Saturday, August 09, 2008

Take Your Fist Out Of My Face

Every artist gets their share of bad reviews. If the criticism is constructive, we shouldn't mind them. Not everyone has to 'get' what we're trying to accomplish and even if they do, they don't have to like it. Besides, works don't always succeed. When that happens, part of the critic's function is to keep us honest.
I like to think of Ashley Crawford as a friend. He has come to most of my shows over the years and has always been blunt with me about work of mine he doesn't like. At the opening of PORNO, he told me he didn't like The Lin Triptych and that it shouldn't have been there. He also told me that he thought "99 per cent of the show was very strong" and worked well. He even conceded there were "two or three images he would like to live with". For the first time in the eight years I have been showing in Melbourne, he shook my hand. Looking directly into my eyes, he congratulated me on "a brave, and good exhibition".
Maybe he went cold on it after my recent comments in this blog (and the Melbourne press) about the Melbourne Art Fair. After all, Ashley is a freelance writer on the arts and many of the people he depends upon for a living were involved with the event. Whatever the reason, his first public reference to PORNO – in his Art Around The Galleries column, published in the A2 section of today's edition of The Age newspaper – was utterly dismissive:
"Hazel Dooney is known for her self depictions in high gloss enamel which comment on advertising and fashion," he wrote. "Here she moves into photography in an attempt to explore what she dubs a new porno “aesthetic”. The results, many of them lesbian sexual frolics, have a strangely depressing effect. Rather than create a new aesthetic Dooney has simply served up soft porn."
The pictures must have been very depressing because this has to be the first time that the depiction of the lesbian sexual frolic of fisting has been described as "soft" – in porn or any other context.
Maybe Ashley has become more jaded than I thought. I'll send him a framed, signed image from the show (above) "to live with" in the hope that it re-invigorates his usually good sense of humour, if not his critical perspective.


Anonymous said...

I have to admit I didn't find the MARS photographs titillating. Maybe because it was 'reality' art and true porn needs 'unreality' to work perhaps (see the link below which you have probably already read). I think your photos lacked the element of 'fun'. They look a bit like sex is more like work and technical rather than spontaneous and joyful. So maybe that's why that guy found them a downer. I am not sure about what I'm saying but I have just been thinking along those lines. 'Soft porn' does suit your work as it does has a quiet tantric feel. Why don't you like the idea of it being soft porn?

Gary said...

i think a lot of people miss the point of PORNO. it's about how we see ourselves (and even reconceive ourselves) within the context of self-produced images of sex. it might also reveal how such images become leached of real intimacy and yes, of excitement. the really revolutionary thing the artist did here was to boldly put herself into the frame, and thus insert herself into the main 'thrust' (as it were) of the dialogue.

as for why one would object to 'soft'? it's too easy and ill-considered. maybe the use of the word reflects the critic's own sense of impotency in front of such work.

jose-luis quijano said...

In Art if you communicate you win so I guest that if they talk about you ,you win.

Anonymous said...

Gary you are probably right that the point of PORNO is not that the photographs aspire to be porn but are about porn that we are exposed to, stripped bare of its vulgar unreality. What we are left with may be a downer which is reality and why people like to escape into porn sites (not me) and other things like art that can enhance our everyday existence.

Kate said...

white man speak with fork-tongue

Brian Ward / Fitzroyalty said...

I thought Ashley's comment in the Age was underwhelming and dismissive, and that it sounded like it was written by someone who didn't even come into the gallery to see the work. 'Frolic' is also rather flippant. Is he implying that women's sexual experiences without men are less than serious? 'Soft porn' is just another middle class euphemism for 'I'm a repressed suburbanite who is sadly all too aware of the fun I'm missing out on', ie a bit naughty but not too naughty. As you say, fisting is not 'soft'. Although different stylistically, Mapplethorpe published pictures of gay male sex including fisting. Would Ashley call that soft? Is there a double standard at work here?