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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Open letter in support of Bill Henson

...this is an excerpt from a long letter written to Australia's political leaders in support of Bill Henson. A number of significant creative and cultural dignitaries have signed it including J M Coetzee and Cate Blanchett to name some obvious people...

The work itself is not pornographic, even though it includes depictions of naked human beings. It is more justly seen in a tradition of the nude in art that stretches back to the ancient Greeks, and which includes painters such as Caravaggio and Michelangelo. Many of Henson’s controversial images are not in fact sexual at all. Others depict the sexuality of young people, but in ways that are fundamentally different from how naked bodies are depicted in pornography. The intention of the art is not to titillate or to gratify perverse sexual desires, but rather to make the viewer consider the fragility, beauty, mystery and inviolabilty of the human body. In contrast, the defining essence of pornography is that it endorses, condones or encourages abusive sexual practice. We respectfully suggest that Henson’s work, even when it is disturbing, does nothing of the sort. I would personally argue that, in its respect for the autonomy of its subjects, the work is a counter-argument to the exploitation and commodification of young people in both commercial media and in pornographic images. Many of us have children of our own. The sexual abuse and exploitation of children fills us all with abhorrence. But it is equally damaging to deny the obvious fact that adolescents are sexual beings. This very denial contributes to abusive behaviour, because it is part of the denial of the personhood of the young. In my opinion, Mr Henson’s work shows the delicacy of the transition from childhood to adulthood, its troubledness and its beauty, in ways which do not violate the essential innocence of his subjects. It can be confronting, but that does not mean that it is pornography. Legal opinion is that if charges were laid against Mr Henson, he would be unlikely to be found guilty. The seizure of the photographs, and the possible prosecution of Mr Henson, the Rosyln Oxley9 Gallery or the parents of Henson’s subjects, takes up valuable police and court time that would be much better spent pursuing those who actually do abuse children.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Im an Australian, Im interested in art, and I also detest the lengths to which media at times go, however I disagree with you on this. As much as the art community may feel it is 'art', what matters is the portrayal of children as could be interpreted by the WIDER COMMUNITY. heaven's knows, that should Henson turn out to actually be a paedophile and no action or attention was given to the matter at hand when it counted, then a different community entirely would be voicing their concerns. that isn't to say that he is a paedophile. in fact, henson the man doesn't matter at all. the real issue is that society does not approve, the law does not approve, and no amount of 'forward thinking' is going to take away . it is the whole reason we have TV ratings.It's fair enough that you are passionate and wish to appropriate the place of art and its importance, however i would not go so far as to say that cencorship here is 'out of control' and nor would i say that it's harmless. i for one, believe it's excellent that they have cracked down on such a thing. while you see the 'art' in the product, i see a naive girl who appears nervous. why her parents agreed to it? i wouldn't know. i definately wouldn't air my childs body like this, not to mention, she may not want that either upon reaching adult years. i dont think this is a 'traditionalist' or 'backwards' view either. art can be subtle. art can be beautiful. art can push boundaries, defy boundaries, it can be dark, or it can be full of light and colour. it can challenge people. however under no circumstance can i remember - with the exception of art based on the frailty of human life - being emotionally and willfully harmful

Skull Donkey said...

Interestingly enough, today the same board that supplies Australias 'ratings' for TV gave these images a 'G' rating. I think your opinion is actually 'backwards' to consider that just because you like to think, without any of your own research on the matter that the WIDER community doesnt approve of these images. How on earth do you know? And who cares if the 'wider' community doesnt approve? The 'wider' community found Hitlers treatment of minorities in Germany quite palatable for a number of years. Does this mean he was right and that the community was as well? The wider community may possibly dissapprove of these images because the media has presented the case with ugly definitions and our politicians have made sweeping allegations of taste without seeing the images and at the very least 'doctored for clean viewing' images to peruse. If i put up a family picture of my mum at the beach and pixeled out the breasts even if she was wearing a swimsuit, it would look 'pornographic'. I have read many forums on this subject and have found an overwhelming level of support from parents and non-parents on the matter. If we followed your attitude we would have a society of people just sitting in windowless houses watching blank TV screens with our mouths hermetically sealed in case we offend someone. the girl appears nervous...to YOU. i dont see a nervous girl. i see a girl who is in a state of emotional confusion and lost in the thought of that moment of life. does that mean that because you chose to see a more 'evil' side to the image that it is therefore a more valid perspective and therefore carries greater weight? and because you would not air your childs body like this, does this mean that you beleive that you are of complete moral and ethical perfection and thus all other humans should follow your example? Rather than actually beleive that the family whom the this girl is a member of, knows Henson and trust the man (which in my own experiece as a human being is obviously the case), and is a wonderful thing, you would prefer to beleive that it is possible that they are misinformed, and that he is possibly a paedophile. It is attitudes like yours that are eroding the values of society and giving creedence to mutated and rare abusive behavioural anomilies that the majority of the population will go through their lives having absolutely no experience of whatsoever other than through the hysteria of moral crusaders. It is not through the artistic visions of established and highly respected artists that the problem lies, it is the genuinely abusive and utterly disgusting industry of REAL child pornography that we need to be discussing, not the 'subjective' views of a varied and evolved society that has every right to have an opinion whether elated or disgusted about an artists vision of our youth. If everybody who saw these images found them questionable then YES, there is probably something going on here, BUT WE DONT, there are many people in support, and that doesnt mean they are WRONG. 60,000 people walked through his retrospective at the NGV without a murmur of dissaproval, what does that suggest??? that we need to be told what is right and wrong? and then get hysterical and make grand assumptions about a situation we have no knowledge of at all??
and by the way censorship has always been slightly ridiculous in Australia. It is famous for it. and also it is naive to suggest that you are an expert on the 'boundaries' of art... ....BUT you are entitled to your opinion and i thank you for the time you took to write a reply.

Skull Donkey said...

and one thing i neglecetd to mention was that, there are no complaints from anyone who has been photographed by Henson in the last 30 years, there has been a number of past models who have expressed great pride in their participation who hang the works in their family home. considering that there is no evidence at all of abuse, to simply assume there is a possibility of child porn/abuse because there are dark images of early teens in an established artists work is contemptible, and highly assumptive in the most grotesque way. it is no different to stupid people assuming that an aboriginal driving a mercedes is a theif. and if for some reason it came to light that as you suggest 'that Henson turn out to be a paedophile' then it would be a great tragedy, but to make that assumption is rather like assuming that all Muslims are terrorists and not letting any into the country. but it is so unlikely, considering the lack of any charges, and to exhibit openly naked teens internationally for 35 years in the most prestigious galleries in the world to all levels of society and diverse cultures is hardly the actions of someone engaging in the most vile and illegal activity in our society. and also to assume that the model may 'regret' having her photo taken, well, so what? thats life. we all do things we regret, and from an early age, but its the tragic assumption that she is the victim of child abuse by these perverse attitudes that will cause the regret. Originally it was a beautiful poetic image. Great.

Anonymous said...

your passion is obvious, but my comment was not a personal attack to you, it is my OPINION on what the wider community thinks, and reasons for the same. as you have presented your side, i think there is another side, which makes sense. i encountered the same bias from the media in their attitudes towards international sporting teams recently, and was met with an attitude of superiority, righteousness and defiance, much like yourself. but with time and understanding, i empathised with their viewpoint, and im sure the journalists in question understood mine - balance in life is important, you see. suggestion: if you dont want comments on your board, remove the ability for people to post :)

now that is said, i have taken the time to read your passionate stance. comments to some points are below. ive found that not all of what you've responded to appears relevant to me, as you are airing a gripe. anyway:

"without any of your own research on the matter that the WIDER community doesnt approve of these images. How on earth do you know"

the natural response to it is what makes me 'know' so. having a family sitting in my living room who happened to comment when they saw it gives me a good indication too. i never said you have to all be like me. however even in sydney, majority of people who i know would say henson's work is .... well i won't complete that sentence for fear of upsetting you further.

re: "germany / hitler"
i don't think this is a good parallel to draw. lot's of variables, so can't comment. to quote basil fawlty, "dont mention the war".

"The wider community may possibly dissapprove of these images because the media has presented the case with ugly definitions and our politicians have made sweeping allegations of taste without seeing the images and at the very least 'doctored for clean viewing' images to peruse"

this may be correct, but the works in question are what matters. why would the law care about something that hasn't been infringed upon? the matter at hand are the questionable pictures. henson's integrity is at stake and arguments like this don't exactly help. it's like getting a speeding ticket while driving a ferrari, then telling the officer "well, it's a ferrari, so why should i get a ticket?".

"i have read many forums on this subject and have found an overwhelming level of support from parents and non-parents on the matter"

with all due respect, i believe you read what you wanted to read. i can assume that to be the case, as you have assumed that i see something 'dirty' with these pictures. works both ways, boss.

"If we followed your attitude we would have a society of people just sitting in windowless houses watching blank TV screens with our mouths hermetically sealed in case we offend someone."

well doesn't this beat living homeless, under a bridge, crying wolf? you've described a 'Churchian'. you see that bunch of Polygamists at the ranch with 400 children? that's them.

"the girl appears nervous...to YOU. i dont see a nervous girl. i see a girl who is in a state of emotional confusion and lost in the thought of that moment of life."

open to interpretation then, it would seem. well both of us im sure would agree we see a naked child, no? nobody is going to dispute that? and ask yourself why that may be an issue, rather than telling yourself it isn't. and the last time i checked, there was an 'uproar' and the media went insane about this issue apparently. surely i couldnt be the one instigating this? so why would it only be ME who sees something wrong?

"does that mean that because you chose to see a more 'evil' side to the image that it is therefore a more valid perspective and therefore carries greater weight?"

you are searching too deep. for this i applaud your depth of personality but will remind you to stay in reality. Evil and Ethics are two different things. I mentioned that this is challenging, but at the same time it is potentially hurting someone. have you given thought about the child? what if she was your child, would you do the same? can you honestly tell me 'yes' ? what kind of selfish person would that make you, then? these are simply rhetorical questions for your own thought processes, if you do wish to be open minded about the issue.

"does this mean that you beleive that you are of complete moral and ethical perfection and thus all other humans should follow your example?"

God is to be followed, not imitated. that's all i can tell you in response to that. you can't deny i have 'done' something for what i believe is correct, rather than rotting in complacency. you would know this, since you are doing the same thing by spending time on this matter.

"Rather than actually beleive that the family whom the this girl is a member of, knows Henson and trust the man (which in my own experiece as a human being is obviously the case), and is a wonderful thing, you would prefer to beleive that it is possible that they are misinformed, and that he is possibly a paedophile."

I could ask the same of you. Are you so superior that you feel you and your 'kind' are the only ones who understand what this man's artistic vision is about? if he is misunderstood by society and only by you and those with supreme artistic vision which mere mortals like me do not possess, then perhaps it shouldve been a private display rather than public?

"It is attitudes like yours that are eroding the values of society and giving creedence to mutated and rare abusive behavioural anomilies that the majority of the population will go through their lives having absolutely no experience of whatsoever other than through the hysteria of moral crusaders.

tell me what my 'attitude' is? can you label it? is there a psychology behind it? where have i force fed you? an opinion is like artistic critique. you've got to give it weight, and learn from it. you can't choose to ignore it, else you will fail in your endeavours. is that experienced enough for you?

"it is the genuinely abusive and utterly disgusting industry of REAL child pornography that we need to be discussing, not the 'subjective' views of a varied and evolved society that has every right to have an opinion whether elated or disgusted about an artists vision of our youth"

who is this 'evolved society' you speak of? have the lemurians returned, praytell?

"60,000 people walked through his retrospective at the NGV without a murmur of dissaproval, what does that suggest???"

ahem...to return to what you were saying about the germans / hitler....

"and also it is naive to suggest that you are an expert on the 'boundaries' of art"

if this is all you can come up with, then im still waiting for something with substance rather than air.

"BUT you are entitled to your opinion and i thank you for the time you took to write a reply."

don't thank me, you didnt expect one nor were you ready for it. you wanted an example to jump on. i don't see anyone else round here making your blog popular.

"it is no different to stupid people assuming that an aboriginal driving a mercedes is a theif"

it's very different. since you've slipped in the 's' word. you see, the media can twist and contort, but people's tastes remain the same no matter what they see. if it's distasteful but they frown, then the second time round they might smile. it's still going to be distasteful. wups, a bit of experience. my bad.

"and also to assume that the model may 'regret' having her photo taken, well, so what? thats life. we all do things we regret, and from an early age, but its the tragic assumption that she is the victim of child abuse by these perverse attitudes that will cause the regret"

there are reasons why that point undoes your argument. while you, with your magnificent vision can foresee into the future that the girl has contributed to this 'art', there are others out there, with not so magnificent superpowers. they are called parents, teachers, psychologists. all of whom have a voice and are allowed to use it, perhaps not in accordance and perhaps with a greater
capacity to present a more valid argument than yours. that is why society happens to beat the individual in this scenario. but then again, this is just my misinformed position. sorry i desecreated your board.

so there you have it. this is when we light a candle, hold hands and say .... 'fubar'.

Skull Donkey said...

'God is to be followed, not imitated.'

oh of course, i forgot about that guy. sorry. my mistake. youre completely correct. amen.

Skull Donkey said...

... and also youre still basing your entire argument on a belief that there is something ethically or morally corrupt happening here, when there is no evidence to suggest this at all. Youre argument dwells in multiple assumptions of negativity of the situation, the artist and the model, based upon on your own personal values and experiences which you assume are the standard for the society you live in...i am merely extremely dissapointed that our society clamours in hysteria, making broad and unwarranted assumptions, creating dirty scenarios where they more than likely dont even exist considering the nature of the artists history and status in our community. It also creates the unfortunate situation where people have their perspective jolted by others to see something they didnt see before. 60,000 people going through the NGV where neither told or educated by external sources as to the 'meaning' behind the work and noone saw naked childrens bodies as a sensitive issue, which they shouldnt be as they are innocent and devoid of sexual awareness to a greater extent. Once we create that as a taboo, we are setting down a narrow and dangerous path.

and i dont beleive in 'superpowers' as you do, so im sorry youre making that assumption, i have seen enough and experienced enough to know that we cant always wrap everything up in cotton wool and hope for the best and when we do that we deny the variety and growth of a society. And in my own experience, the parents, teachers and psychologists are not the barometers of values, and i personally dont hold their opinion in high regard based simply on their title. Obviously it is healthy to discuss such things and if art bring this to the fore in some way then it is of value.

And no, you didnt desecrate this blog with your opinion, thats why I have it and i enjoy any sort of discourse and am more than happy to have my name attached to it as your viewpoint of me, and my opinion is as valid as anyone elses.

'don't thank me, you didnt expect one nor were you ready for it. you wanted an example to jump on. i don't see anyone else round here making your blog popular.'

speaking of children...