Category Archives: Censorship

Posts on Paul Yore

Given the upcoming exhibition at ACCA, “Paul Yore: Word Made Flesh,” I’ve brought together all my posts on Paul Yore. Most of them are about the police raid on the Like Mike exhibition in the middle of 2013 and the subsequent 2014 trial. There are also two about his 2016 exhibition at Neon Parc.

Paul Yore, Computer World, 2016

My post Gallery Crawl November 2011 records my first encounter with Paul Yore’s art with his exhibition “Monument to the Republic” at Gertrude Contemporary in a single sentence: “Not that there was any deeply political work in any of the galleries or on the street, except for Paul Yore’s ‘Monument to the Republic’ at Gertrude Contemporary, a piss-taking piece of slacker art that represents the Australian Republic perfectly.”

Police Raid Art Gallery

Political motivations behind police raid

Follow up Like Mike

Barry Keldoulis is Fucked is about the censorship at the Sydney Contemporary 2013.

Censorship, Barry Keldoulis, and Paul Yore gives Keldoulis a right of reply.

Paul Yore Justice Delayed  

Justice Repeatedly Delayed

Paul Yore contest mention more on the legal proceedings as I morph from art critic to court reporter.

Paul Yore’s trial day 1

Paul Yore’s trial day 2

All charges dismissed Oct 2014

Paul Yore at Neon Parc, an exhibition in 2016

Paul Yore Artist Talk at Neon Parc 2016

Paul Yore, Love is Everything, 2016 (front view)

Religious violence against art

Following the stabbing of Salman Rushdie, do we need reminding that declaring that art is blasphemous directly incites violence? Blasphemy is not a metaphor and has never meant something must be tolerated within the bounds of secular law. No, declarations of blasphemy always encourage violence.

The two sixth-century Buddhas carved into the high sandstone cliffs of Bamiyan of Afghanistan were spectacular survivors from a civilisation that at long passed. They were the tallest standing Buddhas in the world; the first was 55 m, and the second was only an awesome 37 m high.

In March 2001, the Taliban government declared that they were idols, even though they had not been any Buddhists in the area for centuries. They had a plan, a budget and nothing more important to do. When rocket launchers, tank and artillery shells failed to destroy them, they had to do it the hard way, scaling the sculptures and attaching explosives. It took 25 days of work, planting explosives to demolish the statues. Anti-tank mines were laid around the feet to increase the damage the falling stone did.

Mullah Mohammed Omar stated, “Muslims should be proud of smashing idols. It has given praise to Allah that we have destroyed them.”

George Pell (aka Cardinal Pell Pot), Jean-Pierre Cattenoz (aka Archbishop of Vaucluse) and others encouraged the destruction of Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ by declaring it blasphemous. But Pell is not the only senior member of the Vatican to have encouraged the destruction of art by calling it blasphemous. Jorge Mario Bergoglio (aka Pope Francis) also used the word when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires. 

In 2004, Bergoglio demanded a retrospective exhibition of the work of the contemporary Argentinian artist Leon Ferrari, close to end what he called a ‘blasphemous affront’. Bergoglio declared it was blasphemous because of Ferrari’s sculptures of the Virgin Mary in a blender, Jesus crucified on an American bomber, saints in frying pans and other images. Ferrari had long been critical of the Catholic church conniving with the murderous Argentina junta. 

Like Pell, Bergoglio also objected to public money being used for the exhibition in a public art gallery. Bergoglio was a tiny bit more successful than Pell. Unlike Pell, he initially got a judge to agree with him and obtained an order for the exhibition to close. However, this was overturned on appeal, and the exhibition was reopened. A mob of the faithful then destroyed several works of art at the exhibition, shouting: “Long live Christ the King!” The artist forgave Bergoglio because he got great free publicity; it is unknown if Bergoglio has forgiven Ferrari.

Forgiveness aside, the question remains should we tolerate religious organisations that call things blasphemous? My long answer is only if they tolerate the arbitrary use of violence against them. So, the short answer is no.


The Australia Council Reneges

This post is not about Casey Jenkins, a Melbourne based performance artist. I have previously written about two of her work: True Colours (2019) and Body of Work (2015). This post is about the Australia Council for the Arts reneging on an agreement with Jenkins and why this is a concern for everyone in Australia.

Image of part of Casey Jenkins True Colours 2019

There are many conflicting statements made by the Australia Council and Casey Jenkins but what both agree is that the Australia Council is not funding Jenkins current artwork after previously agreeing to. See Casey Jenkins statement and the Australia Council for the Arts statement.

What everyone is also aware of is that the process is unfair because they would not accept it as fair if somebody reneged on an agreement with them. Is the unfairness in any way excusable? Australia Council is using the COVID-19 tragedy as a cover while admitting that their system was at fault. Next time will they use the person responsible “was having a bad day,” one of the recent excuses that NSW police has used for assaulting an Indigenous youth.

I asked the Australia Council about their media statement and if this means that thye take responsibility for the poor quality of the review process? And how has the process regarding variation requests been adjusted?

The Australia Council’s media statement stated that: “The Council has been in contact with the artist to advise we consider it necessary to rescind the variation to the original grant, effectively withdrawing support for this specific project.” How do you unilaterally “rescind” what is essentially a contract between the Australia Council and the artist? Casey Jenkins did not agree to rescind it and so, isn’t the correct word “reneged” and not rescind?

I also asked if artists should be concerned that something similar might happen again when they make a variation request? The Australia Council chose not to reply to my questions while sending me two emails about my enquires.

There is a lot that the Australia Council is not saying about this that should be clarified for future applicants. It could be more open about what subsequent changes to its process it has made. It could release the legal advice on Jenkins art. It could even acknowledge the history of Australian politicians interfering in arts, and admonish all attempts, rather than merely deny that any occurred in this particular case. Instead it has chosen instead to protect politicians and damage the arts in Australia by denials and increasing uncertainty.

No system or Australia Council review process can predict what Australian politicians will want to censor because censorship is an arbitrary act of power. And every few years Australian artist is attacked as immoral by a conservative politician; it is a tradition going back to Federation. It is so common that I have a category in this blog for posts about art censorship.


Sculptors Association Annual Exhibition

I felt little for the majority of the sixty-three sculptures on exhibition. It is difficult to be daring when there are so many technical challenges and expenses to making sculpture. Consequently many are like a large piece of jewellery — well designed and made but too boring, slick and trite to be anything other than ersatz art. Stuff so bland that zombie formalism looked thoughtful. There were a few made me wince as their combination of materials was the visual equivalent of ice-cream with pickles. There were, of course, a couple of kitsch pieces and one case of questionable cultural appropriation.

Michael Meszaros, Smouder

Finally there were some sculptures that were appealing for various reasons; not bad for a group exhibition. I was surprised when I checked who was the artist of some of the works that caught my eye: Drasko (who I know from his street art and art transport business) and Michael Meszaros (who has done many public sculptures). Meszaros’s wavy bronze piece, Smoulder, is like curls of smoke. Drasko Boljevic’s Baby is almost a minimal comic-book version of Munch’s Scream.

Drasko Boljevic, Baby

Tahani Shamroukh’s A Labour is one of the few pieces of contemporary art in the exhibition and one of the few that had anything to say. It is realism; it doesn’t look like anything other than what it is and it is life. A cube of used work clothes and boots, the kind that labours wear, is as real as the $5 bill amongst them. It reminded me of Ai Weiwei’s Ton of Tea (2011), a one square metre block of compressed oolong tea. I was not surprised that Shamroukh’s A Labour won the Art Almanac Prize.

The Association of Sculptors of Victoria 2019 Annual Awards and Exhibition is at Collins Square, an enormous multi-towered building in the Docklands with a network of foyer areas almost the size of a city block. The foyer works well as an exhibition space for the sculptures. They need this kind of space for their work, not just because some of it is large and heavy, but because it is impressive semi-formal space with an instant audience. The kind of place with marble floors and a paintings the size of sail by John Olsen hanging at the top of one staircase with a painting of the city by Ricky Kasso above another.

Collins Square is also the kind of place that is professionally managed and this has resulted in a peculiar decision to ban one sculpture from the exhibition. The story of the sculpture’s censorship has legs even if the bust of a man didn’t; from Channel 7 to the Sydney Morning Herald and other media outlets. I don’t blame the Collins Square management for their crazy decision because Australia’s culture of censorship is arbitrary, inexplicable and the consequences for even minor transgressions can be sever. There has been a censorship controversy over images of male nipples in the past, Del Kathryn Barton’s son’s bare chest in 2011, and it could happen again because in this country the irrational is privileged over reason, ethics and taste.


Paul Yore artist talk

“What was the most unexpected reaction to your work?” A person asked artist, Paul Yore at an end of exhibition talk at Neon Parc on Saturday 18 June.

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Paul Yore (left) and Geoff Newton in conversation at Neon Parc

Obviously the most unexpected reaction was when the police raiding his exhibition at Linden Gallery was unexpected. Yore never expected or intended that and it remains a misunderstood event. Yore found himself caught up in an on going local political issue about funding of Linden Gallery that had been going on for years.

It was unexpected and unintended. “Nobody wants their name to be linked to child abuse forever on the internet,” Yore explained. Yore is not a shock artist; his art is too chaotic and unstable. Shock artists, like Jeff Koons and Mark Kostabi, are more precise in their intent to shock and more focused on their objective than Yore’s chaotic art. Yore doesn’t have a political objective to his art and is cynical about the individual effect of activist artists.

There was the inevitable question from the audience about self-censorship but what can you honestly say about the chill effect. What the court case did do was cause Yore to think about photography’s claim to truth and collage as an issue about truth.

After the court case in 2014 Yore went travelling across Europe looking at a lot of folk art, outsider art and junk yard art. On his return to Melbourne he started to condensed this research into an exhibition at Neon Parc. Yore told the audience that did as much as he could in the time. Time is an important feature of Yore’s work, the handmade reminds you of time, every stitch is a moment in time.

Finally two pieces of advice.

Domestic advice: to prevent your dress riding up on your tights wash with fabric softner.

Advice to artists: do not let your mother attend your artist talk unless you want the audience to hear stories from your childhood. At the end of the talk Yore’s mother tells the audience that Paul has been collecting things since he could walk.


Buffing the Buff

In Melbourne’s Hosier Lane two nudes in that Lush painted were censored by the Melbourne City Council. A very unusual occurrence for the city council to buff anything in the tourist attraction zone that is Hosier Lane.

Hosier 2 flip.jpg

Lush, nude #?, 2016 (photo by Dean Sunshine)

Lush must be a real artist because he is painting nudes, yeah right. (That reminds me about when I discovered that there was another use for porn magazines, life drawing.) I don’t think that there are many nudes in the NGV Australia across the road from Hosier Lane, as Dean Sunshine argues in the defence of Lush, but there is the nineteenth century painting of Chloe, an underage nude teenager in Young and Jackson’s upstairs bar, about 200m away in the pub on the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets.

However, both of these examples are not outdoors in the public and Melbourne City Council applied the same Australian public broadcasting guidelines for nudity in advertising and public places. Basically this meant painting over the nipples and genitals. (If this was a painting of a nude man painting over the genitals would be described as ‘emasculation’.)

The Australian public broadcasting guidelines produce the strange result of become an adjunct to nipple shaming and slut-shaming. Indeed the word ‘slut’ has been written over another Lush’s nudes, this time copy of Kim Kardashian’s nude selfie in Cremorne, Melbourne. The removal and buffing of these nudes is done for basically the same reason that the person who wrote ‘slut’ on Lush’s painting of Kim, to demonstrate society’s disapproval of naked female bodies. (Don’t you feel proud of Australia when its laws and ugly sexists are in agreement? It makes me feel so confident in the reasons and logic behind these laws.)

In all probability Lush is self-indulgently laughing at all this. I like the way that newspapers have decided to call him ‘Lushsux’ after his Instagram/Twitter account.


Misunderstood Art

Polonius: (To Hamlet) What do you read, my lord?

Hamlet: Words, words, words.

(Hamlet II, ii, 192-3)

Nobody mistakes a game of football for anything else; there is never the question that it might not be a game of football or that it might be about something other than football. There are rare exceptions, the 1956 Russian Hungarian Olympic Water Polo match was about more than a sport. Generally the quality of the playing is tested and the results displayed on a scoreboard. Debate about sport is possible but eventually resolvable, the best team is the one that wins the most games.

Art is not like that; nothing will ever be resolved, it can be tested but not definitively. New interpretations and assessments are always possible for art but, short of revelations of cheating, nothing reverses sports results.

With all art there is always the possibility that it will be fundamentally misunderstood, not just in meaning or quality but also in its very category. It could be interpreted in a number of ways, or in post-modern speak, there are multiple readings. It is this possibility of being misunderstood that brings a special kind of quality to art. Not that all misunderstood things are of art, nor that ambiguity should be the objective of art, but that without the possibility of being misunderstood, that ambiguous quality, that makes art more than the sum of it constituent parts.

According to Mary Douglas’s theory expounded in her book, Purity and Danger (1966) the ambiguous category of art should make it taboo, a pollution that should be expelled. Or, because it does not fit into any category, that it should be sacred. Art is seen as both sacred and a pollution in society.

This ambiguous quality means that art can be about something else. Art has a relationship to a subject that cannot be reciprocated. For example, art can be about football but football can never be about art; as football is always about football. For art is a sign and signs also have a non-reciprocal relationship with what they signify.

Humans naturally want certainty but art requires a sophisticated, civilised approach that is, in this aspect, against nature. Art requires a degree of uncertainly, ambiguity or cognitive indeterminacy; to not know if you are looking at an image or paint, a story or words, Hamlet or an actor. Art requires possibility of multiple correct readings and even misunderstanding.

The unsophisticated mistake fiction for fact: a character for a real person, an actor for the character played, etc. They are apt to mistake art as pornography, sedition, blasphemy or some other prohibited or offensive category. These are unsophisticated views because they are forgetting that art is ambiguous, that they are looking at nothing but a creation of ink, or paint, or lights on a screen.

When a government’s claims to be able to make unambiguous distinction between what is permitted and what is censored the government case will always appears unsophisticated. How an unambiguous distinction can make about ambiguous material is never explained. It is simply assumed that the government is acting in a reasonable and rational manner. That agencies like the Australian Classification Board represent community values in their decisions. That it’s arbitrary interpretations of ambiguous material are certain and definite even when they very from year to year.

Sport is uncensored and more approved of than art because sport can be legislated. It can be legislated and controlled because it is unambiguous.


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