Aesthetics, Art & Pornography

29 Dec

In June I attended a philosophy conference at Senate house that explored some of the philosophical issues and theories on contemporary porn practices in relation to the aesthetics of porn within art. Some of the key speakers included: Martin Kemp (Oxford) , Jerrold Levinson (Uni. Maryland) , Jesse Prinz (City Uni. New York); Elisabeth Schellekens (Uni. Durham), Stephen Mumford (Uni. Nottingham) and Pamela Church Gibson (UAL) as well as some artists such as Jordan Baseman and Michael Petry.

I found it rather intimidating at times being placed amongst academicians who are so deeply involved in aesthetics and philosophy, presenting their papers as if it were on trial and then debating and arguing each other’s papers as if it were a boxing match (it was funny watching them bicker like children). It was mostly a pleasant experience, meeting some of the speakers and swapping contacts for further research was a bonus.

A key word that propped up in almost all of the papers was VOYEURISM. One can not talk of pornography and not mention the complexities it has with voyeurism and it’s pervasive nature. Is all porn voyeuristic? Is all art voyeuristic? If so can voyeurism take different perspectives in art?

How do we view art that is voyeuristic and to what extent is the platform from which we are to perceive the work, is itself a part of that work? How are we to separate the points of view?

There are various kinds of voyeurism in art but it is the delight we take in this form of art that was most discussed over those three days.  I guess something I took from the event is that it’s important to think about the representation/experience of the art work. An invasive way of looking can give permission to view something that is so taboo whilst playing up to the performance of the work. The nature of a work’s presentation can implicate a view directly (or in-directly) and thus possibly creating an asymmetrical relationship between the viewer and the viewed. A viewer might also take delight in the representations or in the viewing conditions of the art work. Within many of my video pieces (and performances) the subjugation of the audience is always of importance when planning the work, for me the viewing experience is key to the outcome of the work. Mons Pubis is a good example of this, the placement of the work within the space worked to the advantage of the work’s explicit message, creating an invasive and elicit space for the viewer. This work evokes some sort of voyeurism from the viewer but in a different way to something that a porno would do. The installation made it to be a cold and somewhat clinical viewing experience which was the initial intention. At this time in my practice I am being drawn to the various pornographic discussions I have previously engaged with in my past works but after this conference I find myself to be more concerned with the viewing pleasures that we are confronted with in viewing the content, whether porn or art.

Perhaps one can take pleasure in behaving inappropriately and in having access to “forbidden fruits” (certain voyeuristic acts may require us to think of doing something improper), thus making pornography as a subject of art is a perfect candidate for titillating with such pleasures in both an objective and subjective way. We are used to treating images as wholly transparent when it comes to porn but with art we are invited to look beyond the imagery,it becomes less one-dimensional and instrumental. This gives us leeway to work with the element of illicit behaviour in art freely but can also be the result of what we see as morally acceptable changing with time?


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