Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bill Henson? Doesn't he voice The Muppets?

The recent blanket coverage on the topic of Bill Henson’s art is both frustratingly hysterical,* and often boring. I was weary of the debate by Monday lunch, mainly because there’s really no answer to any of the questions being posed.

However, I get the feeling that the right questions are not being asked.

I went to an NGV Bill Henson exhibition about 4 years ago. On the one hand, I could appreciate his eerie brilliance. On the other hand, I was made to feel uneasy by this same brilliance, particularly because I was accompanied by a woman who was herself a victim of child sexual abuse. She too appreciated his craft, but left the exhibition clearly on edge and in tears.

I decided that Bill Henson was a talented creep.

The public debate is centred around the question of ‘art’ and ‘porn’. But I have a better question to ask, though it’s one which, like all the questions being asked, we'll never get an answer to. Based on the (often incorrect) Buddhist axiom that the ‘morality of an act is in its intention’, I ask, does Bill Henson get his rocks off on the thought of sexually engaging with underage girls? Or to put it more bluntly, is he a paedophile? Not ‘do you think he is a paedo?’, ‘IS he one?’ is my unanswerable question.

I don’t think the images are ‘porn’, by any definition. They are ‘art’ – debate over (in my head). .

But does this ‘art’ come at the expense of underage girls’ dignity, development, respect and legal rights? If so, then I think the ‘anti-Henson’ brigade have an argument to make.

Cate Blanchett may call it ‘censorship’, but if just one model turns out to be the victim of Henson’s sexual predations, then censor away, I say.

In the meantime, surely they could just put an ‘R’ rating on his exhibitions instead of confiscating the works? Confiscating his art is like demolishing a bank so it won’t get robbed.

If only Henson could use his talents for good instead of (alleged) evil.

* Oxford comma!


Gabriella said...

I'm currently OS and couldn't find any of these pictures anywhere in order to have a view either way. The picture at the top of this post looks anything but pornographic, but you never know, these kinds of pictures might just be the ones that get Bill Henson's rocks off.

But then anything could get his rocks off.

Stubbadub said...

I think the publicity has been far more damaging to the children then any of the works ever would have been.

Creamy Goodness said...

At the risk of steering this post off-topic with the driving skills of a pre-tumour Ted Kennedy, this at least represented one instance where Cate Blanchett's opinion was ever so slightly relevant.

Yet still I found myself wishing she'd piss off. The recent overload of Our Cate (tm) fever has me clenching my teeth whenever her factory-second porcelain doll head comes on screen. And given her views are sought on every other matter, I'm left clenching other parts of my anatomy until the press release comes out with her reasoned and respected take on which hand I should use with which to wipe.

Having said that, I'm still going to get tickets to see her starring in STC's presentation of a musical based on the works of Billy Joel and directed by her husband:
"Upton Girl".

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Good piece, Perseus.

I was going to write something about this but I'm a) lazy and b) on holidays.

The arts' world is in a major tizz, demanding Kruddy do "something" about any potential prosecution of Henson.

So, Kruddy should intervene in a prosceution in NSW to demand that Henson not be charged because Henson is an artist.

Really constructive logic there, comrades.

PS. I noticed the oxford comma too.

Perseus said...

Creamy: Rudd has passsed a law that every discussions on every topic ion contemporary Australia must be run through Blanchett.

She was dux of the 20/Twenty summit (or whatever it was called).

Ramon: Yes, in your birthday-binge absence I'm going on the 'give me an inch' theory. Hurry up and come back though and start posting because I'm tanking already.

Where the fuck is Boogey?

And Puss? I miss Puss.

Puss In Boots said...

Still here, dude. But why on earth would you miss me?

Puss In Boots said...

Oh, and I climbed to Dharamsala too.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

I'll see if I can up with a Clam Watch sometime soon.

Perseus said...

I missed you Puss because you're an ex-stripper with Aspbergers with a $1200 handbag who rides a motorbike and speaks Spanish without drinking any alcohol who climbed to Dharamsala, and I work in an office and I sometimes walk to the milk bar.

Puss In Boots said...

Trust me, I am far less exciting than you. My entire existence is spent studying.

Also, the Dharamsala reference was in relation to your Oxford comma.

catlick said...

I've been creeped out by Henson's work for years, but never felt that there was room to voice my disquiet. An interesting comment over at Lavatory Rodeo hypothesised that our 'way of seeing' was a result of our cultural conditioning, and those with a 'welfare' background would always register the works differently from those from a 'visual arts' background. Perhaps this affects my capacity to 'see' the work. I know three fifths of fuck all about 'art', but I suspect that my reaction to the Henson piece shown here is muted because it is allegorical. The piece emailed around the planet as the signature work on the gallery invitations seems more like a portrait. I'm not sure a realistic naked portrait of a 13 year old would be accepted into the Archibald without some questions being asked. Henson's works are not portraits as such, but the net result is the same.
It has been said there have been no complaints from his models. I find, though, that their description of the process has unfortunate paralells with the 'grooming' of juveniles. The stuff is out there now, and thank God the press seems to have restrained itself in not pursuing the current model. When we look at an ancient statue we hypothesise about the model, when we view a portrait we draw conclusions about the sitter's character based on the representation. When I view the Henson work in question, all I see is a readily identifiable young woman who is posed, naked. The 'art' fails to supersede that reality.

Mr E Discharge said...

If the purpose of staging an exhibition is to increase public awareness of the Artist and his work, Henson has been wildly successful.

Maybe it's pornography, maybe it's not. From the artists point of view, who cares? We're all talking about it. That's all that really matters, evidenced by the artists lack of public outrage.

The Hack said...

Still here, and having a lovely evening.

Mr E Discharge said...

Strange, I got an email from Tuberculosis this morning saying much the same thing.

The Hack said...

Cholera says hi, Mr E.

Mr E Discharge said...

Hi to all in the swamp.

Perseus said...

Oh, g'day Mr. E. Long time no read. Though you called us all a bunch of 'circle jerkers' last I remembered. Care to join the circle? We have a biscuit.

Do you still have that 'Saint Just' icon? I laughed every time.

By the way, are Blackstar and Roark still around?

Mr E Discharge said...

G'day Perseus,
I seem to recall you once referring to me as "a bitter old cunt". So be it. Close, but no cigar. nice work here though. Kudos, Cunt!

Perseus said...

Nope. Wasn't me. I don't think it was, anyway. Maybe I did, but I can't remember. I do remember being offended for ten seconds at your 'circle jerker' comment, thinking at the time, Oh, but I liked him. Still, welcome. Ramon is on a bender and will be back shortly, and Stubb who owns the site is nowhere to be seen. Boogey is also missing in action, or doubling up as Creamy Goodness. I don't know.

Mr E Discharge said...

Sweat ye not, Perseus.

As i said, you were close.

Loved your Exodus review.

Perseus said...

Not sweatin' at all, and thanks.

Sweatergirl said...

I think we are experiencing a pedophilia paranoia epidemic which classifies all naked pictures of children/adolescents as sexual. What is wrong with us that we suddenly start seeing the human body through a pervert's eyes? In classical painting the naked form was a worthy subject.

I think Henson's images are beautiful and unsettling. The reason they are interesting is because they are ambiguous. They capture the uncertainty of adolescence so well.

I do understand the issue of consent for young people. But the images would have been seen by far less people if Miranda Devine et al hadn't launched a Mccarthy-esque witch hunt into the exhibition.

wari lasi said...

lpfPerhaps I'm taking an over simplistic view of this. But the first thing that occurred to me when I saw it on the news was what I'd say to someone who asked me if they could take photos of my 12 year old daughter naked. I just can't see how they could put it any terms where I wouldn't want to punch the sick fuck in the face.

But that's just me. I really don't get a lot of ths "art" shit. Too often it seems like some form of perversion being justified by calling itself art.

Sweatergirl said...

Wari most of his models are the kids of people in the art world. He knows the families and I guess they feel comfortable about it.

wari lasi said...

SG, I agree with the fact that there's just too much hysteria over paedophilia these days. It's cheap moral high ground. And I don't know as much about this particular guy as other people seem to. But I just can't get comfortable with it. Maybe that's the idea? Is it meant to be provocative? To promulgate the debate we're having now? I'm a bit of a tired old prude I suppose.

WitchOne said...

The naked form seems to be a great indicator of changing attitudes in the world. Take older paintings and put them along side more modern stuff. Wasn't Chloe (in Y and J's in Melbourne) under the age of consent at the time of the painting? Yet she is considered a classic.

Spencer Tunick, a modern day photographer gets thousands of naked people in one shot (I did the Melbourne one and there were kids as well as adults there).

If you track our history though art you can see our attitudes change and from that you can get a great insight to the culture at the time.

Pedophiles will get their rocks off at any naked image of children, those of us who are not completely fucked up will look deeper for meaning.

Hensons' art is dark and disturbing, but you're thinking about it aren't you?

Sweatergirl said...

I guarantee that real child porn is not just a bit unsettling but fucking revoltingly sick.
While police waste valuable resources pulling Henson's artwork out of galleries, actual pedophiles are out abusing kids.

John said...

I'd say there's not yet enough hysteria about pedophilia.

Hysteria about harmless art photography on the other hand has run completely amuck.

Perseus said...

I agree Sweatergirl. The problem is peodophiles, not the artworks of Bill Henson. That's why I think the first and most important question to ask is, "Is he a paedophile?".

His artwork is problematic, but it's not the pressing concern.

wari lasi said...

His artwork is problematic, but it's not the pressing concern.

The pressing concern I think is that someone took some pictures of naked 12 year old girls and put them up in a gallery.

This issue is about an act that in itself is abhorrent. Call it art and it becomes OK.

I'm sorry, but I just can't get there.

RandomGit said...

But does this ‘art’ come at the expense of underage girls’ dignity, development, respect and legal rights?


My brain is untangled. Thanks.

patchouligirl said...

Why are we so hung up on nudity? I think the naked body is beautiful. If someone wants to inappropriately sexualise it thats their problem.

40 years ago my dad won a photographic prize in an Australian magazine for a picture called 'red and blue', a photo of two little girls on a swing, wearing nothing but ribbons in their hair. It is a beautiful photo, but today he'd probably be locked up for taking it. Its a real shame we allow a small proportion of sicko's to rob us all of what should be our right, to appreciate natures beauty in innocence.

eat my shorts said...

And just to lower the tone (because I'm oh so good at it):

Every time I click through the channels on Austar this week, I'm greeted with "Bill Henson" flicking across the ticker, and my brain responds with ... "Oooh, Jim Henson. I like The Muppets, shall I watch?"

And invariably, I'm disappointed. Am I subjected to a documentary featuring The Muppets and Fraggle Rock? No. Not even close.

Why is there no E!THS: Jim Henson? Hm? Why, oh why?!

Fad MD said...

Ah, Fraggle Rock.

I have a really cool mp3 of a punk version of the theme song.

eat my shorts said...

Who is the band? Where can I get it?

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Well. it's now 2012 and your heart sure was in the right place back in 2008 in noting the distressed response of your friend! I saw that retro show too, and every other since including most of the 2008 shocker, being in receipt of the offending invitation (to "a private viewing" no less!).

Adhere strongly to your humanitarian values even if you are a lone voice in the wilderness - evidence is accumulating that will leave many famous alabaster faces very red when the truth emerges. The poppeteer has had several shows at his two galleries (both owned by women, btw) which have become more audaciously paedophilic since that oz prosecution failed (cos boundary riding is what he does best and he retains a bunch of smart lawyers and publicists), slyly interspersed with landscapes to throw us philistine ole duffers off the scent. A la the UK's savile row, we have been following suit here with our own beautifully stitched art world cover-up by wealthy and powerful stakeholders, civil libertarians (read libertines), celebs and literati, starting with the collective howling down of anyone with genuine concern for a butt-naked twelve year-old photographic model as moral panickers and part of a right-wing art-censorship conspiracy, meanwhile claiming a priori rights to creative freedom over our kids' entitlement to grow up free of sexual predation and abuse. In the process, as a reward for giving the feds the slip, the butterfly collector has been assiduously restored to the establishment fold and promoted to the high art pantheon, not merely to protect a commodity but to quarantine reputations and justify decades of appalling collusion and poor judgment. You're getting the story and now it's our turn. Never before has such a patent mediocrity received such florid adulation, but in this case, with an art elite claiming artistic genius, the hagiography and mythologising is harder to call. But you can take it from me, it is the emperor who is really, really, REALLY naked...and it won't be long before some wise old child steps up and calls it for what it is.