09 June 2013


In 2013 in Australia one person complains about an art work and the next thing there is a police raid on the Art Gallery concerned and the Gallery is closed!

We are not talking about 1984 and we are not talking about totalitarian regimes - although sometimes it is hard to tell the difference, but what happened in Melbourne during the first week of June 2013 continues to show that Australia is still firmly embedded in the 19th and early 20th centuries!

The following articles in The Age newspaper are about the censorship of a particular art work and particular gallery which have shown that wowserism, religious bigotry and total ignorance of art lie at the very heart of Australian society with no cure in sight!

Push for gallery in alleged child porn controversy to reopen

June 7, 2013
By Dewi Cooke

Artists push for St Kilda gallery to reopen a week after the seizure of artworks by police.

Artist Paul Yore. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

Pressure is mounting on a St Kilda gallery in the middle of an alleged child pornography controversy to reopen its doors, one week after the seizure of artworks by police.

Artists whose work appears in the Like Mike exhibition at the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts will on Saturday at 10am protest what has been described as "censorship in the arts" following the seizure of artwork allegedly depicting images of sexual acts with children's faces superimposed.

A police raid last Saturday targeted one installation, Everything's F---ed, (I presume the newspaper report edited Fucked, as if it wasn't used by every second adult and child around the English-speaking world!!) by Melbourne artist Paul Yore, however seven other artists involved in the show were not the subject of police investigation. Linden has been closed all week.

In a letter to the Linden board, co-curator Geoff Newton writes: "We demand to know why the gallery has been closed. The seizure of what has been deemed offensive material in Paul Yore's work is no longer in the gallery and therefore, we are asking for an answer to the question of why the gallery has not been reopened.

"As co curator of the exhibition I, along with the other artists, have not been satisfactorily informed of how any decisions made by Linden board and Director have justified the closure of the gallery. As far as we know the allegations against Paul Yore are as yet unproven.

We demand the gallery be reopened to allow the public to make up their own minds about Paul's work and view the exhibition in its entirety."

Earlier this week police said a 25-year-old Footscray man had been interviewed by detectives and released pending summons. A police spokeswoman said he was likely to face charges including the production and possession of child pornography.

Like Mike was part of a series of exhibitions held across Melbourne galleries in tribute to the late artist Mike Brown, the only Australian artist to be successfully charged with obscenity. Linden chairwoman Sue Foley declined to comment.


Artists rally in protest on censorship

June 8, 2013
By Thomas O'Byrne

Why is Linden Gallery still closed?

Protesters outside St Kilda's Linden Gallery question why the 'Like Mike' exhibition remains closed one week after police seized allegedly inappropriate content from artist Paul Yore's installation.

A group of Melbourne artists who have become caught up in the temporary closure of a St Kilda gallery linked to an alleged child pornography controversy say their work is being unfairly censored.

On Saturday morning a large crowd of protesters, which included St Kilda business figures, artists and local MP Martin Foley, staged a rally outside the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts calling for an end to the censorship of the gallery’s Like Mike exhibition.

Linden has remained closed since police raided the gallery more than a week ago.

Geoff Newton protesting outside the Linden Gallery, St Kilda. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

During the raid last Saturday, officers seized works by Melbourne artist Paul Yore which allegedly depicted images of sexual acts superimposed with children’s faces.

The police investigation exclusively targeted Mr Yore’s work, leaving the other artists’ work untouched. No charges have been laid.

The Linden board have refused to shed light on the gallery’s fate, despite calls from community leaders to immediately reopen the exhibition.

Although the protesters’ chants of “open up” echoed loudly down St Kilda’s Acland Street, the doors of the gallery remained firmly shut on Saturday.

The Linden Centre’s board was similarly tight lipped, with chairwoman Sue Foley refusing to comment on when the gallery would be open to the public.

Despite repeated attempts to contact the gallery’s board, Like Mike exhibition co-curator Geoff Newton told the scores of protesters on Saturday that he also remained completely in the dark regarding the gallery’s reopening. “We’ve had no answers as to why the gallery has been closed,” he said.

“The police have taken whatever [artwork] that has been in question, and therefore there is nothing left in this exhibition that could be offensive.”

Although the Linden Centre is owned by the City of Port Phillip, a council spokeswoman said an independent curator was responsible for the opening and closing of the gallery.

While the exhibition’s artists await a formal announcement from the Linden centre, State Member for Albert Park District and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Arts Martin Foley blamed the closure of the gallery on “ratbag complainants”.

“They speak for no one,” he said.

“To have their so-called complains blown out of all proportion and to see a gallery closed down like this a dreadful misuse of process.”

While Mr Foley said the police investigation was a separate matter, he called on the St Kilda community to stand by the gallery and its exhibition.

“From what I’ve seen online of [Paul Yore’s] work, I’ve seen just as much, if not more challenging work at some VCE art exhibitions," he said.

“Let not the law be a weapon to close down artist expression.”

The Like Mike exhibition is inspired by Mike Brown, the only Australian artist to be successfully prosecuted for obscenity.


Porn or moral panic? Modern art's quandary

June 8, 2013
By Sonia Harford

An earlier exhibit by Paul Yore at Melbourne’s Heide Museum of Modern Art in 2009. Photo: Rodger Cummins Artistic freedom and the threat of censorship are again dominating debate in the art world this week after police raided a St Kilda art gallery, seizing part of an installation. As artist Paul Yore waits to hear if he'll be charged under child pornography laws, civil liberties experts warn that whenever police consider criminal charges against an artist, the consequences are damaging.

''There is no right to not be offended,'' said Michael Stanton, vice-president of Liberty Victoria, in response to the police action at Linden Gallery last Saturday.

Police moved in when a member of the public complained that Yore's installation Everything is F---ed allegedly depicted sexual acts with children's faces superimposed on them.

Newcastle detectives seize three pictures by Melbourne artist Juan Davila from the Lake Macquarie Community Gallery at Speers Point after they were said to be offensive and indecent. Photo: Newcastle Herald

Child pornography offences in Victoria carry a prison term of up to 10 years.

''The experience with Bill Henson in 2008 suggests that police should be very careful when considering bringing such charges against an artist,'' Stanton said. (Police raided a Sydney Henson exhibition that included depictions of naked adolescents, after a complaint by child protection campaigner Hetty Johnston, but the artist was never charged.)

Stanton says he has not seen the Yore exhibit. ''But there is no doubt room for significant disagreement about whether something is pornographic or obscene, all the more so where the purpose of a work is satirical or seeking to explore issues of sexuality and commodification of bodies and images of young persons.''

Arguably we have almost learnt to live with accusations of obscenity and pornography levelled at Australian artists, such as Mike Brown and Juan Davila. Penises and naked women abound in their work, yet the courts have rarely been required. In fact, Brown is the only Australian artist to have been prosecuted for obscenity (ironically, Yore's work was part of a gallery tribute to Brown).

Yet allegations of the inappropriate use of children as subject matter can take condemnation of an artist to a whole new level. Henson, Del Kathryn Barton and Polixeni Papapetrou have been vigorously scrutinised for the images of children in their work; and their supporters' defence of artistic freedom is often a cry in the wilderness.

The Yore case highlights the concern of many in the art world that social fears about child abuse and paedophilia are being displaced onto art - where the chance of real harm occurring to a child or a viewer is unlikely and probably impossible to detect.

Yore has received strong support from his peers this week, including Jason Smith, director of Heide Museum of Modern Art, where Yore has previously exhibited.

''Paul incorporates into his work images and the material detritus of the contemporary world to propose an image of a world gone mad through consumption and gross deregulation,'' Smith says.

''In one sense, his work might be commenting on the sexualisation of young people that anyone sees on a weeknight on commercial television, which can be hair-raising.''

Juan Davila says Yore's collages clearly belong to the language and domain of art. ''Why does our society live in a moral panic?'' he said.

Davila's own work Stupid as a Painter was escorted out of a gallery in 1982, Doug Hall, former Queensland Art Gallery director, points out. Hall questions why contemporary art is singled out for attack by those purporting to represent current community standards.

''Look at Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes - we love violence as historic allegory and we like sex in all its cultural permutations, we just don't like it in contemporary [art].''

Nevertheless, at QAG he was required to follow the letter of the law when it came to controversial art. ''We might have a view about whether the law is right or wrong, but in a public institution it's irrelevant,'' he says.

Public sentiment is not the only thing at stake for institutions. In Ballarat in 2011, a photograph of a semi-naked girl by Czech Republic artist Jan Saudek was removed from the city's international Foto Biennale following a public complaint. The director at the time said he feared the implications for his gallery's funding. Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts chairwoman Sue Foley issued a brief statement this week saying the gallery, which had co-operated with the police, was ''concerned about the nature of the allegations made against Yore, however it continues to support freedom of expression that has artistic merit. Further comment would be inappropriate as the matter may soon be before the courts,'' she said. The gallery has been closed since the raid. Some art world figures are concerned that the effect of a single complaint (in the Yore, Henson and Saudek cases) can be works removed from view and galleries closed.

''One person complaining shouldn't feel they have the right to set a community standard,'' says Tamara Winikoff, executive director of peak body the National Association for the Visual Arts. ''It has an impact on the gallery and its reputation, on the artist and on all the other artists who lose their exhibition opportunity.''

Police are ''caught in the middle'' legitimately responding to a complaint, but needing to consider what is appropriate freedom of expression, she says, and they lack a set of principles to deal with such complaints. NAVA has advocated intermediary panels of artists and experts that would assess whether a work is legal and whether it is art.

There have been moves to codify the practices of artists working with children. Following the Henson controversy, the Australia Council formed a set of protocols for artists that address the depiction of children and their employment.

But Winikoff believes they were a knee-jerk reaction that ''helped to fuel hysteria''. Designed for grant recipients, they have had a wider impact, making artists more fearful of dealing with images of children, she says. ''They distract public attention from what people should be really worried about, which is genuine child porn … I would bet 100 per cent it had no impact on child porn whatsoever.''

In Liberty Victoria's view, before charges were even contemplated in the Yore case, more consultation with the artistic community and experts should have occurred.

''If the work has artistic merit, and is not mere reproductions of child pornography, then one would have to question how it could be appropriate to bring criminal charges,'' Stanton says. ''I repeat that there is no right to not be offended.''

Jason Smith believes the decision to close the gallery was too swift, and he decries the damage done to Yore's installation by police when they removed several small images.

''The work itself has been destroyed. There's a major deficiency in advocacy for the artist here, and I'm not the only person in the art world who's concerned about the organisational response to this.''

He says that while Linden included warning signs for visitors who might have been offended by images in the work, there had been little concern since for Yore's ''moral rights''.

''I wonder why the gallery didn't lead that discussion before the work was destroyed.

''The hideous issues around child pornography are quite rightly policed and long may it continue.'' However, he rejects any proposal for a formalised body to monitor the content of artists' work as ''too close to censorship.'' Yore has not spoken publicly in the past few days, but immediately after parts of his installation were removed, he said the police action was ''completely absurd''.

''The work I feel has been taken completely out of context because they're very small fragments of a collage of a much larger work that constitute literally thousands of different objects I've found in society - basically junk I've been collecting.''

Therein lies a complicating factor for any potential case against him. As a bower bird gathering objects for installations, where does this leave Yore under the law?

Says Hall: ''It becomes an entirely new invention when artists use a ready-made [object in an art work]. Its purpose is reconfigured, it puts it in a new context and all sorts of new meanings take place.''

Stanton says collage will also create significant difficulties for interpreting if any alleged child pornography offences have occurred.

With images of faces and bodies taken from different mass media sources, how can it be determined whether a child has been harmed in the work's production?

Stanton says that under Victorian legislation, there is a defence to the possession of child pornography that it ''possesses artistic merit''.

''However, there is no such defence to the charge of production of child pornography … The act of 'production' has been defined very broadly by the courts, and it would seem it extends to the creation of artistic works. It has been defined as including downloading an image from the internet.''

Where collage fits within this definition is uncertain.

He points out that Liberty Victoria recognises limits to freedom of expression such as incitement to violence, racial vilification and child pornography.

''A person could not merely place child pornography from the internet into a gallery and then claim it was art. There are limits to that right, but the boundaries between art and pornography are infamously blurred.''

Bernie Geary, Victoria's Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People, is not swayed by arguments that art is a special case.

He has not seen the collage, but says combining images of children with bodies in sexually explicit poses was ''incredibly disrespectful of a vulnerable child''.

Nor is Geary sympathetic to the view of some that Yore's work is a critique and comment on the commodification of children.

''We've got huge problems around the commercial sexualisation of children. But is what [Yore] is doing in the best interests of children or is it just some philosophical jaunt? I'm not sure.''

The blurred boundaries between child pornography and art will continue to bedevil artists and the community at large, and Yore's case is timely, given the recent Victorian Parliament law reform committee's inquiry into ''sexting''.

Stanton said the committee recommended that defences to child pornography charges be standardised ''in light of the danger that sexting activity was being categorised as constituting child pornography offences. The committee did not consider the issue of artistic merit and freedom. The committee recognised that there were different defences to production and possession of child pornography''.

Many of the concerns raised by submission writers to the committee, including Liberty Victoria, noted there was a danger of overcharging people with child pornography offences ''because of the breadth of the definition at law'', he said.

In 2008, then prime minister Kevin Rudd fanned the flames on national television by describing Henson's works - which he had never seen before - as ''revolting''. While he escaped a legal case, the artist was pilloried. Winikoff, among others, believes artists are already self-censoring more than they did pre-2008.

Heide's Smith is not so sure. ''I don't see it or sense it, but I fear it,'' he says. ''Artists make us think in different ways, they are necessary in our lives and they have been for millennia … Yet we live in conservative times.''

Stanton points to the ''danger of censorship having a chilling effect on freedom of expression. Equally, there is a danger that, by fanning the flames of controversy, those who would seek to censor only end up giving more prominence to the issue [and images] in the public realm, where others may seek to capitalise on the controversy for their own ends.''


Eye of the beholder

June 9, 2013
Jeff Sparrow

We should be talking more, not less, about the blurring of lines between art and pornography.

Illustration: Matt Davidson.

The police confiscation of art from a St Kilda gallery last weekend might itself have been scripted as a performance piece, so perfectly does it illustrate the crisis of contemporary censorship.

The offending installation created by collage artist Paul Yore under the prophetic title Everything Is F---ed (Again, who censors the word "Fucked" in 2013?!)apparently features images of sexual acts, on which have been superimposed the faces of children. According to one report, Yore's work includes a ''cardboard cut-out of a child with Justin Bieber's head stuck on, urinating from a dildo into a sink''.

This anatomically improbable image could, in theory, earn Yore 10 years in jail for producing and displaying child pornography.

Ironically, the Yore exhibition was a tribute to avant-garde pioneer Mike Brown, himself successfully prosecuted for obscenity in 1966. Brown's brush with the authorities took place in an Australia in which the censor had only just legalised D.H.Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover and where Chief Censor Prowse was explaining that all horror movies were ''undesirable to the public interest''.

As late as 1972, Queensland officials quoted lyrics from the Rolling Stones' Satisfaction as an example of the ''pathetic nihilism'' against which censorship protected the populace.

The contrast between the Stones and Justin Bieber, the central figure in Yore's collage, nicely illustrates the evolution of the debate.

Back in the day, Mick Jagger spurred a sexual fantasy or two, but Bieber, with 40 million Twitter followers, rules the internet, a realm that makes possible satisfactions of which the censors of 1972 could not have dreamt. The Canadian star's notoriously obsessive fans produce vast archives of Bieberite pornography: images, videos and stories in which Justin does far more than urinate into a sink.

''By day [Bieber is] a teacher adored and loved by all,'' begins a piece of fan-fic accessible after 30 seconds with Google, ''by night nothing but a mystery.'' In this tale, we're told, the teen idol's mysterious evenings feature ''Domination, Submission, Sadism and Masochism, Bondage and Discipline, Murder, Abuse, Alcohol, Deception and Deceit''.

The seizure of Yore's work highlights the dilemma that faces the censorship regime more broadly: simply, the array of pornographic content now available renders any particular prosecution utterly arbitrary and therefore unjust.

The law in Victoria prohibits the sale of X-rated movies, rendering, in theory, the core business of the sex retailers and adult cinemas throughout the state entirely illegal. The police rarely enforce these strictures, for the simple reason that Victorians (who are, statistically, enthusiastic aficionados of porn) would be outraged if they did.

Besides, when consumers can download in seconds almost any content they desire, prosecuting the local adult shop (an institution that already seems slightly quaint) becomes as pointless as, well, raiding an art gallery over images produced without any children engaging in any kind of sex whatsoever.

The crisis of censorship relates to more than technological change. Since the 1980s, the neoliberal turn has introduced market mechanisms into every aspect of our lives, including sexuality, rendering old-fashioned censorship increasingly anomalous. The market makes, after all, no ethical judgments: at the cash register, $100 worth of smut exchanges at the same rate as $100 of biblical tracts.

That's why the old Censorship Board now goes by the name of the Classification Board, presenting its assessments not as moral prohibitions but as tools to facilitate the choices of discerning buyers.

Obviously, that's slightly disingenuous: in the absence of, say, a religiously derived notion of obscenity, consumers might wonder why official ratings should carry any more sanction than, say, reviews on Amazon, particularly since the overwhelming majority of porn in Australia never passes the censor's desk at all. Which is not to say that censorship has disappeared.

A widespread but inarticulate discontent with a market that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing provides the preconditions for regular and explosive moral panics. Think of the unfortunate Bill Henson: one minute, acclaimed for art that hung in Parliament House; the next, denounced by the PM as a menace to the nation's infants.

If such outcries usually centre on children, it's because of the conflicting pressures converging on the modern family. The career of a professional boy-man like Bieber exemplifies the corporate identification of kids as a market segment exploitable like any other, a process that breaks down older ideas of childhood dependence.

Yet, as neoliberalism dissolves the social into the individual, traditional family roles become more ideologically important, with the home offering an apparent haven from dog-eat-dog market competition elsewhere. On the one hand, we now idealise kids as innocent neo-Victorian angels; on the other, every music video shows sexed-up tween stars gyrating knowingly to the beat.

The unease of that contradiction provides obvious opportunities for demagogues and chancers.

The furore over Yore's collage seems to have been initiated by conservative activists, committed to cutting funding to the Linden Centre for Contemporary Art long before the exhibition about which they claim to be outraged.

In a similar fashion, public concern about sexual abuse of children in the NT was unwittingly channelled into draconian censorship laws applied exclusively to indigenous communities, in a direct contradiction of the Little Children are Sacred report's recommendations.

In response to raids on galleries, it's tempting to defend the work in question as art rather than porn. That's a mistake - and not simply because Brown's oeuvre (like that of so many modern artists) calls into question the distinction between the two. Too often, critics assert the privileged status of art to imply the incapacity of ordinary people to comment on the work in question, thus feeding the old stereotypes about haughty artistic elitists looking down on the public who fund them.

Actually, art should foster widespread debate on important issues - and that's precisely why Yore's exhibition should be defended.

To put it another way, we need to talk more, not less, about how sexuality plays out in the world we have created for ourselves. Such conversations matter too much to be shut down by police.

Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland and the author of Money Shot: A Journey into Porn and Censorship.

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90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm