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Controversial Russian artist in court for posting sexual images of Parisian mayor candidate

Russian artist Piotr Pavlenski (R) and his companion Alexandra de Taddeo (L)
Russian artist Piotr Pavlenski (R) and his companion Alexandra de Taddeo (L) Copyright AFP
Copyright AFP
By Jonny Walfisz with AFP
Published on Updated
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Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky defended posting explicit images of Paris mayoral candidate Benjamin Griveaux as "artistic freedom".

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Controversial Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky and his companion Alexandra de Taddeo are at a French court house to face trial for posting explicit messages of French politician Benjamin Griveaux. Pavlensky has defended himself to the press claiming his “artistic freedom”.

In 2018, the now 32-year-old student de Taddeo had a relationship with Griveaux, a politician for the La République En Marche! (LREM) party. When Griveaux was running to be mayor of Paris in 2020, Pavlensky posted footage of the politician sending intimate messages to a young woman and an explicit video of him masturbating to a site called Pornopolitique.

The controversy surrounding the images caused Griveaux to abandon his bid for mayor of Paris. The site was taken down three days later and Pavlensky and de Taddeo were arrested. The trial, which started yesterday (28 June), puts Pavlensky at risk of prison time. Griveaux’s prosecution lawyers have demanded six months’ imprisonment for the 39-year-old artist and a six-month suspended sentence for de Taddeo.

One of Russia's most controversial artists

Pavlensky is a well-known and controversial performance artist, recognised for his infamous political pieces that have involved self-harm. In 2012, Pavlensky sewed his mouth shut to protest the imprisonment of Russian punk band Pussy Riot. In 2013, he nailed his testicles to Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow to protest Russia’s police forces.

The 2020 art project Pornopolitique is Pavlensky’s attempt to shed light on politicians who “impose puritanism on society while despising it.” When Pavlensky posted the images of Griveaux on the site, he denounced the LREM politician for “disgusting hypocrisy” and for making “propaganda of traditional family values.”

Arriving at the Paris court yesterday, Pavlensky said that “artistic freedom” should be “the greatest value,” before exclaiming that: “Today will be the judgement of my eighth subject-object art event, the pornopolitics event…” to the court.

VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP
Pavlensky leaves the courthouse on June 8, 2016 in Moscow, after being released with a fine of 500,000 rubles (€6,800) for torching the door of the security services HQVASILY MAXIMOV/AFP

De Taddeo, now an art history student, said that for “40 months”, her words had been “manipulated and ridiculed”. Declaring to have “expressed everything” in her autobiographical novel, she added that she “at no time wanted to trap” Griveaux.

Investigating judges concluded that de Taddeo was directly involved in the publication of the videos. During the first day of trial, Pavlensky remained mostly silent. Three actors performed extracts from the Molière play ‘Tartuffe’, while a curator explained that she was exhibiting Pavlensky’s work in Amsterdam because he is “questioning normative codes is one of the strengths and functions of contemporary art.”

Griveaux’s lawyer argued that he is calling for “protecting” privacy as a “pillar of our civilization” and that: “In reality, the model they are asking for is terror 2.0 in the hands of the most violent,” he said. “Art has never been an instrument of denunciation to destroy lives, an instrument of totalitarianism, of puritanism.”

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