Monday, May 26, 2008

Of Tyrning Wyrms. Cross-posted at Tizona's

As a card-carrying Right Wing Death Beast, also called, on occasion, a Jesus freak, God-botherer, racist, nazi and ... a disgrace!.... I've been following the recent furore over the Bill Henson exhibition up in NSW.

For those not in the know, Bill Henson is a photographer. A very talented photographer who, while he takes remarkable landscapes, also has a predilection for pubescent girls. (Google images is your friend for that one.)

Bolta covered this story here, here, and here.

Tim Blair commented on it here and here.

On the other side of the cultural divide, we have Alison Croggan's take on the witch hunt that is decrying Henson for a child pornographer.

Personally, I see the photos of young teenage girls without clothing and under evocative lighting as more porn than art, and while others may disagree and call it Art, that's not at issue.

What is at issue for me is that in this day and age, when so many bleat about the sexualisation of children (and yes, I'm most definitely one of them), there seems to be some sort of blind spot in the minds of those who just don't get that photographing nude 12 year olds might send a bit of a mixed message to those children we're supposed to be protecting.

However, the wyrm is tyrning, it appears to me, with Jill Singer coming out against the photographs in this morning's paper.

I tend to disagree with a lot of what Jill has to say, but I do agree with this piece, and find the confirmation that you don't speak out against the Black Skivvy Brigade or else.
We both know Bill Henson, she better than I, and we also know the art world. It is a place where you tread very, very carefully.

Everyone is your best mate if you praise their work, your instant enemy if you proffer the slightest criticism.

And here was a photograph about to be exhibited by a man we like, of an image we both recoiled from instantly.

(Bolding mine.)
There are many women who tend to keep quiet about any discomfort they might feel about Bill Henson's work. No one has a problem with his ruins, or trees of course, it's just the young girls.

Another woman, senior in the arts industry here, tells me she has been ambivalent about Bill Henson's imagery of young girls for years, but has remained silent for fear of being lumped in with the religious Right.

I guess that makes me of the religious Right, but your religion shouldn't matter a toss in this instance. and I figured I was one anyway.

It's a shame that women who are supposedly in control of their destinies feel cowed by their environs enough to not speak their minds and hence enable further exploitation of children.

Yes, I'm aware that I'm using emotionally-charged language, but so what? The fact remains that a minor child (presumably with parental consent) has had nude photographs of themselves taken and exhibited around the world and money has changed hands.

That is not a business agreement between equals, and regardless of how informed she may think she is, a girl on the brink of womanhood is not of legal majority and should not be treated as such.

She is a child.

But enough of that before I start some serious ranting.

What really has made my day in all of this is that according to one blog, it's all...... wait for it....

Kevin Rudd's fault!

(Okay, not exactly; I've just been dying to say that)

Bringing it back on track, over at the Sydney Arts Journo blog (h/t Alison), Kevni is given a severe smack on the wrist for coming out and agreeing with the majority of the population.

Of course, the fact that most of the population don't go* to galleries means that their opinion shouldn't count, so Kevni should have supported Bill.

My favourite comment I'll paste in full, because it demonstrates beautifully that some people really can't handle a bit of disagreement:
Writing anonymously as an advisor to one of Mr Rudd's prized candidates in last year's election, I want to add that on this one, you are wrong Kevin: very, very wrong.

Even your nemesis, John Howard, would not have abused the privileged and time-honored position of the Office of Prime Minister with such a knee-jerk, ego-fuelled, juvenile reaction to the unquestionable reach and INTENTION of Mr Bill Henson's creative pursuit.

Your vilification of him, and the true spirit of Creative Australia will return to haunt you ... just as we cautioned it always would.

While the election was fought on "New Leadership", you have nothing of the nobility, maturity (artistically, culturally or otherwise) that Howard had.You are born of a media age, and this will go down the public record as the first moment in your Prime Ministership, when you didn't read what was written and allowed your ego and sense of altruistic self-aggrandisement to rule your tongue.

Personally? I have always protested that you lack the maturity and compelling ability to read the road map forward to a destination suitable for the achievers in this country ... not the reactionaries. There are hundreds of websites, Google them, that are far worse and far more easily accessible than this exhibition. They are pornographic. This is art. That was and forever will have been Bill Henson's intention.

I am grateful for one thing. The people of Australia have finally seen you for the fallible, popularist Prime Minister they will tire off within months. But those of us with credit for your victory will hang their heads in shame. You have betrayed the true nature of reconcilliation because everyone can now see it for the opportunistic, grand-standing event that it truly was.

How easily your opinion is bought. How demeaning to our values of cultural signficance that is.

I love it when Lefty heads implode. Why this person didn't see Kevni for the hollow man he always was boggles my mind. How dare Kevin actually disagree with what his supporters think?

Dude, Kevni was voted in because the electorate wanted a change, and he campaigned on being just like John HoWARd only younger and fresher.

He also said he had ideas, and one of the few things he did since getting into office was to pull together a circlejerk to try and find them.

The general population tends to be rather conservative at heart, disliking revolutions or revolutionaries (except on tshirts) and especially not being enamoured of blokes taking pictures of little girls.

Kevni is just doing what he's always done - going along with the loudest crowd, and at the moment, for a change it tends to be the average aussie.

By the way, according to an Art Expert, Bill Henson's photos are not pornography.

Well, I never saw that one coming, did anyone else and do I need sarc tags?

*I've been to a few openings, but it's been about 4 years for me. And I no longer have a black skivvy. Sorry.


At 11:56 AM, Blogger TimT said...

Oh, good take Nilk. When it comes to censorship, pornography and art, I tend to err on the side of freedom, but this case is pretty hard. There would probably be less difficulty if Henson had been a painter or sculptor than a photographer, because then he'd be more clearly aligned with the tradition of the painter-nude. But as it is...

At 11:59 AM, Blogger TimT said...

BTW, I remember reading a blog this morning about the Henson controversy. The blogger said that everyone who 'knew anything about art' would be just as 'indignant' as he was. WTF? Why am I supposed to share in his indignation if I am to be admitted to the ranks of the 'knowledgeable'? It's as if, to be accepted into the artistic community, I have to act completely irrationally.

At 1:10 PM, Blogger Nilk said...

Thanks, Tim.

I've been turning it around and around for a few days now, and while I can agree they are stunning photographs, that doesn't take away from a pornographic aspect, nor does it take away from the fact that children were used.

According to one woman who modelled for Henson when she was 12, she's had no issues with the subject matter in later years.


That's all well and good, and as the article says, "She [Ms Elenberg] was brought up with artists - this kind of thing was just normal, it is normal," says Ms Elenberg's mother, Anna Schwartz, a gallery owner. "Through our involvement with his work and our friendship he said he'd like to take photographs of my daughter and we agreed."

Just because a small segment of the population thinks of it as normal behaviour and therefore okay doesn't mean that it actually is.

All we have to do is look at other small segments of the population to see that fallacy in action.

My bottom line is that you don't take photos of naked children.

The last snap I got off of my daughter sans clothing was back when she was 3, and nobody gets to see that, even if it is a classic shot. (She took advantage of me being asleep one arvo to strip off and draw stripes all over herself so I awoke to a growling stripey tiger.)

At 1:13 PM, Blogger Nilk said...

Tim, go read some Gramsci :)

As for having to toe the intellectual line on how to think to be accepted in the artistic community? That's pretty much a given.

I find on filmsets that I have to bite my tongue plenty of times, although on one occasion there was a bit of ranting against Bush and Howard, I just butted in and said, excuse me, I'd just like to say that I'm a card-carrying member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy!

LOL you could have heard a pin drop. Talk about a conversation-killer!

People, especially those who run more on emotion than reason, can have difficulty dealing with opposing opinions when those opinions can make you feel bad.

We're not supposed to feel bad; we're all empowered and equal, dontcha know!

At 11:15 PM, Blogger Caz said...

Nilk - have put my email address on the thread where you left message. fyi.

At 10:58 AM, Blogger Nick and Nora Charles said...

Hi Nilk,
Nicky has this take on the controversy -

At 2:36 PM, Anonymous BB Horace said...

All you right wingers get a little turned on by kiddie art don't you?

At 3:04 PM, Blogger Nilk said...

We do? Well there you go - here I thought that I preferred strapping men over six foot, but I guess you'd know better than me, BB.

How about you explain to us why it's okay for your daughter to dress in micro minis, crop tops and makeup at 7 like she sees the big girls of 10 do.

Your comment just shows your ignorance of a differing point of view.

Please feel free to educate yourself as to what other people think, and the concept of majority rules.

At 3:12 PM, Anonymous Ash said...

No Horace, paedophiles, not right-wingers, get turned on by kiddie porn. But thank you for recognising these images as kiddie porn.

At 3:15 PM, Anonymous BB Horace said...

So what's the problem with the art then?

At 3:20 PM, Blogger Nilk said...

BB, the photos are nicely lit, very evocative and would be fine if the subject were an adult.

Fact is, the subjects are children. You know, minors who are not considered old enough to vote or take care of themselves or make the decision to get their kit off for any old artist who comes along.

He can take all the nude shots he likes, just not of children.

That's my issue.

Now, about your daughter getting her kit off for Bill. When's that happening?

At 3:45 PM, Blogger MK said...

Well said Nilk. It's amazing how everyone's going on about how good Henson is and his photos are wonderful. I don't really care either day, he can take pictures of his bum for all i care. Just not of little girls, that's all.

The art community needs to get a grip, art has been around for centuries and it survived without pictures of naked girls, they'll manage.

"Now, about your daughter getting her kit off for Bill."

To add to that, what about someone else having a picture of your naked little girl on their wall.

The other thing is that if Henson is allowed his pictures because it's art, what's stopping some pedophile from paying some crack-head for naked pics of her kids and claiming its art.

At 6:38 PM, Blogger kae said...

"Just because a small segment of the population thinks of it as normal behaviour and therefore okay doesn't mean that it actually is."

Paedophiles think they're normal.
Paedophiles think there's nothing wrong with loving children.

At 7:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good call, Nilk. Yeah, it may well be art, but it's low-class, exploitive, nasty, selfish, child-abusing art.

It doesn't have to be porn to be lousy. And this wasn't porn. It was just lousy.

At 2:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pedophiles think they're on a roll, in the UK we've at least a million of them.

So divide by a third for Oz?

Whatever, Bill's kiddie stuff has been banned in London, because, it is illegal.

They don't like him in Milan either, the best painter of the 17th century was a native

And being compared to a gothic corpse stillsman from Oz,

is viewed as the insult of the century for their local artist,

who it has to be said, was probably the greatest painter of the 17th century.

I found a peer review.

I went to Bill Henson's latest exhibition with my school today and the pictures he displayed of 11-15 year old girls having "sexual intercourse" with 18year old boys was disgusting. Most of the girls didn't even have breasts yet or pubic hair which made me feel ill in the stomach that people actually like this. One particular photo of a teenage guy probably about 19, had a strong grip around a little girl who had no breasts at all or even 'nipple fat' or pubic hair and he had his penis inserted in her from behind. I do NOT on any account think that is acceptable. I do not call them "works of art". I am not against all of his artwork, as I think he has taken amazing landscape shots that really grabbed my attention. He definently has talent for photography. But I only saw 3 photos in the whole exhibition of adults and of course they were not alone, but with children. I will once again state he does beautiful landscape shots, but I do NOT like his portrayel of the human "childs" body, very disappointed.


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