SLAVA MOGUTIN

Interview by Adam Baran

Slava Mogutin is standing in his doorway after I climb the five flights to his West Village apartment. He reminds me of Bette Davis, who said she never wanted visitors to be greeted by a closed door. Slava also has Davis’ unusually striking eyes, the ones memorialized in the Kim Carnes song: they’re wide open and intense. When I see Slava out at clubs, I can’t always tell if he’s annoyed or just observing the scene with a studying gaze. Back in the 1990s, when he still lived in Yeltsin-era Russia, Slava was a journalist and poet who was persecuted and harassed for writing ‘scandalous’ articles about homosexuality. So silly. He then became the first person granted political asylum by the US for homosexual persecution. After a brief stint as a porn star, his sexually charged photographs and artwork began to get major attention. He has since released several books that detail his major fetishes: military boys, athletic gear, boys in jockstraps, tattoos… Perhaps Slava’s new book NYC Go-Go is inspired by his boyfriend Brian Kenny, who used to be one of the most in-demand go-go dancers in New York City and was the cover boy of BUTT #14. Brian and Slava now make sexually and politically charged art under the name Superm. I had to rush to interview Slava before he left to mount a show in Bergen, Norway.

Adam: I’m glad you don’t have a cat or a dog. This would have been difficult for me.
Slava: Oh yeah, I’m really allergic. I love dogs and cats. My parents back in Russia, they had animals and I was really allergic, but they didn’t want to give up their animals, so I was sick all the time with allergies. They preferred to keep their son medicated than to get rid of the animals.
Do you have a lot of anger about that?
Well, my family is kind of dysfunctional.
Have you ever gone home with someone who had a pet and you were allergic?
Oh yeah, sure, and I’ve had to leave because I start to have an attack. I want to get a dog though, a pit bull. Brian and I are going to get one eventually when we get our studio space, so that we can have the dogs there and not here, and have someone watch them when we’re traveling. I love pit bulls. Have you seen the book American Pit Bull?
No.
Here, look at it.
It looks like your aesthetic.
Yeah.
I counted 16 tubes of toothpaste in your bathroom. Why do you have so many?
It’s one of my fetishes. I buy a lot to have when I travel. I like the different look of the packaging. I will use five different ones at a time and then start a new one.
Do you do this with other cleaning products too, like soap or shampoo?
No, just toothpaste.
I want to start by talking about what it was like when you first got to America, after you had been granted political asylum. Who was the first person you had sex with?
Well, when I first came here I was in a relationship with this guy Robert, and so he was the first person. But after we broke up I did go have a lot of sex. I had a big period where I would only fuck black guys, because it was so exotic to me. In Russia we don’t have that. When we went to Russia, Brian said to me, ‘God, it’s just lily white here.’ And I still think the black aesthetic and style is really great.
You started trying your hand at being a porno actor during that period. Can I ask you what led to that decision?
Well, the porno was just something else I did. The first one was Skin Gang for Bruce LaBruce and that was because I really liked him and his work. But it wasn’t really the most comfortable experience.
I once met this guy who brought me home to fuck me. He put on Skin Gang to get us hot and he told me that the first time you ever bottomed in your life was in that movie. Is it true?
What? No, who told you that? How would he know? No, it’s not true.
I was watching Skin Gang again with this new information and where before I was turned on, somehow with this new viewpoint I only saw discomfort and pain on your face. Especially when you’re getting fucked and the third guy tries to shove his cock in your mouth. But I guess I was wrong?
Yeah, no.
Didn’t you once make a book about famous American homosexuals?
I think you’re talking about my book 30 Interviews. It’s a collection of interviews with cultural icons, both gay and straight, Western and Russian. It was my only bestseller in Russia. It was a fun project ’cause when I first moved to New York I got to meet and interview a lot of people who were my teenage heroes: Allen Ginsberg, Dennis Cooper, Larry Clark, Gus Van Sant, Joe Dallesandro, Quentin Crisp, Bruce LaBruce… I would ask about sex and drugs and all sorts of private details and most people felt at ease talking about it, thinking it was for the Russian press and nobody would ever get to see it here.
How did you end up in the Fire Island Cruising movies you did with Michael Lucas?
Well, Michael Lucas lived around the corner from me and he would always be bothering me to appear in his movies, and so I thought about it and we agreed on a fee and I did them. But I haven’t even seen those movies.
Did you work as a hustler too — like most porn stars?
Yeah, I did work as a hustler for a while. I used to have buckets of money from hustling. Because I was doing really extreme fetish work.
Like what?
Like domination, blood, piss, master/slave stuff, so much… I would go over to a guy’s house and beat the shit out of him.
Can you remember enjoying any of your tricks?
Sure. For a long time I always thought I was ugly. My father would say about me and my sister: ‘I have a beautiful daughter with no brains and a smart but ugly son.’ So with tricks I remember it would turn me on when there would be stuff like taking pictures.
Like the guys would want to take pictures of you? Or you to take pictures of them after you’d worked them over.
Both.
When did you stop hustling?
I stopped when I started to make money from my art and photography. I’m glad I’m done with it.
What’s the filthiest thing you’ve ever done — literally?
Hmm, I don’t know. The filthiest literally? I had this guy once — he was blowing me and after I came he just puked all over my cock.
Gross! Do you get a certain feeling inside when you recognize that something is becoming one of your fetishes?
Fetishes come and go. I never have to look for them — they find me. My photos from Lost Boys are scattered all over the Internet on various fetish sites. So that book is like a fetish dictionary, a handbook for young sluts.
But is there a fetish that you have that you’d consider your newest fetish? Something that didn’t used to turn you on that now is starting to turn you on more and more?
Speedos maybe. Speedos and thongs. I used to think it was a very faggot-y thing to wear and now I think it’s actually really hot on the right guy.
What’s your most charged sexual fantasy?
If I answer this, it will stop being my fantasy. In my writings I used to describe all my violent antisocial obsessions and fantasies. It helped me to stay sane but also got me into a lot of trouble with censorship and prosecution. I used to fantasize about prison sex until I ended up being arrested and spent a night in jail. I used to fantasize about being fucked by Nazis until I met a real Nazi. When I first moved to New York, I was totally obsessed with big black dicks until I kinda OD’ed on them. I’ve already lived most of my fantasies — either in my life or in my art.
Okay, but if you could fuck anyone in the world right now, no strings attached, nobody would know, who would it be?
Oh come on, hmm… Prince Harry.
I knew you’d say that! Not Prince William?
William is boring.
But you know Harry is a bastard. Everyone in England knows that he’s actually Diana’s lover James Hewitt’s son and not really Prince Charles’ son.
That makes it even better.
Can you describe in more detail your ideal sexual experience with Prince Harry? Maybe you could write this as a poem?
I don’t do poems on demand, but here’s what I would do with Prince Harry: I’d shave his head and make him wear his cute little Nazi Halloween outfit, draw swastikas all over his freckly ass, call him names, treat him like the dirty slut he is, make him eat his royal shit, choke him with my sweaty hands, skin him alive and eat him up. Just save his skin for an installation. How’s that for a poem?
Do you think the athletic/military/domination fantasies you have — do they have any kind of relation to your Russian identity?
Back in the Soviet Union, military education was a part of our school program. I learned how to operate a Kalashnikov when I was 10, so naturally I was very much shaped by my militaristic Communist upbringing, with all its bizarre and violent rituals and initiations, with its prison attitude towards gay sex and all the folklore and jokes about it. When I first moved to Moscow I was so poor I couldn’t afford to buy any shoes so I was wearing a pair of Russian army boots for a couple of years or so. These days I wear only sneakers but I still think boots are hot. It’s just that very few guys can wear them well.
When was the last time you went home?
Three years ago, when Brian and I had a show in Moscow during the 1st Moscow Biennale. It was -20 degrees Celsius and we would start drinking vodka for lunch just to warm up. We stayed at my old friend’s place next to Red Square and there was no hot water there, so we had to go for days without a shower. It was a true Russian experience.
Why wasn’t your literature translated in English?
Bits and pieces were translated and published in anthologies and literary journals in English. When I first came to New York I was approached by a few different agents and publishers who were interested in doing my books in English, but as soon as they read my stuff they dropped it like a hot rock. I guess it had to do with the subject matter and the fact that I use a very deconstructive language with a lot of slang and plays on words that don’t really translate well into English.
How many books did you do?
I’d published seven books in Russian: four books of poetry, two books of fiction and one book of journalism. Most of my writing was autobiographical, very personal and exhibitionistic. I would describe how as a kid I used to masturbate in the bathroom wearing my older sister’s pantyhose. Or how I would fantasize about having sex with my little nephew. Or taking hostages on a plane. Or my shoplifting adventures in Paris… But I guess I realized that I’m no Nabokov and I kind of lost interest.
But how did the switch to photography go?
I gave up journalism, but I never gave up creative writing. I still write a lot, but it’s mostly theory ideas, proposals for my shows, or texts for art books. I’ve always been a very visual person and a lot of my ideas and fetishes and fantasies that you find in my writings have later been realized in photos and videos and installations. I think I got tired of describing and articulating every little detail. Visual art doesn’t require translations. It’s quite a relief.
I really like your new book, by the way. I feel like I’m looking at snapshots from my life over the past two years. And it feels like you’re also — as the photographer — happy with the scene you’re photographing. I think the most beautiful shot for me has to be the shot of the two go-go boys in the backroom kissing and fucking. Are they really fucking?
Yeah I think so.
Can you tell me how that shot happened? Were they performing for you, or was it a genuine moment between those two boys?
I always get my subjects to a place where they really feel comfortable doing things for me. They were excited — all these boys were excited to have me photograph them — and these two I think had been hooking up, and we were in the backroom and they started doing that. They wanted me to join in but I said I was okay just to watch and take pictures.
I guess this is the photograph that I’m drawn to the most because in the others you’re catching them as they’re performing for other people — which is the natural state of the go-go boy and hustler and porn star — but in this one, you’ve seemed to catch a private moment, but one that I’m not sure is so different from the performances in the rest of the book.
(Brian comes over) Brian: I remember that night. I’d never seen anything like that. I went out and was dancing and I came back like forty minutes later and they were still going at it. They were definitely into it.
I also think the picture of Brian counting the money he made from go-going is quite beautiful. How did you and Brian meet?
We met outside a club, at Opaline, on Avenue A in New York.
Brian: I picked him up.
I was standing outside and I was about to leave, and he was smoking a cigarette. He had been working as a go-go boy that night and I had noticed him. He started to talk to me, and we ended up going home together.
Can you describe the first few days when you got together with him? What was that like? Did you feel very quickly you had met someone unique?
Yes, it was love at first sight. We did our first creative collaboration a day after we met, after a night of really hot raw sex. He lived in Jersey and was driving back and forth every day to see me. A month later he moved in with me. That was almost four years ago. We’ve been pretty much inseparable ever since.
You’re monogamous?
Yeah, for the most part. I mean there have been one or two here or there, but we never enjoy them as much as being together. We have picked up guys, but usually we just get bored and want them to go, and whenever they go we always just end up fucking each other for hours.
Can you describe what it is like when you fuck? What happens first usually?
We’ll kiss, and if we want to be really dirty we’ll smoke a joint and pull out all this fetish gear that we like that turns us on.
Like what? Speedos and jockstraps and military and athletic stuff?
Yeah, exactly.
And then what?
We fuck.
How long can you fuck his ass for? You’re a porn star so you must be able to hold out a long time no? And him too?
We can fuck for hours, sometimes all night.
Who cooks dinner and who does the dishes?
Most of the time I cook and Brian does the dishes. But we rotate. He’s very good at couscous.

End