What is less discussed in Western (largely U.S. and U.K. based) media, is not only that their Punk Prayer offered a diatribe on the patriarchy that has unified in an unholy alliance between Putin and the Orthodox Church, but the fraught role of the Christ the Savior building itself. The performance activated the icon of the balaclava but it also did something else: it took a luxurious monument that, in its ostentatious design and attempt to perfectly replicate the 1812 building that was destroyed by Stalin, and made that space strange, highlighting some of the discomfort, violence, and intense labor that goes into making such a space seem like a space of unity.
These insights are supported by Ekaterina V. Haskin's superb article on the history of the cathedral, and conflict over its reconstruction in the 1990s.
The building, Haskins explains, was initially built to commemorate Russia's defeat of Napolean, a building that "glorified the unity of the state, the Orthodox religion, and the people” when the building was destroyed in 1931 under Stalin’s orders “symbolized the victory of communist ideology. In the 1990s, the vanquished landmark came to symbolize the struggle over public memory because conflicting attitudes toward the Soviet and tsarist past were reflected in discussions about its resurrection.” ( Haskins 26). This building functions as a rhetorical space that bespeaks the complex evolutions of national identity and state policy, also admitting the fractures and fissures between neat
ideological pronouncements about the nation, and its messier lived reality. Were the building left as is, in the 1990s, it could have served as “’as a terrifying image of the revolution preserved in our emory’” (Haskin 46 wuoting V. V. Filatov, “Vozdushnye zamki” (Castles in the air), Gazeta nezavisimoi intelligentsii “Missiia” (Independent intelligentsia’s newspaper “The Mission”), no. 1 (September 1993) (n.p.) (available at http://www.xxc.ru/stati/text007/index.htm).
The building also functions as a space where artists serve as civic exemplars, and where achieving artistic commissions in the space is a high point of a career, enabling the building to create a space where a national aesthetic could be elaborated (Haskins 35). Haskins emphasizes that the "cathedral
transcended the political exigencies that motivated its construction and offered an aesthetically powerful justification of Russia’s unique historical path from the early Middle Ages to the present.” (Haskins 36), a justification that drew on the idiom of "the people" narod, in order to manufacture a kind of cosmic destiny.