Is it Pornography or a Social Statement? The case against Paul Yore

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 Dr Helen Topliss

“Like Mike”, Linden Galleries, May- June, 2013

The way we view art is the way we view the world. In a middle class society we usually have middle class art with a few exceptions. In more troubled societies we often see art as a tool of ideology and transformational values. Every now and again we get an artist who touches the raw nerve of a decade; I see it as a periodic occurrence in Australia; think of the David Hanson’s media frenzy in the 1990s, or Juan Davila’s work in the 1980s.  Before that the witch hunt surrounding the Annandale Imitation Realists in Sydney in the 1960s where an actual court case found the artist Mike Brown guilty of exhibiting pornography.

The latter art scandal is very relevant to the recent succès de scandale, surrounding Paul Yore’s work at Linden Galleries. Yore’s assemblages have been seized by the Police; he has been accused of exhibiting pornography of the worst kind, because the imagery contains photographs of children positioned via collage, onto what were considered to be a lewd or pornographic context.

Paul Yore’s exhibits are part of an exhibition held over five galleries in Melbourne, to pay homage to the work of the Annandale Imitation Realist artist Mike Brown. If Mike Brown were looking down from above right now he would be chortling with glee. He would see this as an extension of his own battles in the courts over his work in the 1960s which was judged as pornographic, and which gained him the dubious title of the first Australian artist to be sentenced for producing immoral art. This all happened a long time ago in Sydney, in 1965.

We are now pretty hardened to the fact and presence of female pornography in art (and advertising), but we draw the line, and are immensely sensitive to any whiff of pornography in relation to children. Within the context of the scandalous precipitation of ongoing internet revelations regarding child porn, and the current reopening of cases related to transgressions committed by Catholic priests, the public is understandably wary of such issues.

Paul Yore works in the tradition of his predecessor Mike Brown, He is addicted to sculptural assemblage, to using found objects, and calypso colored palettes. His titles reflect his aesthetic such as: “The Big Rainbow Funhouse of Cosmic Brutality.” Yore’s mentor is the Chilean artist Juan Davila who also clashed with authorities at the Sydney Biennale in the 1982 when his painting “Vagina Dentata,” was removed by Police.

The kind of art that Yore is exhibiting will always have its detractors because it isn’t in good taste. Its aesthetic is similar to Mike Brown’s in that it is frankly Populist and it generally seeks to shock. Unlike Modernist art with its low-key imagery, or non-confrontational abstraction, it is overt and in your face. “What are you going to do about it?” The answer is to contact the authorities and have the show closed down instead of having a public debate.

It never surprises me that when it comes to issues about art, every man and his dog has an opinion. When we consider other aspects of professional life such as Medicine or the Law we always confer with a Professional who has been trained to offer an opinion, or a solution. But when it comes to art, it seems that individuals can use their civic rights to pontificate about what constitutes good art and what does not.

To go back to Mike Brown and the Annandale Imitation Realists, their art was based on the premise of the validity of all artistic expression. Their art was often made out of found objects held in place by a certain aesthetic rationale and a great amount of humor and irony. The values of their day of Modern art and society were ridiculed. The stenciled quotations, the collages, graffiti and photographic, pornographic imagery were all a part of their idiom.

Mike Brown had a meta-position on pornography in art that he elaborated in an essay he wrote for his exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1995. Brown wrote that his view of pornography was Jungian, that it represented  ‘Shadow’ material, it revealed the hidden beast in mankind:

imagery, or fantasy which represents the socially forbidden and the morally reprehensible whose suppression, though often necessary, can never be complete (even in saints) since if fully rejected by the conscious mind the Shadow is certain to surface in nightmares or in repellent character traits such as moralistic hypocrisy.[1]

In other words the Shadow is an important expression of catharsis, expelling all the deviancy and ugliness that does unfortunately exist out there.

I wonder if society is laying the blame on the wrong culprits in this instance, when the real perpetrators of child pornography and abuse are in privileged positions, and are able to protect themselves from the law just because they can.

I also wonder whether the good Samaritans who object to pornography in art also do so to the actual instances of child porn and abuse in our society today. What about the cover up that the Catholic Church has practiced in so many cases over the last few decades?

As Mike Brown saw it, art can be decorative and harmless (like Matisse’s comfy armchair) or it can be political, raw and confrontational. Only the latter acts as a safeguard to our democratic and moral values.

[1] National Gallery of Victoria, The Art of Mike Brown: Power to the People, Melbourne, 1995 p 29.

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