Spotlight: Slava Mogutin

Slava Mogutin is a Siberian-born artist, writer and filmmaker exiled from Russia for his outspoken queer writings and activism. A third-generation writer and self-taught journalist and photographer, he became the first Russian to be granted political asylum in the US on the grounds of homophobic persecution. He is the author of two monographs of photography published in the US and seven books of writings in Russian. In 2000, he was awarded the Andrei Bely Prize for Poetry, one of the most prestigious literary awards in Russia. Mogutin’s artwork has been exhibited internationally and featured in a wide range of publications including Flash Art, i-D, Dazed & Confused, L’Uomo Vogue, Stern, Libération, and The New York Times. In 2014, Mogutin released his first collection of writings in English, Food Chain. He is a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin and his recent anti-gay policies.

How did your interest in photography and visual art begin? Photography was always my big passion and I was taking pictures since my teenage years. When I moved to NY I had a chance to work with some great photographers and artists, like Attila Richard Lukacs, David Armstrong, Jack Pierson and Richard Kern, and I learned something from each of them. It gave me confidence to start exhibiting and publishing my own work.

How has living in New York affected your work? I moved here from Moscow in 1995, and I saw the last glimpse of the old bohemian New York that was traditionally a magnet for renegade nonconformist artists and writers I admired. I was fortunate to meet and interview some of my teenage heroes, like Allen Ginsberg, Quentin Crisp, Larry Clark, and Gus Van Sant. Coming from the conservative and rigid post-Communist Russia, cosmopolitan and multicultural New York was a place to be for a young rebel like me. 20 years later, I’m still happy to call New York my home.

Who would you ideally like to collaborate with? I was fortunate to collaborate with many great artists from Bruce LaBruce and Michael Stipe to Terry Richardson and Steven Klein. Steven & I just did a collaboration for V Magazine; it’s a foldout poster with Kendall Jenner, and there’s another project in the works.

What kinds of things are influencing your work right now? Most of my recent work is photo-based collages, and I’m very much inspired by the early photomontage experiments of Alexander Rodchenko and the Russian Constructivists, and Robert Rauschenberg’s silkscreen collages. 

What do you want a viewer to walk away with after experiencing your work? Once I saw a fat red-faced policemen inspect my installation at the Station Museum in Houston, Texas. He was wearing a cowboy hat and looked absolutely outraged and disgusted by the wall of my Stock Boyz—Internet porn images printed on the financial pages from The New York Times. However, the cop ended up lingering in my room way longer than the rest of the show, which made me think that my artistic mission has been accomplished. It’s always exciting to see such a visceral reaction on my work!

Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your work? As a journalist, I was accused by the Russian authorities of “malicious hooliganism with exceptional cynicism and extreme insolence.” It was a charge with a potential sentence of up to seven years in prison, recently used against the members of Pussy Riot. And my father, a former communist and born-again Christian, describes my work as “anal filth.” I’ll take it as a compliment.

What’s your absolute favorite place in the world to be? The jungle of Costa Rica.

If you were a drink what drink would you be? Jalapeño Margarita. I’d like it extra spicy, please!

Top 3 favorite or most visited websites and why? I’m a news junkie, so I start my day with listening to BBC and NPR. Tumblr comes next, it’s an endless source of excitement and visual stimulation.

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? As a writer I contributed to the Estonian Pavilion for this year’s Venice Biennale, and my photography will be featured in the 5th Thessaloniki Biennale in Greece. I’m also gearing up for several upcoming shows in NY, Zurich and Greece and working on a new book of my photography and a book of selected essays and interviews, covering over 20 years of my journalistic work.