Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Burger King goes avant-garde with tribute to performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky

Photo Illustration Nick Wanserski (Nigina Beroeva / Getty Images)
Photo Illustration Nick Wanserski (Nigina Beroeva / Getty Images)

Although you could argue that some of the more recent additions to the fast-food chain’s American menu could potentially be interpreted as an Andy Kaufman-style prank designed to make a statement on childhood obesity and the food-industrial complex, only the Russian branch of Burger King is truly interested in performance art. So much so, actually, that it’s planning to release a line of burgers inspired by political performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky.


That news comes from The Moscow Times, which cites Russian-language culture site Afisha Daily as saying that the “Pavlensky Burger” will only be available at Burger King branches in St. Petersburg through September 11 and will come in four different varieties, each inspired by a different Pavlensky performance. Let’s run them down, shall we?:

  • First, there’s a burger with a bun that’s been partially sewn shut in honor of Seam, a July 2012 performance where Pavlensky sewed his mouth shut to protest the imprisonment of his fellow dissidents in Pussy Riot.
  • Then there’s a burger wrapped in “edible barbed wire” in honor of Carcass, a performance where Pavlensky, naked and wrapped in a cocoon of barbed wire, was deposited on the steps of the St. Petersburg legislature building, where he remained until police were able to cut him out. He was immediately arrested, kind of proving his point.
  • Not to mention the burger that’s seared on one side to celebrate Lubyanka’s Burning Door, the protest where Pavlensky set the doors of the Russian Federal Security Service—the successor to the KGB—on fire and waited to be arrested. It took 30 seconds. You can see a picture of this performance (minus the Burger King crown, of course) above.
  • Finally, and most metaphorically rich of all, there’s the burger that comes with an egg “nailed” to it with a plastic nail in honor of Fixation, the infamous 2013 performance where Pabvlensky nailed his scrotum to the concrete in the middle of Red Square on Russian Police Day. He was, in what is obviously a running theme with these performances, arrested shortly thereafter.

This might seem like a joke—The A.V. Club went straight to the Russian-language source to confirm it wasn’t—but, given a little more context, it starts to make sense. The repressive cultural atmosphere in Putin’s Russia, exacerbated by censorship policies that don’t allow artists to express their opinions in more conventional ways, means that when someone like Pavlensky (or his more internationally famous compatriots in Pussy Riot) does one of their performances, it’s big news. Add a tradition of shocking, politically charged performance art that dates back to the USSR, and you’ve got a climate where someone like Pavlensky can become a celebrity. (In fact, Burger King says it picked him after analyzing media coverage of celebrities from St. Petersburg.)

For his part, Pavlensky says Burger King didn’t contact him about the promotion beforehand, and he only found out about it after the news went viral. He’s not against it, though, and tells Kommersant, “I’ve always been for freedom of interpretation.”

[additional reporting/translation by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]