Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Art and Censorship, Prairie Artsters: Vue Weekly October 3 - 9, 2007

With the recent wave of protest over sculptor Ryan McCourt’s Hindu-inspired works outside of the Shaw Conference Centre, I have to wonder about the state of art and censorship in this city.

Walking past the Shaw Conference Centre recently, the physical absence of the large Ganesha sculpture seemed detached from the international media frenzy that led up to its removal. While the majority of the headlines focused on the “unapologetic artist” versus the “Hindu protests,” the art in question was after all public art, and the dialogue started by this piece of public art was silenced almost as quickly as it started.

The works that stood along Jasper Avenue for the past year were steel-crafted sculptures depicting the holy figure of Ganesha along with detached formations of the female form. A few weeks ago, Mayor Stephen Mandel ordered their immediate removal after he received a protest letter signed by 700 members from the Hindu community. Now, numerous oversized flower pots clumsily fill the sidewalks while Donald Moor’s multi-coloured “Dream.big” mural casts a peculiarly ironic shadow over the former setting of the offensive works in question.

Instead of investigating the accused works of blasphemy, which the Mayor said he was unaware of until the controversy started, the public works were swiftly and ignorantly removed from public sight.

The immediate result has of course led to the sale and private collection of these pieces (which McCourt’s website has confirmed), but for the general public and arts community, the city has demonstrated that it will bend to appease before it will defend and challenge. What’s more disconcerting is that McCourt’s works were not even provoking.
Most sensational cases of censored art usually revolve around highly social or politically charged works. These works, which demonstrate a preoccupation with form and colour, are hardly worthy of political censorship.
It is usually the artistic statement—that dangerous protest emanating through a form and able to reach the masses—that strikes at the heart of censorship cases. Usually offensive to anyone but the general public, censored art tends to challenge a dominant way of thinking; in Edmonton, art will be censored if it challenges any mode of thinking.

Although the artist declined a formal interview with this column, McCourt did provide links to his own writing on similar subject matters. From his writing and his art, it is evident that McCourt draws his inspiration from the world around him in mostly aesthetic-based qualities. And as aesthetics cannot and should not be separated from their social or political connotations, these works—created as an expression and not a statement—have been banned because of interpretation.

One of the major pleasures of art, especially public art, is its ability to attract multiple interpretations, and it is amazingly agonizing that any single interpretation can now have art banned for all to view.

First published in Vue Weekly, October 3 - 9, 2007

14 comments:

threedeeglasses said...

Steven Mandel is a little bit silly.

But, I think that these sculptures were really flawed.

What I read from the works themselves, and is reinforced in Ryan's writing, is that they are an exploration of the visual portion of the hindu mythological aesthetic. Which is fine and dandy, but when visual explorations include content that is loaded in religious, cultural and political ways, the work needs to take this into account, and I don't think that these sculptures do that successfully.

I don't think it's possible to explore this kind of imagery, from whatever source, in a purely visual way, and I think MC's assertion that he can do so is transformed into a statement of power. These sculptures become demonstrations of a kind of artists' transformative willpower which causes even one of the worlds greatest religions to bend over and allow itself to be plundered for its images.

That is why people write into the Journal using "artiste" as a pejorative.

Mixed in with a little bit of international socioeconomic and post-colonial politics, it's a little offensive.

MC's defenses of himself on studiosavant don't help much in my eyes: every time he whines about letters to the editor or some-such, he appeals to an idea that his art is beyond criticism by people who don't know what they are talking about. But that's exactly why it is offensive: because somehow his profession allows him to treat other people's lives as if they were colours and lines, and he is unanswerable.

Except that he is not, obviously, in the end. Not that this is likely to impact negatively either on his prices or his notoriety. Or his sense of entitlement.

threedeeglasses said...

Also: does this mean that we're going to have to have another internet fight ryan?

MC said...

Sorry 3dG, there are too many more worthy opponents for me... maybe I'll see if I can touch on some of your comments, later...

Just to correct a few errors in Amy's piece:
1. the name is Donald MOAR, I believe.
2. Two of the sculptures from the Shaw show are still available for purchase.
3. I did not "decline a formal interview with this column", Amy, and you know it. I declined your offer of an email interview.

Perhaps Prairie Artsters/VUE will be so good as to print a correction.

MC said...

Ok 3dG, I'll address your comments now.

They're fluff. They're unattached to anything real, except for your own vague and confused thoughts. Alot of stuff about what "you think" or what you "don't think"... but, maybe you just don't know, and aren't the one to ask in the first place, hey? Maybe a little humility, to go with your ignorance, is in order...

"What you read from the works themselves, blah blah blah..." is funny.

The fact that you "don't think its possible to explore this kind of imagery"... is your failing, not mine.

The person using "artiste" as a pejorative, obviously, thinks artists are trash. It's pretty clear.

Yes, mixing things in with "post-colonial" anything is usually offensive.

Also, simply characterizing anything I write as "whining" is silly, unless you can back it up with a quote from me that actually is as "whiny" as your wussy, hand-wringing comments are.

You're right in one, small thing: My "art is beyond criticism by people who don't know what they are talking about." But, that should go without saying... Hell, you prove it! You don't have a clue what you're talking about, and consequently, haven't even come close to a criticism of my ART, per se.

threedeeglasses said...

1. Whether or not you want to ignore the issue of taste, some people don't like your work. Shocking, no?

2. Why is it important for me to be humble? You obviously don't feel so constrained.

3. Wow: I've constructed meaning from your artworks through observation. Here I was thinking that that was what people do with art objects/literature/etc. But no, I guess we're supposed to just look at it without trying to understand. My bad.

If the public (which would seem to be the implied audience of publicly installed sculpture) is incapable of taking anything away from your work, which you seem to imply based on your total dismissal of any kind of non-fawning response, why bother putting it up in public? Why are you so hurt to see it removed from public if the public isn't who it's for anyway?

4. I usually think of ethics as a good thing to have, not a bad one. But maybe arthur whatshisname disagrees. He does seem like quite the jerk, anyway, in his proto-modernist nineteenth-century way.

5. The person using "artiste" as a pejorative thinks that you are trash. Whether they think artists in general are trash would have to be demonstrated by a letter on that topic. It would be reasonable to say that they think a certain kind of artists are trash, even. But really, it doesn't matter what they think of anyone else, because they are talking about you.

Now, I don't mean to apologize for their comment. I'm totally on board Tony Baker's boat in his comment on studiosavant (though perhaps I wouldn't put it quite the same way). But really.

6. Your "post-colonial" comment doesn't seem to make much sense. Sorry guy.

7. What I referred to as whining was you rebutting people's letters to the editors in the comfortable environment of a comment discussion with one of your friends on studiosavant, dismissing them all as idiots for simply voicing their opinions. It seems like a sign of an inability to take criticism to me.

I don't think I need to cite it. It's all over the

At least you weren't taking the low road of attacking their masculinity by describing their comments as "wussy" and "hand-wringing" though. Oh, wait.

8. So who does have a clue, if I don't? I'm quite confident that I'm qualified, thankyouverymuch, even if somehow the public audience isn't. And no, it doesn't matter how many capital letters you put in "art."

If you don't think criticism is even possible, then what the hell are you doing on this blog?

threedeeglasses said...

Woah, I left a sentence hanging there. "I don't think I need to cite it. It's all over studiosavant." That's where that was going.

MC said...

Oh, THAT's where you were going...
Sad.

See, the problem is, that you can't characterize written language as "whining", which is a description of audible, verbal language. Do you understand now, or do you require further explanation?

I don't know how to dumb this down for you any further... sorry.

Of course, if you just have a personal problem with me, 3dG, I suppose you could always take it up with me, in person.

MC said...

Oops, I missed your whole lenghty comment... I'll be brief:

1. No shit. No surprise. I've been saying that all along, some people like it, some (700) people don't. "Offense" doesn't enter into it.

2. You should be humble because you are uneducated and ignorant about the things you comment on. I'm not.

3. You haven't a clue.

4. you don't have a clue.

5. You seem to be the only person defending the use of the word "artist" as a pejorative. Good for you!

And no, of course, you wouldn't want to be seen as going against what Tony Baker says... even though you're taking the opposite position... duh! Obviously, your problem is not with the issues, but with me, personally. I'm flattered, but really, dude, I don't even know you, so your obsession is a bit unseemly.

6. right back at ya!

7. WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING, NUMB-NUTS!
You are an idiot. "Hand-wringing" is an attack on your masculinity. How fragile!

8. Over-confident, and glaringly under-qualified. Sorry.

"If you don't think criticism is even possible, then what the hell are you doing on this blog?"

Toying with littlebrains, like yourself, of course... WHEEEEE!!!!!

MC said...

Of course, we aren't even talking about the actual issues surrounding the censorship of my sculptures, are we? 3dG insists on turning this into some kind of pissing contest, and I'm all too happy to fill his mouth with my vintage... drink up, boyo!

threedeeglasses said...

But you aren't being censored, guy. Your work isn't banned. It isn't being destroyed.

The people who put it up in the first place decided to take it down a few weeks early. You don't see every other artist who wasn't selected in the first place complaining about censorship.

Look, I don't even know you, so despite your best efforts I don't think you can make this about me being mean to you. I just don't particularly like the sculptures, and more importantly, I find your public behavior on this whole issue pretty ridiculous, especially the part where you call everybody an idiot simply because they don't like your work. Plus, I'm pretty sure that you are giving the rest of us Edmontonian artists a bad reputatioin: that's what the "artiste" comment was about.

I'm sure you are disappointed by the fact that your work is being removed early. But does that mean you ought to be calling everybody who disagrees an idiot, especially if you apparently have no other defensive argument to rely on? I posted in part hoping that you might offer some explanation of yourself other than "I'm smarter than everyone," but I guess that's not going to happen.

It doesn't matter how much research you've done or how great you think your work is. Many other people don't like it. Some are actively offended by it. I'm not sure where you can get "offensive doesn't enter into it," because that's why your work is being removed. If you want to talk about the issues, then you should stop accusing other people of avoiding them and maybe think about what people don't like about the sculptures.

It's one thing to say "oh, I didn't mean for that to happen," but instead you're just saying "no, according to my research you shouldn't be offended, so stop making a fuss."

Which is ridiculous, and more demeaning than any sculpture.

MC said...

An impersonal, point by point analysis of 3dg's wrongness:

"But you aren't being censored, guy. Your work isn't banned. It isn't being destroyed."

Well, at least you got the part about them not being destroyed right (not that something has to be destroyed to be censored, of course)...

"The people who put it up in the first place decided to take it down a few weeks early. You don't see every other artist who wasn't selected in the first place complaining about censorship."

No, the Mayor, responding to a petition by private citizens, decided to take it down... did you think these were the people who put it up in the first place?

"...the part where you call everybody an idiot simply because they don't like your work."

Huh? What part? Where did I do that again? Please show me where I wrote or said anything like that... oh, that's right, more baseless bullshit from 3dg...

"I'm sure you are disappointed by the fact that your work is being removed early. "

Why are you so sure about things you know nothing about, that's what I'd like to know. That's what I meant before about your lack of much-needed humility. The fact that my work came out early is not a concern. I had actually been in contact with ADPPP prior to the "scandal" breaking, about getting the pieces moved. Obviously, it is not the fact that the pieces came down that is the problem, but rather the fact that it happened BECAUSE of religious calls for censorship. You twit.

"But does that mean you ought to be calling everybody who disagrees an idiot, especially if you apparently have no other defensive argument to rely on?"

Everybody? No, just you, and for good reason: You have no intelligble argument at all. My explanations are very easy for most thinking people, who understand the issues involved, to comprehend. You sir, are only deserving of my contempt.

"It doesn't matter how much research you've done or how great you think your work is. Many other people don't like it. Some are actively offended by it. I'm not sure where you can get "offensive doesn't enter into it," because that's why your work is being removed. If you want to talk about the issues, then you should stop accusing other people of avoiding them and maybe think about what people don't like about the sculptures."

Idiot. Moron 3dg is a self-proclaimed "artist" who thinks it is reasonable to have work taken down because 'some people' don't like it, or are "offended by it". I hope 3dg understands how that might apply someday to their own work, and how they would be a hypocrite to 'complain' if/when it happened.

Salman Rushdie said "What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist." US Supreme Court Justice William Douglas said "The function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it invites a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger." Mike Godwin, staff counsel, EFF said "The First Amendment was designed to protect offensive speech, because nobody ever tries to ban the other kind." These distinguished thinkers would no doubt marvel at 3dg's arguments.... and then join me in, once again, pointing out his sheer idiocy. WHEEE!!!

threedeeglasses said...

You are free to complain about your art being removed for whatever reason. But don't tell me that I'm the only person whose opinion you've dismissed completely. Every time you've publicly been challenged and responded - on your blog, in and to newspaper letters, on the television, your argument has been that the people complaining do not know how to have valid opinions.

You are making this out to be a free speech issue. It is not. You are welcome to say whatever you want, and to make whatever art you want, no matter how bad it is. You are not free to be looked upon as an infallible genius by those who are in positions to display your work or otherwise support you. Including the mayor.

If the city as a public institution decides that its citizens don't want your work on display, they can damn well take down the exhibition, but only because they were involved with setting it up, because it is in a public space and has been arranged under the official auspices of the city.

When they want to ban you from displaying your work in a way that is not supported directly from their tax dollars, then you'll have something real to complain about.

For the record: I don't particularly feel that it was worth the trouble to remove your stuff a few weeks early. But I'm very certain that those involved should have thought a lot more carefully about it before they put it up in the first place. But that's not the Edmonton way, I guess.

I'll worry about my own work being removed from public after I have to worry about it being officially sanctioned by the city, thanks, not before. In any case, I'd say the passive refusal of work deemed objectionable by public groups like the city (and not just for aesthetic or even political reasons like yours was attacked for: for class-based issues, mostly, dealing with the artists behind the work) is something much more meaty to talk about than your day in the spotlight being cut short. At least you got out there. But you don't care about the public's opinion, anyway, right?

Either you care what the public thinks - in which case my opinion, as well as those on the petition, that of the mayor, those who wrote into the journal, and everybody else who doesn't like your work actually counts for something - or you don't care, in which case you can perhaps be dismissive of it. However, you seem to want the best of both worlds here, and to make the public take your side because of some kind of oppression being levered against you by - god forbid - people with religious beliefs. It's ridiculous.

PS: I don't know if you'll read this, since the post has fallen off of the front page now, but it's humorous to see you so offended by someone in the journal calling you an "artiste" and then turn around and use the same attack on others. Well, minus the "e," but quotation marks still intact.

Nice work with the throwing up some totally irrelevant quotations at the end there, very high-school-social-studies-class-debate-which-you-didn't-prepare-for. Maybe they'll throw the rest of us off of the self-contradictions in your posts.

MC said...

Oh my stars! You just don't know when to quit, 3dg.

If it is true that my "argument has been that the people complaining do not know how to have valid opinions", it should be very simple for you to just quote me where I say that... as I have repeatedly asked you to do. But you haven't. And you won't. Because that is a pathetic mischaracterization of my argument. This is called a "straw-man" argument. It is a logical fallacy. You idiot.

"You are making this out to be a free speech issue. It is not."
Um, what's the title of this post, dickwad? What colour is the sky on your planet. Idiot.

"
When they want to ban you from displaying your work in a way that is not supported directly from their tax dollars, then you'll have something real to complain about."


Why the hell do you keep coming back to this idea of me "complaining" about this, as if I invented this as an issue? It is bizarre. I found out about this all the same way I imagine you did... i read about it in the papers. The media called me, not the other way around... (it's funny that everyone I've been interviewed by take it for granted that this is about censorship, but poor 3dg, just can't understand, no matter how plain it is... Too bad, I hear tell he used to be a promising young art student... I wonder where he went off the rails...).

"I'll worry about my own work being removed from public after I have to worry about it being officially sanctioned by the city, thanks, not before."
Ah, I see, the every-artist-for-themselves approach... so much for artistic solidarity, I guess. Oh well.

Suffice it to say, 3dg's analysis of the issues here is widely, wildly, off the mark. Instead of making premature pronouncements, what 3dg should be doing is asking questions, to hopefully learn something, and move from ignorance, to knowledge...

"...but it's humorous to see you so offended by someone in the journal calling you an "artiste"..."

Um, how "offended" am I? Who said I was "offended", anyway? Certainly not me... where do you get this shit? Do you not see how the stuff you write about me doesn't actually correspond to any of my actual statments? Oh well, even if you can't see it, other readers here can. You have your uses as a teaching tool, 3dg, but only as a tool...

Anyone else out there fail to see the relevance of the quotes I posted?

MC said...

Or, maybe I misunderstand, and 3dg's comments were meant for Amy to answer instead... so please, Amy, tell us... whay do you make this out to be an art censorship issue, when 3dg keeps telling you that it's nothing of the sort?
Or, maybe 3dg should be directing his concerns to Bannedmagazine.com, or the Globe and Mail, or maybe Paula Simons at the Journal, etc.,...