5/24/08

How free

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free
sam-henson

31 Comments:

Anonymous see said...

http://www.theage.com.au/
news/opinion/art-not-porn/
2008/05/24/1211183187056.html

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It underscores is how conservative this Government is as well.
Rudd and Iemma are both up in arms about Henson and you have to ask yourself whether Govt censorship on artists is good at any level and I don't think it is.
They should shutup really.Garret is annoying.
I have always understood that these are supervised images made with parental consent.Maybe I am wrong.
He's a kitsch artist that's his real crime and he directs these kids, they don't seem to direct themselves. They are always passive and supplicant.
I like Jeff Wall because he is aware of his process, articulates it and is engaged with so many ideas.

9:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no idea but it is funny that people who think that the gallery is only the one context all the time are shocked when this happens as if the world turning outside is not a shifting context that affects it.
It is true that things are changing, a culture of excess is making way for an ethical one...perhaps (ANZ etc..)

But the corridors of power are littered with Henson's debris and they love it.

If I say to myself that Henson stalks the world in the darkness, stages teenage and pre pubescent fantasies in the junkyards of suburbia (and nearly always outside) and sometimes then cuts them up as collage etc.. I think gee I never had these thoughts as a teenager. They are 'his' vision. Fuck that. What about boredom, ennui and the power of banality.

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think its revolting and misleading that the Prime Minister hadnt seen Australia's most decorated living artist before. This artist has been heavily promoted and supported by 4 successive governments.

9:16 AM  
Anonymous Jacqueline Riva said...

What is really the issue here about censorship? The Sam Newman incident from the footy show is on Youtube, more people will have seen it than the program itself. The television series Underbelly is banned but easily attainable and widely talked about. Henson’s most offending photograph from the confiscated Roslyn Oxley exhibition has been perisistently reproduced in full in colour in the daily newspapers all over the country. So it’s not to do with the public being exposed to or seeing these works.

10:31 AM  
Anonymous Geoff lowe said...

What dazzles me about our country is its capacity for change. A year ago we were a haven for racists and denying global warming. Now we are discriminating with moral and ethical outrage. As anon says these works adorn our halls of power; is it possible that Rudd wouldn’t have seen a work by Henson before? Why do our important politicians practice such ignorance about contemporary art? What could the possible reason be that this discourse didn’t arise in the artworld for twenty years?

11:46 AM  
Anonymous david thomson said...

Brilliant debate, Geoff & Jack. Look, Kevin's response to the question was one brief sentence in response to a long interview on mainstream TV. Kevin was otherwise occupied in Melbourne for the ALP state conference. The problem is the taboid radio hosts like Neil Mitchell have given traction to the issue today. I do personally believe that taking photos of underage pre-pubescent or pubescent children takes away their their youth, soul (like the Aborigines) and innocence, because it will be viewed regardless by a small portion of the public purely for the intent of gratification.

6:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

is parental consent for the modesl to participate that makes it ok for us? Is that enough, the question was touched on by the age today, I just think its a good question to ask.

Perhaps not the confiscation, but the motions of and leading to the confiscation could be looked at, shock jocks, Roslyn Oxley 9's phone number being read out over the air, staff being threatened over the phone, the conduct of the police taking the work, the working being taken on the basis of a radio compliant and not investigation.

2:33 PM  
Anonymous david thomson said...

This is an issue to which there is no easy answer to. Would one permit one's own pubescent daughter (having her first period) or pubescent son (having his first wet dream) to pose naked? Knowing that there is a small segment of the population who have no interest in art whatsoever. They, who we could define as paedophiles or "other sexualities", will view the images online solely and expressly for the purpose to masturbate, or attend the gallery for delayed gratification.

6:26 AM  
Anonymous JArrod said...

/Users/jarrodrawlins/Downloads/Henson Article.pdf

7:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the big problem is that Bill Henson used an intrinsic and only partial aspect of the work as a marketing tool. The photo 'image' doesn't change as it's use and it's field of exchange varies; but it's actual value changes. People are judging the work via one set of criteria when in fact the actual work is made and is set down within another set of criteria. Beware the shark pools you wish to swim in; you might get bitten and bad. Everybody is being really dumb.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Simon Barney said...

I don't agree with the gallery raid or with the PM's views; the work should hang, not the artist. But I'm not getting much from an artworld that seems to think the jackboots have descended.(is that why all you guys post anonymously?) Michael Gow says the PM is closing down debate. Huh? Rudd didn't order the raid and his avowedly christian values were never likely to be in step with that part of the electorate for whom 'decadent' has long since ceased to be a pejorative term. The interest in Henson's work is in part due to its operating on the edge of the acceptable. Artists need to explain why Henson's image is different on the Oxley invite card than on Pete Townsend's computer. So far all we've had is 'nakedness is truth, beauty... it's artistically photographed, intent was to make art'etc. And artists need to explain why it's OK to be offended by Sam Newman's sexism and demand it be curtailed, but why it's Censorship to demand that an image you believe might harm a child be removed.
(How free is this article - I can't get the original post, only the comments. hey jarrod, I can't get your post either)

2:33 AM  
Anonymous david thomson said...

The problem also with Henson's work is he has has been essentially repeating the same images and themes for decades. He also failed to crack the US market and is a non-entity there and has failed to progress. My key point is, where are the photographs of obese, fat "ugly" pubescent girls and boys instead of slim beatific models? Even Warhol, who outdates Henson's work by 40 years, had a love-hate relationship with images and icons of beauty. He would smudge and blur the feature lines of Jackie O, Marilyn, Liz et al. Why should Henson's fascistic approach to aesthetics be endorsed? Where are the ugly "common" people to be seen?

7:58 AM  
Anonymous Jarrod Rawlins said...

Maybe its no longer a questions of freedom (or) little Johnny never left the room

After a week I have realised two things from this event (a) I need to get back to work (b) I am quietly reconsidering my position. After speaking with Matthew Griffin (who was one of the few at the short lived opening) the possibility that these photographs should not be displayed in a public venue or listed on the internet has come to light for me. My immediate response was to defend the artist right, freedom, etc, but now that I watch people around me blindly defending without consideration for the photographs themselves, the argument is becoming strained. Who says a 13 year-old has the intellect (psychologically not legally) required to consent to this 'role’? Who has judged the parents motives for providing the encouragement and legal consent for the child to be involved (lets not pretend that the parents 'consent' is not read as encouragement by the child)? The motives of the parents, the artist, and the gallery must be brought to the fore if one wishes to discuss freedom. The difference between art and porn is not the point, the problem of impulsive parents and social climbing might be a more worthwhile discussion in this case. Why shouldn't these photographs and the entire back catalogue of work be examined now? It makes no difference that institutions in Australia have supported the work; cries of NGV has 94 Hensons, NGA has 74 in their collection, and so on. Why do we run to institutions for evidence of support when we need to defend art against public attack when we cannot defend those same intuitions when we feel by-passed by their judgment and taste during recent acquisitions shows? The taste and judgment of an institution is not grounds for defense in this case because again the motives have not been examined, we are too scared to do that in public, that ridicule and scrutiny is left to the private space of the gallery, the private space of the email, and the anonymous space of the blog. “Bill Henson’s sexualised images have always ‘pushed the line’”, give me a break, what fucking line? The line between erotic naked photos of pre-pubescent children auspiced by the institution and middle-class parrot collecting and erotic naked photos of pre-pubescent children shared via the web between pedophiles? Is that a line we should be interested in watching someone push? If it is then fuck me I’m in the wrong fucking game here. There are too many self-interested parties with investments to protect here so nothing will come of it. An investment will always be vigorously defended by the middle-classes (i.e. us, the art world) before it is allowed to enter any public discussion (or become a mini-series), look at examples of how diamonds of dubious provenance are protected, look at how the very profitable and almost unbeatable trade in forged vintage wine continues to flourish, and then there is art…and so on. I don’t see this as any different. There are those who are part of this investment defense without even knowing, cheerleading freedom, championing good decisions, what if these decisions were bad? And please stop with the fucking Caravaggio, Corbet, Degas comparisons, it is making you look stupid!
Cheers, Jarrod.

P.S. Geoff, I agree with you but I haven’t got started on John Howard yet, calling these photographs revolting, how dare he! And all those wowzers out there think that his name is Kevin Rudd…such ignorance! Little Johnny never left the room, oh come all ye faithful, fuck me!

12:21 PM  
Blogger michelle said...

wow jarrod im impressed. ive been reading the articles and my first reaction is censorship is an abuse of creative expression..but what is being expressed here? I dont care for Hensons images on kids. I never have. I think they are rubbish. It shits me that it takes a claim of "pedophilia" for them to be finally scrutinised. I think it is "revolting" the govt is so suddenly "aware" of his work..considering their unquestionable support and investment in his career. Its a fucking joke. Kevin Rudd - answer me that? Why does it take an embarrassment for art to hit the papers? where is the publicity for all the shows that are happening RIGHT NOW that are asking real questions about the state of the world we live in? Why does our country only publish material related to art events when it is concerned with tearing it down? It shits me that the institutions buy this stuff in first place like it is precious gold and the moment it is questioned the drop it like a tonn of shit..does no one have any balls in this country to stand by what they believe in? they change their minds with the direction the wind blows carrying the sweet smell of money. Free for who? australia loves an aesthetically appealing non challenging unpolitical pituresque but appearing to push the line...image. go to the ngv..the place is full of them. if they spent a little less money on Henson they would have alot more left over to invest in contemporary art.

2:34 PM  
Blogger michelle said...

when do we start on patricia puccuninni?

2:38 PM  
Blogger michelle said...

probably wont be scrutinised until some animal protection group misreads one of her images as being a real animal..even with so much publicity the real issues never get spoken about.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Simon Barney said...

Jarrod - don't get back to work yet, keep it going. Sure the blanket defense of artistic freedom has been used as a way of avoiding discussion of the photos - but are you suggesting that bad motives cancel the right to such freedom? (same ques. to michelle)Purity of motive is a poor indicator of art. (It’s relevant to porn laws.) And you can have bad motives for buying good work. Numbers in collections don't decide the issue either way, even if protecting investments may motivate support for Henson.
Must an artist make a work bullet-proof, unable to be misconstrued or misused in any way, before it’s allowed into the public domain?
Doubts might be raised over Henson’s aesthetics, his politics, his market and the current taste for his work (and ultimately, the significance of his work) – but how does that justify closing a show? It can’t be demonstrated that the image is so detrimental to viewers that it shouldn’t be seen - the only possible ground is protection of the child. That is a vexing question - what exactly is the damage expected from this particular photo that is so extreme that no consent could possibly be given. Why are we in a better position to judge that than the parents? Isn't this critical - doesn't your position on consent mean that no kind of photo of naked children can ever be exhibited?

2:28 AM  
Anonymous Jarrod Rawlins said...

Simon – Yes, my position as stated above does maintain a position that no kind of photograph of naked children can ever be exhibited – in this context! (my claim here is that context and motive are not mutually exclusive). And in addition (not defense) I feel that my position is not in support of a show being closed at a prototypical middle of the range collector gallery. I am suspicious of the claim (or reading) that police closed the show in an act of aggression. There has been no statement from the gallery (of significance) in regards to the events surrounding ‘the closing’ of the exhibition and I am certainly not prepared to grieve on their behalf like so many around me. So what is left? Of course only vexing questions. 1) how and when is it appropriate to exhibit photographs of naked children? I do have work to do but I am still yet to answer this question? 2) How and when is it ok to exhibit sexualised images of naked children? My position is highly critical and we are not in a better position to judge than the parents, I don’t feel I have made that claim. Maybe you know something I don’t but does it not appear that the gallery made the choice to close the show after which the police made the decision to remove ‘questionable’ art works for examination. It’s all just a series of symbolic gestures to appease something or someone - numerological theatre at its best!

I am by nature a suspicious person and in this case I am suspicious of a series of motives that will remain unexamined and out of the question for time in perpetuity, that is all I am trying to raise at this point.

I also don’t feel that I have claimed an artist needs to make a work of art bullet-proof (although I really like the possibilities of that idea), but hasn’t Henson misconstrued the ‘vulnerability’ of the naked teenager for too long now. Can anyone make claims that these children have not being misused (for enormous profit) throughout this ‘experience’. (and fuck off to all the clothed ‘models’ coming out of the woodwork claiming that they are all ok now, there is an enormous difference between nakedness and not). Our society doesn’t strip prisoners of war or terrorists down naked because of protocol, it is because that is when people are at their most vulnerable. So although that analogy may seem extraneous I am prepared to claim that in my view the nakedness, vulnerability and intellectual maturity of these children has in fact been misconstrued for a long time now via a series of bullet-proof motives and markets.
Cheers, Jarrod

5:49 AM  
Blogger Simon Barney said...

yeah – as far as I know, the gallery decided to close. Instead of 'how does it justify closing a show' I should have said 'how does it justify the raid’.
I know there's always art world machinations but I don't see their relevance to the removal.
We seem to be getting into a broader critique of Hensons's work - maybe that was overdue. I just don't want to base judgement of the work on perceptions of the behaviour of the players. We've heard from various people that it was all fine because his motives were artistic and serious - it seems similarly inadequate to suggest it's not OK because he or others are motivated by profit.

I think you have to discuss the image. I guess I'm not able to conclude that the image on the card is so highly likely to cause problems for the girl that her parents consent is an inadequate safeguard. I find the image disturbing; there's no question that she is sexualised. But I can't turn that distaste into a call for the work to be removed. Better that it turns into a call for this kind of debate – and you’re right that there have been too many people with no interest in such debate.
The image might turn up online in places the girl and her family wouldn't want to see it - but that's something for the parents to weigh. (haven't the cops got more pressing cases where they really do need to protect the kids from the parents) We mightn’t like curatorial selections but I’d rather they chose the works than the cops currently sifting through the collections.

12:09 AM  
Blogger matthew griffin said...

When I was about eleven my father told me this story. I’m unsure whether he made it up, or read it, most likely a little of both.

“It’s the middle of a very cold winter and a little sparrow is in trouble. It has been unable to find food or shelter for weeks, and finally collapses in the snow, exhausted and ready to die. As the sparrow lies freezing, taking its last final breathes, eyes closed, it feels a shadow pass over it. With the last bit of energy left in its body, it raises its head and looks up, just in time to see that a large cow is standing above it. The cow is in the middle of doing a large shit which lands directly on the little sparrow. If it weren’t bad enough that the sparrow was dying, now its final tomb would be a pile of cow dung. While contemplating the situation the sparrow begun to feel something he hadn’t for a long time. Warmth. He was beginning to thaw out from the heat of the cow dung. The warmth from the dung had also begun to attract some small worms out of the ground. The starving sparrow ate them up with glee. After no time at all the sparrow felt like a million dollars. Warm and with a full belly, the joy of life overcame him and he stuck his head out of the dung and began to sing a song of happiness. A passing fox heard the signing and snuck over to the sparrow and with one bite ate him.”

As he finished he looked pleased with himself, but took my confused expression as a cue to clarify the moral of the story

“Just when you think things cant get any worse, they will. Sometimes situations that at first seem bad turn out to have their advantages. If everything is going well for you, for gods sake keep your mouth shut.”

4:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i dont get it

5:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...or sometimes the shit sticks

6:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh really, the whole Bill Henson saga is going on for too long.Any questions about the content of his work as in photographing nubile, highly attractive adolescents should have been asked 10 years ago. Is this really controversial work, a resounding No. It's a traditional brand, marketed under the banner of 'high art calling'.The show at Roslyn Oxley presumbably has already sold-out.The style of the images, has by and large remained unchanged for more than a decade. Please, what about the ideas and the content actually evolving?My crystal ball sees another decade pass and nudie, oily,too-attractive teenagers will still be peering out from some gallery walls. Jarrod Rawlins pertinent comment 'about vested interests' rings loudly and amusingly.Prosecution is absurd. What is interesting is that at least the work is being questioned and scrutinised, no harm in that.The elephant is finally in the room.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Simon Barney said...

You’d usually imagine that opponents of censorship are progressive. But the defenders of Henson seem to be banking on a return to the traditional divide between high and low culture.
Henson’s work is being defended as Art not Porn. This is a shift from earlier censorship debates. Portnoy’s Complaint (banned in 1969) had defenders who argued that porn could be part of a novel, part of literature. In other words, rather than argue it didn’t contain porn its defenders said ‘So?’ It was a debate about a cultural shift, about what art could encompass.
This time round we’ve seen a more traditional approach. Roger Benjamin, in a well-written piece in the Australian on 31/5 argues for Henson’s affinity with the masters of the renaissance and asserts the utter absence of porn’s dull tricks from the work. This approach suggests that to accept any element of porn in the work would be to damage the work’s status as art. (‘we know it’s art because it’s not porn’, and vice versa, like a legal definition)
While teen filled suburban scenarios might suggest low culture, Henson, with his mastery of light and his nods to painting traditions establishes the work’s status as Art, as high culture.
I wondered if an irritation with the return of this high/low divide might have motivated a few of the earlier remarks in this chain. The argument against censorship slips readily into broader claims about what makes a work great.

In defending Van Rudd against censorship a similarly conservative stance has been taken, based on an old time definition of the boundaries of the artwork.
Until recently it was radical to suggest that the 'work' happened outside the object or actions of its maker - in the larger field of its reception. 'The viewer completes the work'. Now it seems that any interference with an exhibition is summed up as a reactionary challenge to some vaguely defined right of exhibition that artists and their art are supposed to enjoy. Is Van Rudd's work only the image and the paint and other materials of which it is composed? Or might it also include the reaction to the work - the attempt to suppress it that has led to its now being much more widely known than it would otherwise? The object might be unavailable but the idea is at large. (the image is online) The authorities have participated in the work, helping to complete it. Whether or not it was the artist’s intention, the work now claims a wider field - including this posting.

2:39 AM  
Anonymous Geoff Lowe said...

yes if porn-is-art is-art-porn, a lot of our everyday life is pornographic, for me these works are close to Norman Lindsay
it's great to see some of this complexity brought forward after so much silence
the intention of the consumer whether as art or porn plays an important role in what it becomes as SB clearly shows. It's easy to see something that's art as pornographic and just as easy to say that something that is pornographic is art, I hope its not left to the experts to resolve.
Also just to clarify there was no written piece or article for this post. It's content is in the comments.

4:43 AM  
Blogger will furey said...

So now the Henson work has a pg tag. I didnt think the issues had much to do with protecting kids from seeing the work. A few years ago I happened to see my neighbour behind a telephoto lens in her dining room pointing up at her pubescent grandson on the kitchen table. Something told me it wasn't all apples. When she eventually showed me her photos - a few under exposed portraits, (yeah, just head'n'shoulders) - I got that strange whiff of mouldy calvados.

3:04 AM  
Blogger michelle said...

hmm did someone say the gallerist closed the show? jarrod would you close an artist show without their permission? something is starting to smell like matt griffins shit..

just saw the ros oxley stand at Basel..there were 2 Hensons looking very boring and bored in the corner. Amazing what light a different context brings to a work. I dont reckon anyone noticed them..let alone cared..maybe they werent pornographic enough to be called art.

Simon I dont think I suggested anything about morals - I'm very anti moralistic..but what i was suggesting was I'm not a fan of art that creates its "tension" from pretending to be something it is not. He wants you to think its porn..but its not..because if it was..he would be in jail.
but why is the idea of an artwork being "almost" child pornography so god dam interesting to everyone - and him to be making work about it for 20 years? ..$$

12:24 AM  
Blogger Simon Barney said...

It was apparently henson who decided to cancel the opening.
I don't think I said anything on morals - just motives, but I guess they can overlap.
Someome asked recently if there'd been any international perspective on this. That bit about basel is the first I've come across.

2:51 AM  
Blogger David said...

Well of course the BBC has a neutral/reportage perspective:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/7423571.stm
But the whole thing was always going to end the way it did; PG rated art!
More interesting and embarrassing is:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7447627.stm
It gives a better sense of what enfranchisement means to Australians in general!

10:04 AM  
Blogger Dan Cass said...

Hello art people.

I think the Henson Incident presented an opportunity for art to leverage the power that comes from public notoriety.

Regrettably, this opporrtunity was squandered, but I think that there is still time to use the energy of the Incident for the benefit of art.

Contemporary art is mostly seen as fringe and kooky. But during the Incident, art was seen as something that really means something and which everyone had a stake in.

An analogy from personal experience - since 1991 I have been trying to get people to take climate change seriously. Now everyone suddenly cares, I feel out of sorts. I am used to being ignored. My gut reaction is to retreat in purity, to refuse to engage with silly things like Earth Hour etc.

Thanks to the wisdom of a couple of mentors, I have chosen to engage with the potential of the moment.

By letting a few art voices bellow 'phillistines' while the rest of the art world remained aloof, art came across as snobby and two faced - wanting attention (read $$) but then refusing to play ball when the attention comes.

If art continues to stay silent or defensive over the Henson Incident, it will have an even less favorable media climate next time, and some responsibility for that situation.

Come say hi- http://greenfunkdan.blogspot.com/

PS I'd love to know what you think of http://tiny.cc/guyhenson

3:44 PM  

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