“The political art” in the heart of the debate in the courts: the artist protest Russian Piotr Pavlenski, who has set fire to the facade of a branch of the Bank of France in the capital in October 2017, was sentenced Thursday in Paris to a year in prison.

The fire was, according to the accused, an art performance, entitled “Illumination”. “The bank of France, situated place de la Bastille, it is historically shameful”, has justified the accused, in admiration of “the revolutionary France that was at the forefront”. He denounces “the power of finance”. “The only thing I want is to move the Bank of France from the place de la Bastille. And hurrah for the yellow vests!”, let go of Piotr Pavlenski, a political refugee in France since may of 2017.

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The artist of 34 years and his ex-girlfriend Oksana Chaliguina, 39 years old, were tried for “destruction of the property of another by a means dangerous for the people”. They had been arrested early on 16 October 2017 before the branch burned to the Bank of France.

“This hearing is quite exceptional,” said the president of the tribunal before issuing the judgment. “This is the hearing where the art meets the law, which is opposed to the penal code and the codes of poetry”, he continued before mentioning Jean Cocteau. But the magistrate has to put on her dress for judging. “Through artistic expression, there is an act that has the gradient property, which has represented a danger to people. (…) The judge, and the artist can meet,” he said, before detailing the penalties.

Piotr Pavlenski, shaved head, features the emaciated and wearing black, was sentenced to three years in prison, including two years suspended. As he has already spent eleven months on remand, he should not go back to detention. Oksana Chaliguina has been sentenced to 2 years in prison, with 16 months suspended. During the fire, the woman’s platinum blonde was wearing sunglasses and wig black. “It was in homage to Jacques Mesrine”, famous for his robberies and escapes spectacular. They have the ban on the possession of a weapon for 5 years. They will have to pay 18.678 euros to the Bank of France under the material damage and 3,000 euros for moral injury. “Never!”, reacted strongly, in Russian, Piotr Pavlenski.

“artistic Salon”

The Bank of France, which was constituted as a civil party, explained that the branch, which welcomes, in particular, those over-indebted, was forced to close for three days due to the fire. And above the offices, were of the apartments inhabited.

“This is a balanced decision”, was welcomed by the lawyer of the two defendants, Dominique Beyreuther Minkov. “It was a hearing poetic, where we spoke about the place of the artist in society,” she welcomed.

Piotr Pavlenski explained that the convict was “officially prohibit political art in France”. And then, challenging the translations of the interpreter, he asserted his right to silence. “The French justice system has a long history with its artists and its intellectuals”, had argued just before the president. “We are not in a literary salon, or a salon of art”, said the representative of the public prosecutor. “You can be an artist, but also an artist and offender”. It required four years of prison, of which 18 months were suspended against Piotr Pavlenski, and three years, of which 18 months suspended against his ex-girlfriend. “They have little recognition for the country which has welcomed them”, she complained.

The artist has made a name by challenging regularly for the Russian authorities: he was notably sprinkled petrol and set fire to the doors of the headquarters of the former KGB in Moscow. In 2016, Piotr Pavlenski had been seven months in detention and was sentenced to a fine for having “damaged” the Lubyanka, historic seat of the Russian security services.