. That’s a deadend, so let’s not try to argue there. I accept your point of view without reservations. Almost. Except for one thing.

      Hannibal Lector believed his ability to kill people slowly was art. I am of a different opinion. I am of an opinion that his freedom of expression needs to be limited by capital punishment.

      You may say, that’s an extremity. Well, in mathematics, extremities are used to prove or disprove a statement. And thus, “art is in the eye of the beholder” doesn’t pass the test.

      Generally, or philosophically, I can offer you another take on art and freedom of expression.

      If someone’s freedom of expresson is encoaching upon my porch, I have the right to call the police, kick ass of the encroaching artist before, during, and after the performance, and request the artist to clean his installation off my porch in the manner I see fit for the ocassion. The Red Square is my porch. I am sorry I didn’t put out a warning sign, but, well, you can’t prepare for everything.

      As for the courage and pain… I can respect a man who’s got the balls to implement the idea of doing a poo on the porch of a WBA heavy-weight champion, but I can hardly call the brain that provided this insight as that of an artist. Artists must have courage to address painful issues, but courage alone does not make one an artist. As they say in mathematics, the inverse is not true.

      As for the prettiness of his nuts: on that I am not qualified enough to have an opinion. I do not discuss things created by God and/or evolution. This blog is about things done by men, women, and – as they say in the Star Wars – other gentle beings.

      Overall, thank you for being a radical supported of the freedom of expression. Without it, we won’t know the benefits of restraint.

      1. Well he was protesting the imprisonment of a female punk rock group called “Pussy Riot. I appreciate your reply as well…How I express myself is my freedom, whether or not people understand me or not is not up to me. Although I may use many exclamation points to for your liking I am not shouting. I apologize for the confusion… But I did there with no exclamation points, JUST CAPTIAL letters. TO be heard we must stand out sometimes. Just as this gentleman did. I used the term Pretty NUTS as in the ” THAT’S pretty NUTS” I do not expect people to get it and if they do not I explain myself. I would respond more but I need to get back to work. I am an artist that is constantly making things for clients that want my art on their skin…I thank you for your post and I am glad we can communicate I look forward to it again. Take care and have a good evening. 🙂

  3. Hmm…I don’t think the artist’s act can be discredited so easily. We look at how Tibetan monks burn themselves as an act of rebellion. In many ways, this artist is choosing that pain and suffering do not need to be abstracted to be understood and scorned.

    1. Hi. First of all, thank you for coming up with a comment that argues a different point of view!

      I am not sure I correctly understood everything you were saying in your comment, so if I am wrong, slap me on the hands. I am not discrediting the man’s political protest. I am just saying this is not art, and the man is not an artist. Tibetan monks who burn themselves do not call themselves artists. The Chinese student who stood up to a column of tanks was not calling himself an artist. Why does a minor self-inflicted wound meant to deliver a political statement qualify as art is, frankly, beyond me.

      As for the scorn that can be felt in my attitude towards the man, it comes from a very simple logic. In the 1920s, when communists were converting churches into vegetable warehouses and burning icons in front of people for whom those religious items were sacred, they never called it art. It was a political gesture, which is far from being cheered or appreciated today. Why does then a contemporary “artist” have the right to desecrate a place that is one of the most sacred symbols of suffering and victories for tens of millions of Russians, as a political gesture? Yes, I do not respect the man who does not respect the feelings of millions of people who share the same country with him. But I scorn him not out of disrespect, but because he did it all for creating a shallow metaphor that discredits the values it was meant to promote.

It would be grand to hear from you now!

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