Of bad carpentry, embroidery
[NOTE: originally posted about 1pm AEST; updated about 5:30 pm same day]
What is correct art gallery protocol for the aftermath of a
police raid? This is something I had
never pondered, until I found myself outside a locked-up Linden gallery in St
Kilda, around 12:45pm yesterday. I
hadn’t known until later that afternoon of the reason for the unscheduled
closure, but certainly I’d had a feeling for a few days, after an article ran
on the Herald-Sun
website on 29 May
(1), that the current exhibition at Linden gallery (“Like Mike”, 18 May to 7 July 2013
might not run its full term.
As it turned out, I was just an hour or two too late to see
the uncensored exhibition (or maybe a remnant part of it at least, see below), and/or
the drama of a police censorship raid in action. I’m assuming that the raid probably happened
around Linden’s scheduled weekend opening time, 11am. There seems to be no detailed
information available on this, however, and perhaps even more strangely in this
amateur-media saturated age, no internet photos/video of the police raid in
To return to my opening question, Linden gallery’s
management have so far just stuck their head in the sand – at the time of
writing, there is no information on their website nor on their landline phone
answering machine. Yesterday, there wasn’t
even a humble notice on the locked front door – which would have been some
minimal consolation for those like myself who had made the journey to see the
And to answer the correct art gallery protocol for question:
personally, after a police raid, I’d convene an immediate
protest/media-conference – but if this not Linden gallery management’s style
(which I think is a safe assumption), then the other main option would seem to
be exactly what they have done – that is, clam up like the Catholic Church
faced with paedophiles in its ranks, and hope that the scandal somehow blows over – or at least
becomes someone else’s problem/“inheritance” (2) down the track.
Paul Yore, the artist at the centre of the raid, is right to
be angry that – as appears to be the implication in today’s Age
article – the whole “Like Mike” exhibition is now over
. On first
impression, this is a disservice to all the other artists in the group show, at
least. However, even if unintentionally
(and certainly gutlessly) Linden gallery management may have done Yore a favour
by not continuing with a remnant show on a censored basis. Viewed generously, this is more like the
artists themselves collectively going on strike, than a management lock-out.
As to the nitty-gritty of the alleged obscenity, Paul Yore’s voice-only interview
on the Linden website should be compulsory preparatory listening. Yore is a young gay man, raised as a
Catholic. Issues of gender identity and
sexuality are enshrined, you might say, in his art. For this exhibition, he made a mega shrine/grotto
– “a mountain of junk that you walk inside”, I think he terms it in the
interview – out of bits he sawed-up out of previous, smaller-scale shrines, and
nailed them together for the grand new erection – hence the “bad carpentry”
reference. Of course, the embroidery part
of the installation – which is not “bad”, AFAICT – is an obvious gendered
contrast to the engineering side of it.
Sitting ambiguously between embroidery and
carpentry/engineering are . . . the
dildos. Previous Yore installations, as
seems to be Gertrude Contemporary art gallery director Alexie Glass-Kantor’s
implication in a quote from an earlier version of today’s Age
article (on the Age
website last night (3)), did not feature actual dildos, but objects like
“She said one of his
works, showing a Justin Bieber poster with a motorised plastic banana at crotch
level, had been exhibited at her government-funded gallery in 2010 . . .
‘There will be penises
and there will be vaginas and there will be phalluses and there will be plays
on the body itself as a kind of, almost, playground. I don't mean literally
presented, like dildos or vibrators or cocks, I mean actually more as metaphor
through using $2 shop objects like plastic bananas. The Justin Bieber stuff is
all to do with what things that were taboo for him [i.e. Yore] as a teenager’”.
I presume that dildos are indeed things shuttered behind the
blacked-out windows of sex shops, for legal reasons - so Yore may have been
pushing the boundaries here. But when
you merge embroidery and engineering,
there is bound to be a collision of some sort.
One media report
says (tactfully?) that “parts” (4) of Yore's
installation were removed in the police raid.
I reckon it would have been the dildos that were being manhandled away
by the local St Kilda police. Now that
is art, too. But is dildo removal reverse-engineering of
Yore’s bad carpentry, or the unpicking of his delicate embroidery?
This morning, the Oz led the pack with the news that Paul
Yore is likely to be charged with producing and possessing child pornography. The Age followed
an hour and a half later.
The possession charge is an interesting one, as (what I
assume to be) the offending image (Justin Bieber with two dildos and a pearl
necklace) has been widely reproduced, including in the Age
(unpixellated). It is
still freely available online – so if it is indeed child pornography, Google and others are complicit also.
Interestingly enough, the Herald Sun
, which of course initially unleashed the attack dogs
here, has so far been silent on Yore’s pending charges. In this strange silence, there are distinct shades
of the Herald Sun
’s infamous front
page story on the morning of 19 April 2010, on Carl Williams being a police informer
– which was suddenly forgotten about, by the Herald Sun
anyway, when it was reporting Carl Williams’ murder a
few hours later. Washing away the blood from
one’s tainted hands does rather take time, it seems.
Also, the pixelated Justin-Bieber-with-one-dildo (and also a
pearl necklace) photo the Herald Sun
been reproducing doesn’t even come from the recent Paul Yore exhibition at Linden,
but rather a November-December 2012 exhibition at the Incinerator Gallery in Moonee Ponds
. What the Herald Sun
coyly pixellated was regarded, by one school teacher, as suitable for viewing by
older class-groups at least (Year 11 and 12), “as some of the works are quite
controversial” (same URL).
Further update 5 June
Re the possession charge of the (apparently) offending “image”
(Justin Bieber with two dildos and a pearl necklace) being widely reproduced
and available online, I should clarify that Yore’s work was a 3D
sculpture/installation, and so only partially an “image”, while the 2D
reproductions are, of course, all image. If
this gets to be argued in court, it could well come down to some fine point
like: is a 3D /actual dildo (mounted on a 2D collage) more sexualised than a 2D
photo of the said dildo and 2D collage?
Also, does the angle of the dildos’ mounting matter? The two dildos were apparently – to use an
engineering expression – cantilevered (leaning towards the vertical, like Melbourne’s
tollway giant sculpture “cheese stick”).
Both dildos were plumbed to be fountains – running a clear-ish, almost laminar
liquid (another fine legal point might be whether the viscosity, turbulence and
colour of this liquid matters). One of
these cantilevered water-(?) features pointed towards the viewer, the other towards
the cardboard cut-out’s face (yet again, is there a fine legal point in the
nuances of the angles here?).http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/cocurator-urges-boycott-of-controversial-gallery-20130610-2o05a.html
The Herald Sun
subsequently, if reluctantly, report Yore’s pending charges yesterday (5). Also, for some choice background on the initial
complainants, see Melbourne art blogger Mark Holsworth
. Nothing clear-ish or laminar about these three, that's for sure.
update 20 June 2013
“The gallery's ‘continued silence only furthers the negative connotations
around this exhibition,’ [Geoff] Newton said. ‘They should have had the guts
to open and have the rest of the works on show. I would encourage artists to
boycott the gallery if further inaction prevents the show from reopening.’
Linden chairwoman Sue Foley said: ‘The gallery understands the artists'
frustrations and is working diligently through a number of matters with a view
to reopening the exhibition as soon as possible.’”
Minus the rest of Paul Yore’s works, Linden gallery duly re-opened that same day
. Gallery director Melinda Martin, in an email to Geoff
Newton, explained the decision to censor the remnant of Yore's work, while
keeping the rest of the exhibition open, was that the remnant of Yore's work
was awaiting classification from the Australian Classification Board, which would
“provide advice and guidance to us about the nature of the content of the work
for visitors to the gallery”
Not surprisingly, given the gallery’s lengthy and
unexplained period of closure, the sole customer on its first afternoon of
re-opening appears to have been a security guard (ok, and presumably Age
journo Sonia Harford also) (ibid).
These two bleak facts speak volumes, of course – art needs
Big Brother’s prior permission, if not also personal attendance.
On a related note, I have only recently come across Joe
Dolce's (of “Shaddap you Face” fame) own similarly Kafka-esque encounter with
Victoria Police on a child-pornography witch-hunt. The article
is well-worth reading in full.
In Dolce’s case, it eventually blew over – but seemingly only
because a shaken Dolce did a lot of Internet research on his smart-phone (his computer
was confiscated at the time, of course), to establish that the images in
question were both unquestionably art, and widely published elsewhere, in
digital and hardcopy.
The pressure Dolce felt here understandably causes him to
think that the onus, to prove that it’s art
should not be on the accused in these scenarios.
But nor should rank-and-file police be expected to know the difference:
“What happened to me was not the fault of police. After the Henson
case, there were recommendations to create a body of experts from both sides of
this grand divide. The government ignored them. All that is needed are some
art-savvy police – people who know the difference between child photography and
pornography, between innocence and intent. Otherwise anyone might expect that
knock on the door” (same URL; emphasis added).
“Art-savvy police”? Possibly. But in Paul Yore’s case, basic common-sense
surely could be used instead. If the director
of the Australian Tapestry Workshop is prepared to offer Yore the workshop's
full support (penultimate URL), the mind boggles at what degree of infiltration
of society by child pornographers the police case against Yore must rest on – Prince
Charles must be in on it too, for starters (ibid).
Yet another update 22 September
Paul Yore has been charged with child pornography offences,
on 6 September 2013 (election eve). The three-month lag
between police seizing the evidence, and the laying of charges, is surprising,
and suggests that there was much going on behind the scenes before the decision
was belatedly made. One creaking,
ramshackle system (a/the legal one) thus rather fittingly, I suggest, gets to
deconstruct Yore’s ramshackle sculpture.
The stakes are high here – only one, not both of these edifices can be
found to be made out of rubbish, and silenced accordingly.
Here I am not trying to be oblique per se. My point is that there such a thing as bad law,
as much as bad art. You may think that
the existence of bad art is a commonplace, or glut, while bad law is
(fortunately) an exquisite rarity. Well, no – not if you throw sex into the
Paul Yore’s seized sculpture is one trial mainly, in my
opinion, for being bad art masquerading
as exquisite rarity
. Bad law’s turf
has thus been blatantly infringed, and it must make an example of Yore and Yore
alone – however illogical* this may be – to restore its status as a singular
artefact, a collector’s item that will surely be savoured in legal textbooks
So what has sex got to do will all of this (and aren’t child
pornography laws inherently good things)?
Sex is inherently both delicate and dirty; or to invoke Yore, sex is embroidery
mixed with engineering. Child pornography laws do not deal with this dichotomy
very well, because they de-aestheticize everything. I am not saying that “art” is a thing above child
pornography; merely that badness matters a great deal in sex, and if child
pornography is assumed to be about sex, badness should also matter with it.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that there is such a thing
child pornography. Rather, I am jumping off from what should
have long been a notorious set of photos, including some topless ones, of a 13
year-old girl: “unprofessional, unfocused, cropped haphazardly, with no regard
for lighting.” You will no doubt have heard of criminal sexual acts closely
connected with these photos, but it is very unlikely that you will have ever
pondered just the “sheer badness” of the photos. Legally, of course, assessing the focus (etc)
of the photos seems trite, to put it mildly – “bad” or not, the nude
ness of the photos is what I’d term
an overwhelming category. And laws or
not, you are probably now thinking anyway: What sort of an artsy pervert would be concerned
The answer is that the above quotes
come from the photographed
13 year-old girl (now a 50 year-old woman) and are her long-ago, but still
apparently vivid, recollections of the on-the-spot aesthetic judgements of her
family, her parents in particular, upon seeing the photos soon after they were taken in 1977. The bad modelling-shots (the pretext for the
photos) triggered a family scene which revealed an act that in turn became
worldwide news and is still notorious to this day. The girl has ever since been better known as
the girl that Roman Polanski raped. Her
narrative implies, I think it is fair to say, that the badness of the photos was
a violation that kept on giving, or taking (you be the judge of that). Certainly, had Polanski’s “modelling-shots”
been non-shambolic, the subsequent lives of two people (at least) may well have
been very different. Which (I stress) is
not to say that Polanski’s crime was aesthetic, rather than criminal assault: rather, that bad
child pornography tends to put itself on trial, anyway.
Unlike Polanski, Paul Yore has not harmed any actual
children in the making of his art; his is not a pretext, or record of a crime,
in that sense. I accept that legally,
this is not wholly the point. Equally,
however, Yore is making the determined – and in my view, also a socially
necessary, if courageous – point that a 12 year-old girl’s c.2010 bedroom shrine
to the-then 15 year-old Justin Bieber is not necessarily as wholesome or
innocent as we would conventionally assume.
Not that Yore is exploring, as such, the sexuality of 12 year-old girls
(or some boys, of course) – but he is definitely unpacking some common things
usually just humoured – and so in the adult scheme of things, buried – as
transient crushes. I do feel sorry for Justin
Bieber, however – to be actually sexualised, like he wasn’t once a life-sized (15
It is too easy, I think Yore is saying, to think that we all
grow up and leave our squeaky-clean (or not) fairy-tale crushes behind, without trace. As adults, we sometimes need the jolting of
the intentionally bad
– to put our wholesome
selves, or our childhoods at least, on trial.
Yore presumably took a calculated gamble that the patent ramshackle
ridiculousness of his shrine-sculpture would put the sexualised aspects of it
in a rigorous context. Instead, its very
badness has only unleashed a chain of grim, literal causation.
What seems to be beyond dispute is that Paul Yore, through
his art, has (presumably) inadvertently put himself on trial, instead. And we are none the wiser.
* Illogical because 2D reproductions of the offending work don't seem to be a problem.
Dana McCauley, “Offensive art involving Justin Bieber
collage creates controversy at St Kilda's Linden Centre for Contemporary Art”, Port Phillip Leader
May 29, 2013 11:06am
Shannon Deery, “Archbishop Denis Hart begs forgiveness
for Church mishandling child abuse”, Sunday Herald Sun
June 02, 2013:
“Archbishop Hart said he first
learned of the horrors of the abuse crisis after becoming vicar general in
1996 . . . He said he realised the problem had been
swept under the carpet by his predecessors, including former archbishop Frank
Little who he conceded kept few, if any, records of complaints and moved at
least one paedophile priest to a new parish and into the lives of innocent
children . . . We did inherit a situation where ... we inherited great
Goya Dmytryshchak and Andrea Petrie, “Police seize
artworks, issue warrant” Age
1, 2013 9:30pm
Albeit the same Age
article also says some Yore “pictures” were removed – suggesting that it may
have been instead the teenage/Bieber cardboard cut-outs that were deconstructed and
removed, so possibly leaving the dildos adrift in the remnant installation, but
in a presumably less controversial context.
AAP, Dana McCauley, “Art involving 'obscene' Justin Bieber collage triggers possible charges for Melbourne aritist Paul Yore”, Herald Sun
, Port Phillip Leader June 04, 2013 3:33pm