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Watch: Russian Performance Artist Lights Door of FSB Headquarters on Fire

Pyotr Pavlensky, the Russian performance artist and activist who famously nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones of Red Square, was arrested for setting fire to the front entrance of the Moscow headquarters of the FSB.

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Pyotr Pavlensky, the Russian performance artist and activist who famously nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones of Red Square, was arrested Monday for setting fire to the front entrance of the Moscow headquarters of the FSB, Russia’s security service.

In a video posted online, Pavlensky stands in front of the doorway holding a jerrycan as the flames behind him blaze on. Two journalists can be seen taking photos of Pavlensky before a police officer comes up and arrests him. The entire video can be seen below.

The FSB building, popularly known as Lubyanka, is a massive structure that takes up an entire city block and dominates the Moscow skyline. The building has long been home to various Soviet-era security agencies, from the Cheka following the Bolshevik Revolution to the KGB, and is deeply associated with the detentions and extrajudicial killings of the Stalinist era. In targeting Lubyanka, which also houses a high-profile prison, Pavlensky apparently sought to draw parallels to the growing powers of the security services under Russian President Vladimir Putin — a former KGB officer himself.

In a statement released with the video, Pavlensky said that “the FSB acts using a method of unending terror and holds power over 146 million people” and that “the threat of inevitable reprisal hangs over everyone who can be tracked with devices, have their conversations listened to, or at borders with passport checks.”

Pavlensky said that “fear turns free people into a sticky mass of uncoordinated bodies” and that performing the act outside the FSB building was a “reflex to fight for my own life.”

According to Russian state news agency TASS, Pavlensky has been questioned on suspicion of vandalism and could face up to one year if convicted. The two journalists who filmed the performance were taken in for questioning, but have since been released.

Part artist and part stuntman, Pavlensky has used the shock factor to grab international headlines. Prior to nailing his scrotum to Red Square to protest against tight police control in 2013, he sewed his lips together to protest the arrest and imprisonment of the activist punk band Pussy Riot in 2012. Pavlensky also cut off part of his earlobe over the forced psychiatric treatment of dissidents in the country and wrapped his naked body in barbed wire outside Russia’s parliament building.

Despite his recurring performances, Pavlensky has been prosecuted only once before. He is currently facing three years in prison over a 2014 act meant to comment on Moscow’s policies toward Ukraine. During the performance, Pavlensky set fire to a pile of tires and waved a Ukrainian flag to mimic the Maidan protests that ousted Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s pro-Russian former president.

Photo credit: Varlamov.ru/LiveJournal

Reid Standish is a journalist based in Helsinki, Finland. He was formerly an associate editor at Foreign Policy. @reidstan

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