Slava Mogutin

36, doesn’t pay much attention to the art scene and art politics

media: multimedia, text

Why did you change your name from Yaroslav to Slava?

My full name is Yaroslav Yurievich Mogutin. Mogutin means “mighty” in Russian. I was named after Yaroslav the Wise, the ancient king who was responsible for unifying the state and bringing literacy to Russia. Slava means “fame” or “glory” and it’s a nickname for Yaroslav. That’s how my family and friends always called me. When I moved to New York, I started using Slava as my artistic name. I like the fact that it’s different from my literary name and identity. One of my poetry books was published under the name SUPERMOGUTIN. And that’s where SUPERM comes from.

Have you been back to your home in Kemerovo or Moscow recently? Is there still a strong connection to your Russian heritage after all those years in NYC?

My family left Siberia when I was a kid and I haven’t been back there ever since, unfortunately. Last time I went to Moscow was over 5 years ago, when I had a show during the 1st Moscow Biennale. It was in the middle of brutal winter, and it was freezing and snowing the whole time. Everyone on the streets and in the subway seemed to be drunk, just to stay warm. I was planning on going back there again this summer, but I found out that my name is on some black “no entry” list. As much as I’d like to stay more connected with my friends and family, it’s becoming increasingly difficult because of the new conservative regime. Besides, I really enjoy traveling the world with my work and would much rather visit new places.

What do you hear from Russia – what is the status of the queers there? Is there some underground queercore?

Sadly, Russia remains a largely homophobic society, even though homosexuality has been decriminalized back in the early 90’s. The mayor of Moscow has repeatedly banned gay parades, festivals and demonstrations calling them “satanic.” There are some gay discos and bars in Moscow and most major cities, but hardly any queercore movement or art—just a handful of artists who explore certain transgressive themes and queer sensibility in their work. None of them would identify themselves with queer or gay art. Homosexuality is still considered a taboo in the mainstream Russian culture and the only area where you can (kind of) get away with being openly gay is entertainment.

Why did you decide to trade poetry for photography? Is it a language or some other kind of barrier?

I started doing photography at the same time as writing poetry—in my early teens. I even printed my first photos in an improvised darkroom set up in my mother’s bathroom. For years photography and drawing was something I was doing on the side as a hobby, but it’s not until I moved to New York when I started focusing more on my visual art. After publishing 7 books in Russian and doing writing and journalism professionally for over 10 years, I felt like I said enough and it’s time to try something different. The beauty of art is that it doesn’t require translations and it’s free for interpretations. Still, my visual work is a continuation of my writings and I remain a poet in everything I do.

Your photography seems to be based on trust – you show models in vulnerable states. How do you comfort them? What is the story behind a photograph?

The key is that I never use professional models or studio set-up. In fact, I didn’t even have a real studio until just few months ago. Most of my shoots are completely spontaneous and improvised. I get plenty of solicitations from volunteers who want to be photographed by me, but I prefer to work with friends and people I know. Personal connection with my subjects is essential for my work. I’m not just interested in pretty faces or beautiful bodies, I want to capture their real character and emotion. It’s always about trust and mutual respect and understanding. Even for my most graphic and explicit photos, I would never force anyone into anything they don’t want to do, or something that I wouldn’t do myself.

Do you think you can still provoke people? (I bet it was way easier in Russia than in NYC.) Quick namedropping: Robert Filippini and your wedding.

It’s never been my goal to provoke or shock anyone. Even when I tried to register the first same-sex marriage in Russia or outed some high-ranking politicians and personalities, I could never imagine it would create such an outrage and would result in ridiculous criminal charges, death treats and continuous media harassment. For sure, my writing got me into a lot of trouble in Russia, but my art caused just as much controversy in the West. There were complains that my photos were too explicit for general audience and demands to remove them from shows. On a few different occasions my work has been censored by major European and American institutions. And there are still plenty of critics, curators and publications that dismiss my work as porn or “gay art”.

What are your fetishes and yet unfulfilled sexual fantasies?

Well, I’ve never kept them secret! Just look at my work and you can make a long list of things I like. I guess, that’s the reason why my pictures are copied all over the Internet on countless fetish and porn sites. As for my unfulfilled fantasies, let’s leave it to our readers’ imagination. I’ve been in a relationship with Brian for 6 years and I’m quite satisfied with my sex life.

Your unreleased porn movie Food Chain was focused on scat. Was that the reason why it didn’t get a release? Tell me about the plot and the story of the movie.

Food Chain was a movie that I directed for the Berlin-based company Cazzo Films a few years ago. It was a non-narrative experimental feature based on the themes of food and bodily fluids. Initially I wanted to include scat, but it was impossible to find good-looking actors into it, plus the producers were against it because of the distribution restrictions in most countries. I developed the script based on the workshop with the cast of 15 actors who were flown to Berlin from all over Europe. We found some amazing locations—a giant abandoned factory building, an old cafe covered with Marlene Dietrich memorabilia, even a farm full of animals a few hours outside Berlin—and spent 2 weeks filming. It was easily the most intense and difficult project I’ve ever done in my life. To make a long story short, after watching the rough edit, the producers decided to kill the project because of its violent and “unmarketable” content, even though we were already getting requests from festivals around the world. Unfortunately, Cazzo still has the entire footage, but I’m still hoping to retrieve it and finish the movie on my own. For now, I have lots of great pictures from the set that one day will make a beautiful and kinky book.

This is a question I asked Bruce LaBruce too – what do you think is the future of porn – gay and hetero?

I’m not a porn expert, although I do find Internet porn quite inspiring. The future of porn is Internet, webcams and interactive sites like Chat Roulette. It’s pretty obvious that print porn and DVDs are becoming obsolete, together with the hideous porn studios that produce them. Who wants to pay for manufactured plastic porn if you can watch and interact with real horny boys online!

I’ve noticed you’re pretty dominant with your audience and fans—is it the Russian macho heritage or is it just your way?

I can be dominant if I have to, but I’d rather not! I think part of it comes from my militant Communist upbringing and part from my Dad, a short-tempered and violent man. He was a former boxer, and as a kid I witnessed him many times getting into drunken brawls and breaking his opponents’ noses. When I first moved to Moscow as a teenager, I used to drink heavily, was expelled from every school and got myself arrested a few times. Then at certain point I realized I was just wasting my life and managed to get myself out of that evil self-destructive cycle. I think my poetry saved me. My poetry and ambition. I was too ambitious to drink myself to death at such an early age!

How did you make it in NYC? I don’t want to sound slimy, but if art was a religion you would be the pope of New York.

I’m against religion of any kind, especially organized religion. And the Pope is the biggest hypocrite and bigot in the world! I made it in New York against all odds. When I first got here 15 years ago, I hardly knew anyone and could hardly speak the language. I had to start my life and career from the ground zero. I had to reinvent myself both personally and artistically. It was a long, dramatic and exciting journey, and that’s how Slava Mogutin the artist was born. The rest is history.

What is happening in the art scene of New York right now? It seems to be rising up again from the ashes?

To be honest, I don’t pay much attention to the art scene and art politics. I hardly ever go to galleries—just because most of the art I see in Chelsea is hopelessly boring, pretentious and commercial. I find more inspiration in the street art and the work of young artists who don’t get much exposure besides the Internet. One of the reasons why I started my Pinko Commie Fag Blog is to give the platform to these talented rebellious kids and emerging artists who don’t have a gallery representation. These kids will shape the art of the 21st century, not the art mafia that controls the market.

When is your new book Panoramic View coming out and what is it going to be about?

I’m hoping to have it published in 2011. It’s a book of panoramic travel photos from around the world, places like Morocco, Guatemala, Mexico and, of course, Russia. Panoramic View is very different from my first two books, Lost Boys and NYC Go-Go. It’s not so much about people, as about spaces—landscapes and still-lifes with occasional portraits and nudes. Also, there are many pictures of animals—dogs and wolves, goats and sheep, roosters and pigeons, monkeys and even octopuses… And I’d like to make it clear that these beautiful animals have nothing to do with my sexual fantasies!