By Paul Gessell
The Siberian-born Slava Mogutin was exiled from Russia in 1995 because of writings that supposedly incited “malicious hooliganism,” sexual perversion, and a host of other calamities.
He was only 21 at the time. Surely, his best years were ahead.
Mogutin relocated to New York City and soon became the toast of the demi-monde with his raw, uninhibited photographic portraits of young males on the fringe and on the make: Punks, skinheads, and assorted sexual outlaws. The urban, underground aesthetic of these images speaks of obsession, danger, and forbidden sex.
Naturally, that all makes Mogutin a fine fit with Ottawa’s La Petite Mort Gallery, where there is never any art too outrageous to exhibit. Mogutin and his artistic partner Brian Kenny will have an exhibition there from Sept. 2 to Oct. 2 called Interpenetration.
In the following interview, Mogutin discusses censorship, his subjects, and the line between pornography and art.
You left Russia because of censorship. Do you feel free to create whatever kind of art you wish in the United States?
We live in the times of new conservatism and Puritanism, and I’m still dealing with censorship on a daily basis. For example, both my website and blog are blocked by the filters installed in most universities, colleges, and other institutions in the States. In the country where nudity is immediately associated with sex and pornography, my work is considered inappropriate and obscene by the majority of the academic and art establishment. This puts the U.S. in the same line with the most oppressive Muslim regimes and countries like China and Nigeria. In general, gay imagery is completely removed from the American mainstream and pop culture. I find it ironic and sad, considering that this country is the birthplace of the gay liberation movement. Forty-some years later, it’s far behind many countries in terms of gay rights and freedoms, and the current government hasn’t done much to improve this situation. They just want our taxes and votes, not our rights!
Where, for you, is the line between pornography and art? Or is there a line at all?
The difference is in the creative approach. I’ve never tried to create an image in order to sexually arouse or excite my audience. I think the naked human body is the most beautiful thing in the world … I like photographing people in intimate, vulnerable situations and I’m looking for new ideals of beauty and sensuality. If someone finds my work offensive or shocking for whatever reason, it’s their problem, not mine.
I find the subjects in many of your photographs are caught in moments of loneliness, despair, even degradation. Why the fascination with such dark emotions?
Just look around. We live in a world full of loneliness, despair and degradation! I want my pictures to tell stories of real people and real emotions. There’s plenty of love, light, and bright colors in my work, but I’m not interested in painting some rosy Gay Paradise. I’ve been always fascinated by the dark side of our everyday existence, which reveals the mutating nature of the human race in our post-apocalyptic, hyper-capitalist society.
Your camera seems attracted to outsiders, people on the fringes. Is this a manifestation of your own feeling of being a rebellious outsider?
I grew up in an oppressive and conservative society and from an early age I rebelled against hypocrisy, injustice, and discrimination. Naturally, I’ve been always inspired by the alternative, nonconformist subcultures and movements, documented in my earlier work. I can identify with a lot of these kids — Lost Boys, Beautiful Losers, or whatever you want to call them — and I think they’re the true heroes of our times, resisting the evils of globalization, capitalist greed, and corporate takeover.
Is there some particular kind of image you are dying to create but have not yet been able to do so?
There are many images that I’d like to create and I have more ideas than I could ever realize. Usually I don’t like to plan things out. Most of my work is very spontaneous and improvisation is a big part of it. I just did a 14-page fashion story for Flaunt Magazine, using 3D filters and a bunch of heavily tattooed male hustlers and porn stars. They were dressed in high couture mixed with fetish gear, thongs and lingerie. It was a fun and exciting experiment and I’m really happy with the result. And I have a few other interesting projects in the making, but I’m not allowed to talk about them yet.
Opens Sept. 2. La Petite Mort, 306 Cumberland St. www.lapetitemortgallery.com