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May 23, 2008 4:49 AM   Subscribe

Art and child exploitation. Where [nsfw] do we stop? The Sistine Chapel? Bill Henson the new whipping boy in the latest philistine frenzy.

Brief background: Bill Henson is a long established and much lauded Australian artist. He was the first artist to represent photography at the 46th Venice Bienalle in 1994 (can't find the citation), and has been exhibiting and evolving these works for 30 years.

......All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.....
Marcel Duchamp
posted by strawberryviagra (31 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: this would probably be better in the existing thread or as a less screedy sounding post - really the topic of NSFW art + kids etc doesn't need to be done every day on MeFi. -- jessamyn



 
Might want an NSFW on this? But yeah, it's no surprise that when artists intend to shock, some people are shocked.
posted by rikschell at 5:05 AM on May 23, 2008


Nevertheless, first link NSFW.
posted by gimonca at 5:06 AM on May 23, 2008


Certainly no editorializing here!
posted by DU at 5:09 AM on May 23, 2008


I think that's the point. My artistic statement is to NOT consider this NSFW.
but if a mod would be so kind to censor my post, I won't bear any ill will
posted by strawberryviagra at 5:09 AM on May 23, 2008


Somewhat similiar discussion in this FPP from yesterday with reference to the photographs of Hendrik Kerstens, Sally Mann and Jock Sturges.
posted by ericb at 5:22 AM on May 23, 2008


I won't comment on the rest, but I'd kill to get that 8x10 view camera in the second link.
posted by Dave Faris at 5:27 AM on May 23, 2008


Somewhat similar? Double, surely: apart from Henson the other links are old hat.
posted by progosk at 5:29 AM on May 23, 2008


My artistic statement is to NOT consider this NSFW.

You purposely not labeling naked photos as NSFW could get someone fired. I don't think that person's boss gives a shit about your artistic point.
posted by dobbs at 5:29 AM on May 23, 2008 [6 favorites]


I've emailed the mods - they'll show up and add the tag - sorry.

The post is specifically about Bill Henson - it's very notable news here in Australia - can we stay on topic?
posted by strawberryviagra at 5:33 AM on May 23, 2008


I think it's confusing. Can an underage kid legally give consent to participate in such a photo session?

Also, don't be daft. It's NSFW. Whether it should be or not is a moot point. Pictures of naked people are considered to be NSFW.
posted by liquorice at 5:40 AM on May 23, 2008


The post is specifically about Bill Henson - it's very notable news here in Australia - can we stay on topic?

Then you shouldn't have made your first link an entirely off-topic Google Image search, should you?
posted by languagehat at 5:51 AM on May 23, 2008


The post is specifically about Bill Henson.

Doesn't look it, strawberryviagra. What about including some more links about him, instead of just stirring the ol' polemic?
posted by progosk at 5:53 AM on May 23, 2008


oh, and: NSFW(?!) for the first three of those links.
posted by progosk at 5:54 AM on May 23, 2008


I fucked up.

Can I just put this to bed - I neglected to put the NSFW tag on the posting - my bad. I've sent an email to Jessamyn and Cortex to add one to the post. So yes, it is a moot point. Please, flag it and let's move on.

The underage kid would have given consent through their guardian or parents - I don't know this as fact, but it's a normal practice in undertaking this type of work. Do they have the wherewithal to comprehend this? I can't say. But where do we draw the line? Henson's work is dichotomous, post-apocalyptic - biblical. It necessitates the subject matter to reinforce its message. It's art.
posted by strawberryviagra at 5:58 AM on May 23, 2008


Wow - I'm getting an education tonight :)

Maybe we can delete and I can start again?
posted by strawberryviagra at 6:01 AM on May 23, 2008


I always find myself welcoming of these kinds of exhibitions and this kind of art, precisely because I end up questioning my own reactions and assumptions (i.e. What am I feeling? Why do I feel that way?). Sadly, it looks like I'm not going to get the opportunity this time around.

My prediction is that the charges will be dropped, or that the jury will find him not guilty. The politicians have had their opportunity to grandstand - the last thing they want is to be drawn into a serious discussion about art, freedom of expression, etc. In the meantime, the remaining part of the exhibition just got some free publicity, and talkback radio listeners get to feel a pleasurable frisson of outrage. It's almost win-win, you could argue.

(liquorice, I like discussions which are open and welcoming to all participants - that keep as many people involved as wish to be involved. To that end I try not to draw blood with barbed remarks or try to hurt people's feelings when I think they've done the wrong thing - who am I, after all? In that spirit permit me say to that insulting someone after they've apologized and tried to rectify their mistake seems a little tacky.)
posted by Ritchie at 6:10 AM on May 23, 2008


I think that's the point. My artistic statement is to NOT consider this NSFW.

Fine words strawberryviagra, but it's the internet here. Sure, you might be all artsie-inner-city-sydney-ish and sure, it's probably a very nice gallery where you can muse over the artist's intent, intellectualise over a coffee, and be as defensive as you want.

But somewhere, someone is having a wank.

I hate the meme, but this is why we can't have nice things.
posted by mattoxic at 6:11 AM on May 23, 2008


The underage kid would have given consent through their guardian or parents

Yeah, and twelve year olds are in such a commanding position to understand consent.
posted by mattoxic at 6:12 AM on May 23, 2008


NSFW added. Carry on.
posted by cortex at 6:12 AM on May 23, 2008


Thanks Cortex...
posted by strawberryviagra at 6:15 AM on May 23, 2008


Ritchie: Think of my "insult" as my artistic statement.
posted by liquorice at 6:16 AM on May 23, 2008


They are discussing this at RangeFinderForum. (And doing a better job, I'd say. Of course the original poster didn't link to pictures of straight up nakedness and neglect to mention whats up.)
posted by chunking express at 6:21 AM on May 23, 2008


.. twelve year olds are in such a commanding position to understand consent.

That seems like a blanket statement, but in any case twelve-year-olds still have most of their important decisions made for them by their parents, and no-one raises much of a fuss. I'm not a parent, nor do I have much experience with children, but unless some subtle aspect of the situation eludes me, a parent seems as well-placed as anyone to determine whether nude photographs will harm their child.
posted by Ritchie at 6:27 AM on May 23, 2008


I've traveled a long road to get my head around many things in this life - from a very small country town 4 hours out of Melbourne, after failing to get a job at the local abattoir, to taking an arts degree at 30 and discovering these artistic 'pretensions'.

I admit that when I first encountered Bill Henson's work - I was sceptical about its intent. I wrote a critique on it to gain a better understanding.

To stand before his Venice Biennale exhibition was a remarkable experience - it just suddenly made sense to me. I went into the exhibition ignorant - I guess I had your view mattoxic. I came away with a very different perspective.

To classify it as exploitative or as visual pedophilia, however, concerns me immensely - whatever your take on (his) art may be.
posted by strawberryviagra at 6:28 AM on May 23, 2008


I'm not a parent, nor do I have much experience with children, but unless some subtle aspect of the situation eludes me, a parent seems as well-placed as anyone to determine whether nude photographs will harm their child.

I think, sure if it art, well respected artist, an educated audience will attend the gallery- OK- with about a million caveats-maybe consent could be given.

But the photos make it to the internet, the ramifications of "consent" go way beyond the understanding of a twelve year old.

Don't get me wrong, I ain't no prude, but once those images leave the gallery and make it on to the internet, they become kiddie porn.
posted by mattoxic at 6:33 AM on May 23, 2008


The show includes large photographic prints of topless children

It's difficult to have a conversation without seeing the photos in question. How "sexualized" were the poses, e.g.? Does the "topless" quote above mean we can assume there were no genitals? That might explain why the police "have seized 20 of 41 photographs" - just the topless girls, maybe?

Need more data.
posted by mediareport at 6:34 AM on May 23, 2008


They are discussing this at RangeFinderForum. (And doing a better job, I'd say. Of course the original poster didn't link to pictures of straight up nakedness and neglect to mention whats up.)

No they aren't, they are talking crap.
posted by mattoxic at 6:35 AM on May 23, 2008


Ah, it appears that one of progosk's helpful links has some of the images, with breasts barred. Those few don't strike me as sexualized in any particularly exploitative way.
posted by mediareport at 6:40 AM on May 23, 2008


So it's all about context, then, agrees everyone so far. In a gallery, with wine sipping art-lovers: OK. On the internet, with creepers everywhere (creepers: teenspeak for pervs): bad.

I played in a band at a nudist camp once, and people were in various states of dress and nudity from babies to teens to grannies and there was no sexual vibe at all. It was all volleyball and Scrabble and camping out and getting some sun. I wish people could lighten up about nudity. I also wish for world peace and no more cyclones.
posted by kozad at 6:44 AM on May 23, 2008


OK, cortex, the NSFW issue is cleared up. Now how about having a go at the blatant editorializing on the front page?
posted by rocket88 at 6:46 AM on May 23, 2008


The imagery only works in context of the series - I think that is a principal issue for those not familiar with his work. I've been trying to find a range of imagery that demonstrates this, but it's quite difficult - I was hoping that the background links (to the art gallery of NSW - with it's scrolling images) would show this.

The series may be a subset of the Lux et Nox series, an interview of which, with a few of the images, can be found here

Relevant extract of the interview:

Your teenage subjects seem to exist outside of society in an almost hypnotic state.
The reason I like working with teenagers is because they represent a kind of breach between the dimensions that people cross through. The classical root of the word “adolescence” means to grow towards something. I am fascinated with that interval, that sort of highly ambiguous and uncertain period where you have an exponential growth of experience and knowledge, but also a kind of tenuous grasp on the certainties of adult life.
posted by strawberryviagra at 6:48 AM on May 23, 2008


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