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Child porn or art censorship by wannabe Tory Pollies?

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Mark Holsworth
Melbourne art and culture critic and blogger at Black Mark

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Part of Paul Yore’s installation The Arse End of the World, 2013, at Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts. Photo Devon Ackerman

Police removed works by well-known collage artist Paul Yore’s Everything is F-cked installation at a St Kilda gallery in Melbourne on the weekend, after claims the art amounted to child pornography. No charges have yet been laid, although Yore was interviewed by Victorian police on Monday and released pending a court summons. If charged and found guilty, he could face up to 10 years in prison for producing and possessing child pornography. But did the tip-off to police come from someone with an agenda?

The motivation behind the Victorian police raid on the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts is becoming clearer with more research. The Victorian police are not in the habit of visiting art galleries looking for child pornography, but they are too easily manipulated to do just that by conservative wannabe politicians.

On May 28, Adrian Jackson, who had ties with the Liberal Party, and Chris Spillane, a Liberal Party candidate for the local council, were at Port Phillip City Council meeting along with councillor Andrew Bond. Bond, an independent and a former church youth group leader, has called the exhibition ‘obscene’ and compared it to hardcore pornography.

Spillane and Jackson are both controversial local figures, with Spillane previously branding multiculturalism a ‘waste of money’ and ‘failed dogma’ and Jackson an ex-Australian Army wannabe politician who has stood for office as an independent candidate and runs a local B&B that bans Israeli guests. Given their backgrounds, Jackson and Spillane don’t appear to be the usual gallery visitors.

These three people were the only people complaining about the exhibition in an article in local newspaper The Leader. In council’s public question time Spillane’s agenda is made clear in the minutes of the meeting:

‘Chris Spillane asked about a current art exhibition at the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts in St Kilda. He stated that while he hasn’t seen the exhibition himself, from what he has heard about the exhibition it is offensive and pornographic in nature. He suggested that the exhibition should be shut down or at the very least there should be more appropriate signage warning of the contents, age restrictions in place, and this section of the gallery should be cordoned off. He asked, as sponsors of the gallery, what action the Council intends to take?

‘Mayor Amanda Stevens responded that the gallery is run by an independent board and that there is already appropriate signing regarding the exhibition in question in place.’

Meanwhile, Jackson’s agenda become apparent in a comment that he appears to have made online at The Leader, posted at 7:31pm on June 2, it states:

‘Mission accomplished – the kiddy art exhibition is now closed. Next step is getting the Linden Gallery to be self-funding instead of behaving like a parasite on ratepayers. Currently $100,000pa is spent by Port Phillip Council on maintenance and equipment in the Linden which has been a ratepayer-owned building for the last 25 years or so. This money does not appear in the Linden’s annual Statement of Affairs (see their website) as far as I can see but what is included is about $250,000pa in ratepayer funds in ‘operating cost’. All this for six or seven exhibitions per year involving about six artists per exhibition. The large postcard exhibition could be moved to the town hall and the Linden closed if it can’t be self-funded. Other galleries in Port Phillip can fund themselves so why can’t the Linden committee. I understand that this year’s exhibition was probably organised last year before the current new committee member joined it.’

This story is more about the ambitions of certain people involved in local politics creating a controversy to be noticed and Victoria police being unable to learn from the experiences of their NSW counterparts with the raids on Bill Henson and Juan Davila’s exhibitions. This is yet another sorry and pathetic part in the story of Australian censorship.

The gallery, St Kilda’s Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts, is one of Melbourne’s oldest council-funded art galleries and has a reputation for quality exhibitions. It is well known for its annual postcard exhibition. I have no doubt that the curatorial team had appropriate warnings (warnings are so commonplace now in exhibitions). Sue Foley, the chair of the Linden board, released a statement this morning saying: ‘The centre is concerned about the nature of the allegations made against Mr Yore, however it continues to support freedom of expression that has artistic merit.’ Foley added that the exhibit remains closed and the gallery has fully co-operated with police.

The artist Yore won the $8000 Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award 2013. Last year he was exhibited at the NGV’s Atrium at Federation Square. There is an interview with him from last year, along with un-pixelated photographs of his art in Desktop.

Linden’s exhibition, Like Mike, is a homage to Australian artist Mike Brown and opened on May 17. The curators of the exhibition are Jan Duffy and Geoff Newton. Duffy is an experienced curator as is Newton, who is well known as the director of Neon Parc gallery. Newton, from my knowledge of him and his work, is a man who seriously wants to advance art.

In an interview about the current exhibition, Yore describes his installation:

‘It has a sickly sweet surface, it is very colourful and alluring. But then there are deeper things sitting just beneath the surface of the work that talk to more symbolic ideas, [that] relate to society as a society of excess, spectacle, consumerism, of frenzy and even violence as well. There’s a darkness underneath the work that is kind of sarcastically pointed to through the bright joyful aspects of the work. I see the work very much as a celebration of queer culture. There’s a lot of phallocentric imagery … I guess I wanted to talk about the phallocentric nature of our culture as well.’

Police may be investigating Yore, but detectives and the mainstream media have yet to examine the conservative political agenda behind the complaint.

*This is an edited version of two posts that originally appeared on Black Mark.

 


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