Inside Pussy Riot

Photo credit: Kenny Mathieson

Inside Pussy Riot at the Saatchi Gallery in London is a roughly one hour immersive experience in to how it was for members of the Pussy Riot collective who got arrested, sentenced and imprisoned to 2 years in a Russian labour camp for 40 seconds of singing in a Russian church.

It’s a very interesting experience and if you had asked me my feelings on it yesterday, during and after the exhibit, it would be a different reaction to what I think now, today, having had time to think and process it.

The exhibit opens by getting your hand stamped with a number, you have to fill out a questionnaire with your name, age, social media names and pick one of the slogans that you would defend by speaking out about, once this is complete, your group gets to go in and put on your balaclava, to be one of the collective, heading in to church.

The exhibition takes you through the facets of what happened to Pussy Riot, from being in the church, to arrest and incarceration. The church part is good, a bit fun, but it is when you have been arrested and are in the police station that the most harrowing and memorable part of the exhibition happens. I won’t spoil it for you, but it is effective, however I do wish that after the event occurs, there isn’t the disclaimer as it takes away a bit of the impact, if the disclaimer occurred after the exhibition finished, it might be better.

Going from there to the court was, for me, quite a step down in terms of quality. The court room, with the group behind bars and the judge like a puppet being insane was just a bit too ridiculous. I understand that it is meant to represent the ridiculousness of the Russian court system but I felt that after the very powerful police station scene this was just too silly and needed to be more serious, more scary, more affecting, more representative of reality, however that part was, the silliest, before and after was much better.

Once the group is in prison, and being shouted at by guards, you do slip in to that role and start looking down at the floor, not talking by habit, it’s quite scary just how easily manipulated we are by the situation. The final part is solitary confinement, each individual in the group in their own room. I won’t spoil what happens during that, but for me, it was the rea highlight and really got at what they were trying to do with this exhibition and I felt very moved by it.

I said at the beginning that my feelings had changed over the last 24 hours: after the event I had felt moved by some of what had occurred but also quite annoyed at the court room scene in particular. Today however, it is only the parts which made a real impact, the police station, the prison, solitary which I kept thinking back to, remembering, which means that this show is a success, it stays with you, it makes you think about a lot, and, hopefully, make a change. A powerful, and unique exhibition with a great design and fantastic acting all round.

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