Simon Biggs on 19 Dec 2000 17:24:18 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> This artwork degrades women.


I feel that Simon Penny's attack on Brandt's work is justifiable, at least
theoretically...but nevertheless problematic. For example, I think it is
not OK for Muslims to attack and ctritique Salman Rushdie, especially with
the vehemance they have, for critiquing their religion. From my perspective
(one which recognises religion and other systems of belief as negative to
human evolution) Rushdies critique was not only acceptable but also

But if we shift this a little so that the critics attack is against
something else, something most of us here would feel more sypathetic with
(eg: an attack on a work of art that maintains, whether conciously or not,
a male hegemony) then I guess my position would shift and then I would feel
it OK to not only accept a critique such as Simon's but also see it as a

Today in the UK a poster campaign for Opium perfume has been banned by the
Advertising Standards Council. It featured an image of a naked female,
prone, wearing stiletto's, a watch and ear-rings, one breast fully visible
and legs apart. I have to admit that the first time I saw it I almost
crashed the car! It received 700 or so complaints, mostly from women
complaining about gender stereotyping, and Muslims complaining about
offence to how they wish to see women represented. An interesting example
given what I have just written above.

I am against all forms of censorship...but then I also can see that for a
Muslim it would be deeply offensive to have such an image in a public
place, and if I were a woman I think I would get pretty angry seeing an
image that portrays me, by proxy, as a passive object of desire, a desire
that does not even recognise my own desire, or if it does then does not
recognise the polyvalent potential of desire. It is images that can be
talked about like this which I have always assumed were pornographic,
images which exist to titilate through the suppression visited upon the
subject and the voyeurism demanded of the viewer. So, whilst personally the
image did not bother me, and whilst I am against censorship, at the same
time I can see justification in society upholding the rights of individuals
and social groups to have a voice in defining what and what not can be put
in a public place. But I cannot see that in every respect, only in this and
perhaps similar cases...

Of course what Penny is doing is making a critique. He is not censoring the
work. His questions of the curators intentions in selecting the work is not
a call to censorship either but an acceptable query of them.

I will not go into the specifics of this case here as I have not seen the
work, but I hope that above some principles have been muted with which most
would agree and yet are clearly mutually exclusive.

Simon Biggs
London GB

Research Professor
Art and Design Research Centre
School of Cultural Studies
Sheffield Hallam University
Sheffield, UK

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