Power will be asserted where it can be asserted. Censorship is an exercise in power. One person can’t change what is shown on TV, in public library books, at the NGV or Young and Jackson’s. But one person can get Melbourne City Council to censor an art exhibition because of nudity. The censorship of Cecilia Fogelberg and Trevor Flinn’s exhibition at Platform, ‘The Puma, The Stranger and The Mountain’ is an example of how easily Melbourne City Council caves in to pressure when it comes to art.
Melbourne City Council could have responded to the single complaint with the first point in the council’s Protocol on Artworks: “To encourage lively, critical debate and public conversation in an understanding atmosphere. This contributes to the perception of Melbourne as a city which manages its arts and related issues, however contentious, in an intelligent and informed manner.” (Protocol on Artworks, City of Melbourne 2005) But they did not; instead they joined in with the complaint. The perception now is Melbourne is a city which manages it art, when contentious, in an unintelligent, uninformed and knee-jerk manner.
We are, unfortunately, still in a culture war between religious zealots who believe that nudity is sinful and those who don’t hold this belief. The Melbourne City Council has showing which side of this war it is on, while pretending to “encourage lively, critical debate and public conversation in an understanding atmosphere”. Now some people maintain that Fogelberg and Flinn went too far, others that they didn’t. I think that this debate is a sidetrack; it is essentially a plea for tolerance of censorship. It is a way to avoid the real issue of why do we tolerate censorship? I find censorship offensive but Melbourne City Council would not do anything to appease my complaint because they do not believe that censorship is offensive – but they believe that some art is.
When I was looking at the ‘The Puma, The Stranger and The Mountain’ before it was censored a group of women passing commented on the nudity. But they weren’t really interested, not enough to look twice. Perhaps, Fogelberg and Flinn’s mistake was not putting up warning notices about the nudity, like everyone else does. Of course, these warning notices might have had the effect of drawing attention to the nudity and attracting hoards of school children to the art.
The Age 11th May 2008 has a report about the censorship of this art exhibition; http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2008/05/10/1210131335180.html And read my review of the exhibition in Platform & Counihan.