Friday, 10 January 2014
MORE ON PORNOGRAPHY
I think a lot about pornography. I’ve written about it too; you’ll probably be familiar with my tweets regaling the powers that be that writers and artists have no clear guidelines on what exactly is pornographic. But am I being fair? One girl’s porn is another girl’s erotica. There is stuff that disturbs me profoundly, but may not affect you one teensy weensy little bit.
Let me say right away that I am not talking about “hard core” porn here. I wish that there were not those horrible images of children on the Web. I wish that the sites could be shut down as soon as they pop up. “Snuff” films too. Sites where people can get off on death and torture; that is not what I am talking
A while back I looked at Aubrey Beardsley’s beautiful pornographic art. Beardsley’s lovely pen, ink and brushwork. His images are graceful; elegant. Yet they do convey humiliation; disgrace and depravity. Tiny naked men with massive erections being farted on by huge women. The image of lascivious Salome speaking lovingly to the severed head of John the Baptist hints at necrophilia. And even more tiny men are dwarfed by their own massive erections.
I get the idea that Aubrey Beardsley was not comfortable in Victorian society. That the Victorians were sexually repressed has been well documented. Aubrey Beardsley delights in showing the hypocrisy of the Victorian era; he made people think, then and now, by poking fun at society and its values. And that made me think again. What about social context? Different eras have different values and standards about what is acceptable and not. So does social context justify pornography? Does Aubrey Beardsley’s clever satirization of Victorian sensibilities and values make pornography okay?
How about the Art of Hans Bellmer?
Die Puppe series 1932
Hans Bellmer was born in the city of Kattowitz in 1902. Kattowitz was then part of the German Empire (it is now Katowice, Poland) Until 1926 he’d been working as a draughtsman for his own advertising company. He initiated his doll project to oppose the fascism of the Nazi Party by declaring that he would make no work that would support the new German state. Represented by mutated forms and unconventional poses, his dolls were directed specifically at the cult of the perfect body then prominent in Germany.
He produced the first doll in Berlin in 1933. Long since lost, the assemblage can be described thanks to photographs that Bellmer took at the time of its construction.
The images show Bellmer's assemblage, made of wood, flax fiber, plaster, and glue, under construction in his studio or arrayed on a bare mattress or lacy cloth. Seductive props sometimes accompany the doll—a black veil, eyelet undergarments, an artificial rose. Naked or, in one case, wearing only a cotton undershirt, the armless doll is variously presented as a skeletal automaton, a coy adolescent, or an abject pile of discombobulated parts. In one unusual image, the artist himself poses next to his standing sculpture, his human presence rendered ghostly through double exposure. Here Bellmer's own body seems to dematerialize as his mechanical girl, wigged, with glass eyes, wool beret, sagging hose, and a single shoe, takes on a disturbing reality.
And what of today? There is so much porn available on the Web it is difficult to talk about it constructively. A lot of porn involves children. The police are vigilant, but find it increasingly difficult to keep up with the demand of sick minds.
We have to talk about the terms and conditions of pornography. I think of the children’s Beauty Pageant industry; it is popular in the US and becoming increasingly popular here in the UK. Children, girls as young as three playing at being mini adults, polished and coiffed. As Melissa Henson argues in her recent CNN.com op-ed, subjecting young girls to child pageants contributes to the sexualizing of 3-year-olds. For example, a recent episode of Toddlers and Tiaras contained footage of a mother dressing up her daughter like Julia Roberts’ prostitute character on Pretty Woman for a pageant. Furthermore, on both shows, parents are often applying layers of makeup and spray tanning their daughters for performances and dressing the girls in risqué costumes that are just part of the show.
Elizabeth Day, writing for the Observer on Sunday 11th July 2010 interviewed Amber age seven.
“They parade in miniature ballgowns, wear false eyelashes and can be as young as five… We venture into the world of mini beauty pageants to meet the young princesses and their pushy parents.
“To all intents and purposes, Amber is a confident little girl with an array of enthusiasms and interests. But it is hard not to notice as she talks that her eyelids are powdered with gold eyeshadow. Her hair has been styled with two sparkly hairclips and she is wearing a pale pink dress studded with fabric flowers. Later, she will show me a certificate she was given for taking part in the Mini Miss UK competition earlier this year. Because as well as being a normal seven-year-old, Amber is also an aspiring child beauty queen.
Did she enjoy entering the beauty pageant? Amber thinks for a second and then nods her head. Will she be entering any more? "Yes." She pauses, a touch uncertainly. "If Mummy told me to."”
The work of Jake and Dinos Chapman is about as shocking as you can get. Children, girls, sexualized and grotesque. Are the artists saying something about childhood and children as a commodity?
"The job of a work of art is to raise questions about its terms and conditions," said Jake Chapman in an interview with Time Out London. "That’s what we do. We present the viewer with a puzzle. We put an injunction on speedy consumption, by refusing to offer a straightforward aesthetic experience. And to defend the integrity of the work, we produce a bit of turbulence that makes it more than a simple sip – of art." Dinos told Time Out, "By the time we die we will have done everything – flower arranging, pottery, origami… We have no signature style; the work is recognizable for its attitude, not its form."
The age at which very young girls are sexualised is becoming younger and younger.
Jake and Dinos Chapman investigate society’s taboos. Their fiberglass mannequins are unsettling and unnerving; they are meant to be. The girls in their distorted poses stare out blankly; their gaze challenging the viewer.
The Chapman’s images are unpleasant; to say that they are not nice is a terrible understatement.The very existence of the mannequins addresses the very heart of human experience and moral behaviour. We don’t know what to think and we flounder. We are repelled. But surely these grotesque mannequins are nothing to
do with us, are they? The girls eyes lock onto our horrified gaze.
“Don’t you dare judge us;” they are saying. “You created us.”
Thanks to Francis Potts for introducing me to the work of Hans Bellmer. Francis can be found at his blog.
and at Twitter. @Francispotts