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'Urban terrorist'? No, just an artist making his multimedia way

Peter Berdovsky (right)Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky, right.

Zebbler lives -- and thrives -- despite a burst of media attention after his arrest last winter. Zebbler, the name Peter Berdovsky uses, and fellow artist Sean Stevens, both formerly of Arlington, sent Boston into spasms of fear in late January after police interpreted "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" LED screens they placed as potential bombs.

At first smirking and unrepentant, the pair in May presented a more compliant public image, and, after protracted negiotiations, charges they had placed hoax devices were dropped. But this story is not about possibly unwarranted post-9/11 fear; it is a broader snapshot of who Peter is.

Art at Spaulding 

The signature dreadlocks remain -- they were never cut for the sake of appearances, as some think -- and the artistic sensibility that never went away provides Peter with clearer public focus. YourArlington requested an interview at the time of the controversy, and Berdovsky has responded in his own time, nine months later.

"First of all -- hello from Zebbler himself," Berdovsky wrote in a recent e-mail exchange. "Long time no see. But I haven't been idle in all this time.

"I have just finished a mural . . . that I started as a part of my community service (a punishment for my Aqua Teen Hunger Force adventure in Boston). It was a pleasure to contribute it to Spaulding Rehabilitation," one of the largest rehabilitation hospital networks in the United States.

"I did not mind volunteering for several months more after my community service was officially over."

Oswald Mondejar, vice president of human resources at Spaulding, has been asked to comment on Peter's community service.

Peter explains what he is aiming for in the art work at Spaulding: "The painting was designed to inspire physically impaired children to embrace assistive technology.

"I populated it with images of child superheroes using assistive technology to plant trees and flowers. Which should also serve as a gentle reminder that it's possible for humans, nature and technology to coexist in harmony" (see below):

So poets and painters long have hoped. It's a hope nurtured, in part, in Arlington, where Peter lived for nine years, beginning in 1996.  

Ties to Arlington 

A native of Grodno, Belarus -- where "what's left" of his family remains -- Peter lived in town until 2000. For a year, he lived in Porter Square, and then returned to Arlington, before moving to Charlestown in 2006.

"I spend a lot of my time in Arlington . . . . I still have my mail sent to my previous address there -- just so I can have an excuse to go hang out with my ex-landlords, which are practically my American family."

That family is the Gitlin-Riches. Michael Rich, an attorney who represented Berdovsky and Stevens in court last winter, wrote:

 "My older son Josh Gitlin-Rich met Peter at AHS while Peter was here through a cultural-exchange program.  Eventually, Josh asked me to help Peter get political asylum.  When Peter's exchange program ended, Josh said he had already told Peter he could stay with us."

A persuasive son, but then Peter lived up to it. As Rich told Brian McGrory, then a columnist for The Globe, Peter is "Wonderful, unique, brilliant, artistic, creative." 

Rich's wife, Betty, told McGrory in February: "He is a sweet guy, very funny, great with kids, great with animals," she said. "He's the most peaceful guy you could imagine."

Any parent is partial, but their generous view squares with his service as Spaulding and the larger vision his art projects.

Superfiction, his band, is based in Arlington (on its Web site, download a live clip called "Popworm" and have a listen).

" We are restructuring our sound to be way more electronic and dance friendly," he wrote.  "I sing in the band and also do live visuals and other electronic-music assistance."

Helping, playing 

Beyond art, Peter has a world that includes helping and play.

"I also help out the Cross family, who live near Menotomy Rocks Park, with some of their daily tasks. Our relationship continued to grow more friendly since I started to baby-sit their son many years ago.

"I have a lot of Arlington friends who remain with me since high school. [He graduated from Arlington High School.]  You can see us playing Frisbee golf in Menotomy Rocks once in a while (yesterday [Nov. 2] was a beautiful day for it).

"And just yesterday, after the Frisbee golf game (or 'frolf' as we like to call it), when looking for an Internet cafe to work on some of my Web design jobs -- I chose to go to Panera Bread in Arlington Heights. I feel goofy saying it -- but it's one of my favorite places to eat."

After AHS, and on the advice of Pauline Finberg, his high school art teacher, he applied to Massachusetts College of Art . "It was the only school I applied to," he wrote. "They liked my application, and I got accepted in 2000.  I stayed there an extra year and a half to fully soak in everything I can."

He graduated with honors in 2006.

Academic honors are turning into some industry recognition.

His way as a VJ

Referring to the day last winter, he wrote that "before and after the incident -- I was a full-time video artist, doing countless live video performances throughout many states in the USA. This month the readers of London-based DJ magazine have recognized me in their top-20 International VJ Poll as 12th best Visual Jockey in the world.

A writer for the Boston Heraldmused about that Nov. 7.

In addition, Improper Bostonian magazine chose Peter as Boston's Best Artist of 2007.

He noted that on top of his regular VJ performances -- with a recent performance for the Austrian ambassador and her guests in Austrian Embassy, in Washington, D.C. -- he continues to make the case that new media should be accepted as fine art.

Peter recently had a chance to do what he calls his "surround-sound HD projection set" at Berkeley, in its art museum. It was done as part of the opening reception for "RIP.MIX.BURN.BAM.PFA." -- an exhibit that "celebrates the cultural and artistic practice of remix." 

In a frigid clime in December, Peter aims to make his debut at the Anchorage International Winter Film Festival, through a projected greeting or a live audiovisual performance.

For those who want to more, check out updates and new media on Peter's Web site, www.zebbler.com.

"For the impatient," he writes, "here's a direct link to one example -- a documentation of my VJ performance at a show with Alex Grey and Infected Mushroom" (requires Apple QuickTime plug-in).

As an aside, he notes, "Oh, yes -- there was this Geraldo Rivera interview that involved a fake Geraldo mustache."

This claim could not be confirmed.

Oh, and Peter's nickname: Why Zebbler?

"I was never particularly proud of my given name 'Pukalo-Berdovskiy Piotr Leonidovich,'" he wrote Nov. 13.

"My parents divorced when I was about 6, and I think the tension between different families led me to aspire to seek a ground and a mark of my own. Around the time that I was a teenager, I started hanging out with local Belarussian (that was back in Grodno, Belarus) poets and artists, many of whom had pennames.

"So, I decided to get one of my own. And as soon as I did, it just came to me. Just like that, in an instant.  Zebbler.

"It's a bit of a funny name for a Russian-speaking person, but for some reason it came to me and stuck with me for over a decade."

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