Tag Archives: Australian Classification Board

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.


Paul Yore Trial Day One

Today opposite the Melbourne Magistrates Court, there was a demonstration out the front of the County Court drawing attention to the first day of the Melbourne hearings into Royal Commission into the Institutional Response to Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse. In court room 20 of the Magistrates Court, in front of Magistrate Amanda Chambers, there was the first day of an anticipated three day trial of Paul Yore.

The court decided that the best place to start was by viewing a video of Paul Yore’s installation, Everything is Fucked. This was the defence video because the police admitted that it was better than the one that they made. Alleged child pornography being shown in a public court, the magistrate felt that some kind of warning had to be made before the video was shown to the public, no one left. For about six minutes the magistrate attentively watched the psychedelic rainbows of colour, the ultra violet lighting, the collage of objects and images. The court also heard a pod-cast interview with Paul Yore describing the sickly sweet surface with more symbolic ideas beneath the surface of the spectacle of mass consumerism.

The police case consisted of Exhibit #10, seven pieces of cardboard, paper and tin foil that Detective Senior Constable Samantha Johnson of St. Kilda Police Station had cut out with a Stanley knife from Paul Yore’s installation. These bits were described as photos of children’s heads with or without Pokemon stickers over them, stuck onto the naked bodies of adults, again with or without Pokemon stickers on them.

There was a large members of the bar in court, not just Yore’s defence team but separate representation for members of the staff and board of directors of the Linden Centre who had all been called as prosecution witnesses. They were conceded about exposure to allegations of procession of child pornography arising from their testimony and were given certificate from the court that their evidence would not be used against them.

One of the crucial pieces of the defence argument came in the Linden’s Gallery Director, Melinda Martin’s testimony where it emerged that the documentation in the application to the Australian Classification Board consisted of images of Paul Yore’s installation before the police removed any images. Although the application did lack detail it appears that one of the parts removed by the police may be seen in the application for classification. The Australian Classification Board classified Yore’s work Classification 1, Restricted, suitable for people over the age of 18.

Yore’s defence team of Neil Clelland and Rowena Orr was focused on the statutory definition of child pornography. They were not contesting the police time line of events nor any of the police evidence. They wanted to know how the concept of production of child pornography was being proven.

The defence case consisted of expert witnesses, or “witnesses with specialist knowledge” in the current legal speak. Jason Smith, director of the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Antonia Syme, the director of the Australian Tapestry Workshop, and Max Delany, senior curator at the NGV. The defence of artistic merit was clearly made to which the prosecution was trying various arguments, the best of which the magistrate returned to putting the questions directly to Antonia Syme; what if Leonardo da Vinci made child porn does it follow that because he is an artist the work has artistic merit? To which Ms Syme replied: “Putti. Leonardo did lots of naked children.” Max Delany will give his evidence tomorrow morning.


Follow-up like Mike?

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?!


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