Slava Mogutin fled Russia for New York in 1995. His outspoken writing on gay issues had sparked anonymous death threats, made him the conservative media´s favourite whipping boy and triggered a criminal case that could have resulted in a seven-year prison sentence. Upon his arrival in New York, he jumped the language barrier by shifting his artistic focus to photography.
The result? NYC GoGo – a look at the Big Apple´s underground sex and Go-Go dancing scene. He has also co-founded the art collective Superm with boyfriend and fellow artist Brian Kenny. They have had shows in London, New York, Tokyo, Berlin and modern art museum MUSAC, in Leon. On top of all this he starred in porn-auteur Bruce LaBruce´s film Skin Flick. This month, he lands at La Fresh Gallery, Madrid with his solo show Lost Boys.
Dazed Digital: Does playing with the porn aesthetic interest you?
Slava Mogutin: I never made a secret that porn is one of my major inspirations, especially internet porn. So, in a way, it’s only fair that my photos are now posted all over various fetish and porn sites. It means that my work has gone a full cycle and is now back in a public domain, for everyone to enjoy. It’s also a great compliment for me because I feel like in my photography I’ve managed to achieve a certain level of intimacy and honesty that can only be seen on some amateur porn sites. Even if some of my photos were staged, the final result looks totally natural and spontaneous.
DD: Tell me about NYC Go-Go...
SM: NYC Go-Go is a straight-forward documentary of a vanishing downtown gay scene and sex underground. When I first moved to New York in the mid-90s, it was a very horny and seedy place, full of sex and strip-clubs and dark rooms. I was never into public sex, but I’m a voyeur, so I would go to those places to watch guys stripping or having sex. Go-go is such a New York phenomenon and I found it totally fascinating. Then, under mayor Giuliani, I witnessed a transformation of New York into a conservative corporate place full of homophobic cops. Giuliani started the war on nightlife, which ultimately resulted in shutting down the best clubs like Palladium, Limelight, Roxy, Tunnel, Twilo, Sound Factory, Gaiety… When I started working on NYC Go-Go, I wanted to document the last glimpse of what this city used to be famous for. At that time, Brian was dancing and bartending at some remaining downtown gay bars like Boysroom, the Cock and Mr Black. Thanks to him, I had full access to those places and met all the dancers. Sadly, half of those bars are already gone. So when I look at those pictures, to me they seem kind of sinister. It’s like that whole chapter of our lives is over, for better or worse…
DD: And you starred in Bruce LaBruce´s Skin Flick...
SM: The role I played was written specifically for me, and Bruce incorporated my own ideas and language into it. I learned a lot from working with him, and it helped me later on with my personal work. Looking back, I realise that I feel much more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it.
DD: I read that your Dad said you were ugly but smart. And this was the reason you went into porn. To prove him wrong about your looks...
SM: Well, they say that in order to become a real artist you have to kill your parents. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my family in general and my Dad in particular. I did a lot of things in order to overcome the complexes that my parents planted into my mind. I haven’t talked to my father in years, but recently he was interviewed for a documentary about me that was just broadcast on the Russian TV, and he was talking about me as a total failure, the biggest failure of his life… Luckily, I don’t need or expect his praise or approval anymore!
DD: I heard that your first sexual experience with a boy involved role-play with guns. Is that right? Did this mark the beginning of your love affair with the fetish scene?
SM: Growing up in the environment where any notion of gay sex was immediately associated with danger, I learned from the early age how to make the best of it and even enjoy it. I’m not a vanilla person and I’m not into vanilla sex, so naturally role-play and various fetishes are a big part of my aesthetics.
DD: Can you tell me about your show at La Fresh Gallery?
SM: I met Topacio Fresh back in 2006, when I did a show with my boyfriend-collaborator Brian Kenny at MUSAC in Leon. We became friends and Brian and I stayed at Topacio’s place when we visited Madrid for the first time. I fell in love with this city and wanted to come back here with my work. In 2008, when Topacio and Israel opened La Fresh Gallery, they invited us to be a part of their inaugural exhibition. My February show is based on the travelling exhibition Lost Boys with large-scale portraits from my monograph published in 2006. Last spring, it premiered in Krakow, Poland, and then, in the fall, traveled to Luxembourg. I’m also showing Stock Boyz, a brand-new series of inkjet prints on the financial charts from The New York Times, documenting the recent market crash.
Lost Boys is at La Fresh Gallery, Madrid, February 19 – March 20
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