PEN & Paper Aeroplanes: Over the next two weeks we are handing over the Elsewhere blog to a series of literary tributes from UK-based writers in solidarity with writers at risk around the World who are supported by English PEN. As they are added, all the tributes will be collected together here. Today is the turn of Steven J. Fowler for Oleg Sentsov:
First performance, January 2019
My first performance was for Oleg Sentsov, the filmmaker currently imprisoned in a penal colony for 20 years on trumped up charges by Russia. What struck me about him, which I wanted to represent, was his unearthly stubbornness, and insistence, and heart, and courage, and resilience. He clearly has an iron mind and is utterly principled, beyond any possible expectation in fact. I read his letter at the end of the performance but wanted to use the somewhat pathetic metaphor of eating nailed fruit as a way to represent the intensity of his refusal, when in court in Russia, to offer any submission.
Second performance, June 2019
For my second performance I once again nailed fruit and then ate it nailed, but this time with a black bag on my head while improvising some words about what Oleg Sentsov’s gesture of resistance, and life in general means to me, building on the six months between works I had to think about him. The principle that we might not be brave when called, and that even if, at first flush we may feel courage, it normally dissipates as reality sets in. This is an idea I have thought about my whole life. That it is easy to be what you hope to be when the weather is fair, but character is what happens when you realise days in you will be forgotten and your suffering, no matter how representative, symbolic or important, if yours alone. The man, Oleg Sentsov, is a giant. He has a giant soul. He embarrasses me into gratitude for my life, and that there seems no question on the horizon for my own principles like the one he has quite unbelievably answered.
About Oleg Sentsov: Oleg is a Ukrainian writer and filmmaker who is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence in Siberia on trumped-up terrorism charges, after a grossly unfair trial by a Russian military court, marred by allegations of torture, and who has so far spent 145 days on hunger strike. He was awarded the prestigious European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought for his work.
About Steven J. Fowler: Steven is a writer and artist who works in poetry, fiction, theatre, film, photography, visual art, sound art and performance. He has published seven collections of poetry, three of artworks, four of collaborative poetry plus volumes of selected essays and selected collaborations and has been translated into 27 languages. Steven has been commissioned by Tate Modern, BBC Radio 3, Whitechapel Gallery, Tate Britain, the London Sinfonietta, Wellcome Collection and Liverpool Biennial and he is the founder and curator of The Enemies Project and Poem Brut as well as editor at 3am magazine and executive editor at The Versopolis Review. He is a lecturer in Creative Writing and English Literature at Kingston University, teaches at Tate Modern, Poetry School and Photographer's Gallery. He is the director of Writers' Centre Kingston and European Poetry Festival.