Saturday, May 24, 2008

Bill Henson @ RoslynOxley9

I'm hesitant to add more verbage to the debate but there are a few issues that are both contenious and interesting.

The first of which is the definition of 'pornography' as this very loaded term has been thrown around quite liberally by various outlets.

Do we now define a nude image as, by default, 'pornography'? The subject is simply nude and not engaged in any sexual activity, the latter being a major component of the legal definition.

Irrelevant of the subject's age, are we now expected to apply this same standard to ALL artwork? A ridiculous notion.

The photograph and 'reality': The simple analogy would be 'do we apply the same standards to a painting or sculpture'? The photograph, especially with a 'face', makes it 'easy' to identify the subject... how then do we approach work where the age of the subject is more obscure. The case in point - although used here only for argument's sake - might be someone like David Bromley.

I stumbled across a piece on American TV about a challenge to laws in the US regarding the 'representation' or 'simulation' of a young subject. That is, the actor/model could be an appropriate age but is 'playing' someone who is not.

Consent has also been played up, especially the idea that the child 'can't' give consent and theoretically the parents would have had to sign appropriate forms to give consent. Initially the implication was that the show was closed due to the police looking for such documentation.

This brings in other issues including the major one of 'neglect' and whether the parents are guilty of such a thing if they gave consent for the images to be made. The other argument was that if the 'malicious' photographer (who is of significant standing) approached a subject, would the parents turn down the opportunity for another 15 minutes?

Protection of the subject has also been widely reported... how will the child deal with the stigma, especially given the media furore? Ironically enough the idea of the 'cusp' of adulthood has a lot to do with stigma, peer pressure and mixed messages... if anything it seems that the work 'deals' with these issues already. The problems comes when the representation (The Girl) becomes very specifically the model (Jane Doe). Most struggle to look past the personality portrayed to the bigger concepts.

One of the major arguments from the right is that the work provides 'fodder' for paedophiles. Supposedly Target catalogues also provide 'material'... should we ban them as well? As a few people have quite rightly pointed out, almost irrelevant of what or how something is portrayed, it is highly likely that there is some micro-demographic who finds it stimulating in some way.

The Target catalogues also pulls back into the argument the idea of intent. Sally Mann was widely lambasted for Immediate Family but as she herself has said repeatedly, the work was not so much about designed images but about what her children were doing already. She just formalised it in 'The Frame'.

What others 'do' with the images is where the greatest issue lies. When people apply scewed views to representations is the creator of that representation responsible? Is Target guilty of promoting paedophilia by imaging children in their products? Even if the products are for children?

From my point of view, the 'sexualisation' of children in mass marketing should not be mentioned in the same breath as genuine - I use that cautiously - artistic output. Bill Henson is a world-renowned artist who has and is creating work of significance that challenges the viewer on a multitude of levels. His work is not easy to look at but because of it's strength it provides insights into the human condition that are truly significant.

If the world was to be sanitised to rid it of all that 'might offend' we would not have a critical dialogue to move forward. Challenging the tenets of a society is what often contributes to the manifestation of bigger ideas... to censor artistic work - irrelevant of what that work portrays - can only bind creativity to conservatism and nationalism.

What is 'acceptable' in artistic circles (as opposed to the greater populace) is a hard line to draw but a line that should be drawn by those who are suitably qualified.

I leave it with this from Alison Archer about Connie Petrillo's work. The parallels are disturbing to say the least.

Gallery Statement
Sydney Morning Herald
The Australian
The Independent
PIP Flickr Discussion

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