Saturday, May 24, 2008

The public eye and Bill Henson

Bill Henson's dark dream-world images of adolescents do not stand up to the cold light of public scrutiny, it would appear. For years he has been capturing young people in strange and surreal tableaux. Chiaroscuro lighting and soft blurred images serve to make his subjects both ambiguous and fantastic.
I've always found his imagery both captivating and disturbing but there is no doubt in my mind that his intentions are to produce extraordinary artworks, not pornography.
But the hysterical public reaction to his current exhibition at Roslyn Oxley Gallery indicates that certain moral campaigners are a little behind the times when it comes to their knowledge of local art - there is nothing new in this exhibition, Bill Henson has been creating these images for years without causing undue offence.
So why has it only become a problem now? Is it because society's moral compass has narrowed with our outrage at internet child pornography as exposed in the media? Or is it simply that Bill Henson's fame has spread and he's suddenly been noticed and scrutinised by the mainstream? Whatever the reason, the recent censorship of his exhibition follows on the heals of other recent cases of art censorship in Melbourne - Hazel Dooney's sexually explicit works were covered up at last year's Melbourne Art Fair and Cherry Hood also had an exhibition closed down when she created naked images of young boys.
When it comes to the law, it will be very hard to prove that Henson has been creating pornography when this has clearly never been his intention.

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