Last week Geoff Newton had a small exhibition of Paul Yore’s textile work at his Melbourne gallery, Neon Parc. Yore’s work reminded me of the art of English Turner Prize-winning artist, Chris Ofili for there is the same intensity, insanity and psychedelic intensity of both of their vision complete with sequins and vibrant colours. It was a chance for Melbourne to see it before the work was due to go up to Sydney for the Sydney Contemporary, Sydney’s new international art fair.
Paul Yore, “Fountain of Knowledge”, 2013
Then a few hours before its VIP preview Sydney Contemporary announced that it would not be showing Paul Yore’s work. Sydney Contemporary’s Director Barry Keldoulis made the following statement: “Sydney Contemporary supports artists and their practice, but we respect and work within the laws of the jurisdiction. Our decision with regard to the installation is a about the law of the land and they are on the wrong side of it. When we saw the work we recognised the issues and sought legal advice which confirmed the work offends various relevant provisions in the Crimes Act Legislation in NSW. We regret having had to make the decision but have no doubt it’s in the best interests of all the artists and galleries showing at Sydney Contemporary 13.”
Keldoulis’s statement is overly definite (“no doubt”, “they are on the wrong side of it”) and at the same time vague (“various relevant provisions”). It implies that nobody at Sydney Contemporary had seen Paul Yore’s work before (very unlikely) and that censorship is “in the best interests of all the artists and galleries showing” (again very unlikely). We don’t know what issues Keldoulis “recognized” and why these same issues were not recognized when Paul Yore exhibited the some of the same work at Neon Parc, Ballart Art Gallery or the Melbourne Art Fair.
The Crimes Act in NSW does refer to “blasphemous libel” but that was last successfully prosecuted in 1871. Blasphemy is not in the Crimes Act of Victoria and this might explain why there was no police raid on Neon Parc or the Ballart Art Gallery when one of the works removed from Sydney Contemporary was exhibited there. (Not that the Victoria Police regularly attend art galleries to check – they only do that when prompted by right wing scum.) I’m sure that Paul Yore’s work “Fountain of Knowledge” could be regarded as blasphemous libel (if you wanted to) but that would need to be proven in court. Keldoulis is libellous in claiming that there is “no doubt” that Paul Yore’s art is criminal.
P.S. (20/9/13) Subsequent to publishing this blog post Keldoulis provided some degree of clarification as to what part of Crimes Act he was referring to. NSW has laws about the depiction of children. Arts Law website states: “As at 1 March 2013, genuine artistic purpose is no longer a defence to the offences of production, dissemination, and possession of material that depicts children pornographically.” Under this yet untested law “pornographically” is defined very broadly as “in a sexual context”.
P.S. (29/9/13) Keldoulis and his legal team also removed the work of Queensland artist Tyza Stewart. Do the directors of art fairs normally tour the yet to be opened fair with a barrister to check if the art is legal? Or is Australia or Keldoulis abnormal?
It is over a month after the Victoria Police raided the Linden Contemporary Arts Centre in St. Kilda on Saturday 1st of June – what is happening? Not much has happened. Heide, Gertrude Contemporary and the Victorian Tapestry Workshop have praised Paul Yore for his time with them. And a small side issue has developed with a scrap between artists and the Linden Centre. (For more about the police raid see my article in Crikey.)
Writing and researching this story has been way out of my usual territory of writing about the arts but having started on it I want to stay on the story. For let us not forget that at the heart of this story there is still a young artist, Paul Yore whose contribution to the “Like Mike” exhibition at the Linden Centre has been censored by the police, and that a month later some of his art in the hands of the police and his legal fate is still up in the air. Justice delayed is justice denied.
I’ve been trying to get information from the Victoria Police, politicians, people on Twitter, anybody… Nobody has been quick to comment, especially on the record. It looks like everyone is trying to bury this embarrassing episode quietly and slowly before allowing common sense in the discussion. Finally, the police replied to say: “the investigation is still ongoing. No charges have been laid at this time.”
Saturday 8th of June, artists rally at Linden Centre demand that the Centre reopen the “Like Mike” exhibition and stop pandering to censorship. Protesting the closure Stephen Haley has resigned from the Linden board of management. Geoff Newton, the co-curator has called for artist’s to boycott the Linden Centre.
The Linden Centre re-opened on the 11th and it issued a statement by Sue Foley, Chairperson
Linden Board of Management Inc on 16th. The statement did give some further details; “we were notified by the Australian Classification Board that elements of the work by Paul Yore are considered Classification 1 – Restricted. This means that the work is considered to contain adult content and should be restricted to people 18 years and over.” (This classification was on Yore’s exhibit minus the work removed by the police.)
Although the Linden Centre has reopened to the public, with extended hours, the room with Paul Yore’s work remained closed. Closed is what the Linden Centre describes as “working through what this (the restricted classification) means in practical terms and will continue to consult with all the artists and our stakeholders when making decisions about how best to proceed.”
What is wrong with this picture?!
The motivation behind the Victorian Police raid on Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts in St. Kilda is becoming clearer with more research. The Victorian Police are not in the habit of visiting art galleries looking for child pornography but they are too easily manipulated to do just that by conservative wanna-be politicians.
On 28th of May Adrian Jackson and Chris Spillane along with Cr Andrew Bond were at Port Phillip City Council meeting. (These three people were the only people complaining about the exhibition in The Leaders’s article. For more on these people see my post, Police Raid Gallery.) In public question time Chris Spillane’s agenda is made clear in the minutes of the meeting.
“Chris Spillane asked about a current art exhibition at the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts in St Kilda. He stated that while he hasn’t seen the exhibition himself, from what he has heard about the exhibition it is offensive and pornographic in nature. He suggested that the exhibition should be shut down or at the very least there should be more appropriate signage warning of the contents, age restrictions in place, and this section of the gallery should be cordoned off. He asked, as sponsors of the gallery, what action the Council intends to take?”
“Mayor Amanda Stevens responded that the gallery is run by an independent board and that there is already appropriate signing regarding the exhibition in question in place.”
Adrian Jackson’s agenda become apparent in a comment that he made in The Leader. Posted at 7:31 PM June 2, 2013: “Mission accomplished – the kiddy art exhibition is now closed. Next step is getting the Linden Gallery to be self funding instead of behaving like a parasite on ratepayers. Currently $100,000 PA is spent by Port Phillip Council on maintenance and equipment in the Linden which has been a ratepayer owned building for the last 25 years or so. This money does not appear in the Linden’s annual Statement of Affairs (see their website) as far as I can see but what is included is about $250,000 PA in ratepayer funds in “operating cost”. All this for 6 or 7 exhibitions per year involving about 6 artists per exhibition. The large post card exhibition could be moved to the town hall and the Linden closed if it cant be self funded. Other galleries in Port Phillip can fund themselves so why cant the Linden committee. I understand that this years exhibition was probably organised last years before the current new committee member joined it.”
The artist, Paul Yore has interviewed by detectives from the St Kilda Crime Investigation Unit and the police have yet to lay any charges. The detectives and the mainstream media have yet to examine the conservative political agenda behind the complaint. It is a shame that they are unable to do the same research that I have done.
The facts: Victorian Police have raided St Kilda’s Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts and removed work by artist, Paul Yore. No charges have been laid. (See The Age and the Port Phillip Leader.)
The artist: Paul Yore is winner of $8000 Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award 2013. Last year he was exhibited at the NGV’s Atrium at Federation Square. There is an interview with him from last year, along with un-pixelated photographs of his art in Desktop.
The gallery, St Kilda’s Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts, is one of Melbourne’s oldest council funded art galleries with a reputation for quality exhibitions. It is well known for its annual post-card exhibition. I have no doubt that the curatorial team had appropriate warnings (warnings are so commonplace now in exhibitions).
The exhibition, “Like Mike” is a homage to Australian artist Mike Brown.
The curators of the exhibition are Jan Duffy and Geoff Newton. Jan Duffy is an experienced curator as is Geoff Newton who is a well known as the director of Neon Parc gallery. Geoff Newton, from my knowledge of him and his work, is a man who seriously wants to advance art.
It is not clear exactly who the complainants are. The newspapers quote an “Adrian Jackson a Middle Park resident” and “Port Phillip resident Chris Spillane”. Chris Spillane is a Liberal Party candidate for the local council accused of racism. Adrian Jackson is ex-Australian Army, a want-to-be politician who has run as an independent candidate, who was expelled from the Liberal Party in 2003. Given their backgrounds Jackson and Spillane don’t appear to be the usual gallery visitors. (For more on their motivations see my recent post, Political Motivations Behind Police Raid.)
Local Port Phillip City Council members, Councillor Andrew Bond an independent and a former church youth group leader, has called the exhibition “obscene” and compared it to hardcore pornography.
This story is more about the ambitions of certain people involved in local politics creating a controversy to be noticed and the Victorian Police being unable to learn from the experiences of their NSW counterparts with the raids on Bill Henson and Juan Davila’s exhibitions. This is yet another sorry and pathetic part in the story of Australian censorship. (See my 2008 post: More Art Censorship as events are likely to play out in the same way.)
Are chalk drawings illegal under local laws? Moreland Council city infrastructure director, Nerina Di Lorenzo said that chalk drawings were illegal under Moreland Council laws. (Tessa Hoffman, “A message for all” Moreland Leader 27/9/10 p.1) I have tried but have been unable to get a comment from Nerina Di Lorenzo but it does appear that Moreland Council has made it illegal for a child to draw a hopscotch pattern on a Coburg sidewalk.
The Moreland Council is highly unlikely to prosecute a child drawing in chalk on the sidewalk. The legal threats were the council’s response to the political demands of the chalk marks as that were part of the campaign for a high school in Coburg. Letters to the Moreland Leader the following week were all in favour of the chalkboard hoarding. The campaign for high school in Coburg doesn’t care they have also been using a sticker campaign to get their message out.
One un-stated reason for the state to enact draconian anti-graffiti legislation has been to censor and control the public space. And anti-graffiti legislation goes further in providing an excuse to censor computer games, films and magazines about graffiti because they promote illegal activity. For example, in 2007 70K, a local film about graffitists, including Renks who was a member of the 70K graffiti crew, has been censored by the OFLC (Office of Film and Literature Classification) and cannot be shown in MUFF (Melbourne Underground Film Festival). “The Classification Board also refused classification for the film, 70K, because it deals with crime (the defacement of public property) in such a way that it offends against the standards of propriety generally acceptable to reasonable adults. The film features documentary footage of people, with masks, disguises or their faces blurred out, vandalizing passenger trains and applying graffiti to walls in Australian cities, including Brisbane and Melbourne. The film is edited to rock music and does not feature commentary, interpretation, justification or explanation. In the Board’s majority view, the film glamorises and attempts to legitimise what are criminal acts committed in Australia and which have a negative impact on Australia and the Australian people.” (OFLC Report p.57) The filmmaker’s obvious mistake, as far as the OFLC is concerned, was not to have a pompous pedantic narrator and a soundtrack by Hildegard Von Bingen.
For more about graffiti and censorship see my blog entry from 2009: Graffiti & censorship. Trying to control and censoring the messages on the street is a reason for enacting anti-graffiti legislation. Anti-graffiti legislation is about censoring the young and poor. People passionately quote Heinrich Hein about burning books but anywhere that they destroy and censor they will also destroy people.
“Hospital charity rejects exhibition over boy photo” Nick O’Malley reports in The Age (January 5, 2011) that “officials of the Sydney Children’s Hospital Foundation took exception to the image by Archibald prize-winner Del Kathryn Barton of her six-year-old son, Kell.” Over a year and a half later the chill of the Bill Henson censorship fiasco continues to effect Australian art and culture. This might appear like a storm in a teacup but it is a clear example of the chilling effect. It is hard to observe the chilling effect because it is, generally, not doing something out of fear. In this rare example, not being the recipients of a charity exhibition due to fear of controversy, the chilling effect is evident.
The officials at the Sydney Children’s Hospital Foundation are not prudes they are just protective of the reputation of their foundation. They have no way of knowing if this image would have been controversial because what was apparent in the Henson fiasco was that it was an arbitrary action and an arbitrary judgment. Another charity, Midnight Basketball, which runs workshops and tournaments for at-risk youth, will benefit from this charity exhibition.
This stupid and pathetic affair is only an example of the chilling effect, most will not be observed or documented. Although the rejection will not chill Del Kathryn Barton who will continue to use images of her own children in her art, as she has regularly in the past, the continuing fear of controversy will effect the decisions of other artists, curators, and exhibition sponsors.
In his story Nick O’Malley provides a history of this controversy; that Christian groups have been attacking artworks and prompting failed police actions for decades. In order to remedy this chilling effect the government needs to clarify laws and make an apology for its participation in slandering Bill Henson. In the absence of any move to ameliorate the situation a presumption that the government tacitly supports the chilling effects of trial by media and police raids.
In several of Melbourne’s lanes and alleys there a lot of people were talking about the graffiti. There was usual school group with art teacher in Hosier Lane, a young woman taking photos, and a middle aged man who had seen the ABC documentary on graffiti in Melbourne and had learnt to appreciate what he had previously regarded as rubbish. It is an unlikely scenario; strangers talking to each other about art in a city alley full of rubbish bins but in Melbourne it is common. Even if you can’t read the writing on the wall street art inspires communication, it is a social lubricant, providing a contact point for strangers in the big city.
Isn’t that the whole point of art? – To provide a reason or focus for communication. There is a lot of unofficial communications on the street. The streets will always provide a forum for politics that can’t be censored. Many political groups will use a sticker campaign to get their message on the streets. It is an obvious choice if you fear censorship or reprisals or just hassles.
"Corrupt Cops Killed Carl" sticker in Brunswick
Currently on the streets of Brunswick there is a sticker campaign against the Victorian police. A sticker: “Corrupt Cops Killed Carl” commenting on the death in jail of Melbourne gangster, Carl Williams. There are more stickers on the theme of corruption in the Victorian police scattered around the streets of Brunswick. Another much stranger and bigger political paste-ups on the streets of Brunswick (and Fitzroy and Coburg – how big is this poster campaign?) is advocating considering the alternatives.
"Seek an alternative" poster in Brunswick
Finally in this discussion of the graffiti discourse I must mention the Dunny Art blog. Following in the footsteps of photography Rennie Ellis’s books on Australian graffiti: Australian Graffiti (1971), Australian Graffiti Revisited (1979) and focusing on traditional, pre-aerosol graffiti Dunny Art, photographs graffiti on toilet wall around the world. The comment and reply nature of these ad hoc discussion walls is another forum that can’t be censored.