We are living in a strange time now – strange, because the more we assert our freedoms, the more we restrain them at the same time. Rights, responsibilities and obligations are like an interwoven tapestry that is fraying at the edges.
What is strangest is that while the flyover states, in general, become more and more insular, the slightly outside the mainstream media continues to shower us with articles, essays and images of semi-debauchery that, while not necessarily representing the metaphorical fall of Rome, at least making its stumbles more salacious.
Consider, for example, Vice Magazine, and its VBS.TV. Where else would you find a link that suggests, “Click here for War, Politics, Economic Turmoil and Sweeping Global Havoc on Every Front.” There, interviews with Japanese serial killers are interspersed, inexplicably, with stories on gorilla survival. It’s as if our culture’s fetish for the macabre, coupled with our progressive values, somehow congeal into this digital realm between voyeurism and activism. Strange space.
This similar type of revelation is interwoven into the photography pages of both the Village Voice and LA Weekly, basically bastard twins of the same media organization. There, Nate “Igor” Smith, Mark “The Cobrasnake” Hunter, and others, document a range of events tagged with the ever-enticing NSFW label. The Voice, its Slide Shows ever so demur, highlights its image of a well-known lesbian dance evening with the title “Choice C-words”, somehow finding the true title too forthright for the link on the splash page even though it appears immediately below? The NSFW fantasmagoria continues with the Erotic Photographers’ Fundraiser and the Exxxotica Convention 2010, among others.
What is so surprising is that in a country to afraid of the human body that basic television is fined when it shows a breast, many media outlets recognize that in larger cities people are interested, somewhat after the fact, in the freedoms certain of their neighbors are able to express on a regular basis.
One of the most consistent examples of this realm of documentation comes from Merlin Bronques and his site Last Night’s Party, which asks the question “Where were you last night?” Probably not at the exclusive poolside Miami bash replete with disheveled models in various states of dress and deportment. I imagine that the wannabe hipster in the Midwest probably imagines that he or she could be there, but somehow they probably won’t, and this dissemination of the experience probably serves not so much as a means of inclusion, but merely as a reference to how exclusive this type of expression probably is.
I ask these questions because there seems to be such a chasm between our desires for complexity, whether visual or written, and our support for it publicly when that representation appears. Publications such as Vice, the Village Voice and LA Weekly, and sites such as Last Night’s Party, probably serve as the known but unknown underpinnings for more complex dialogues about these desires as the public response to the David Wojnarowicz work at the National Portrait Gallery serves as a focal point for censorship in the fine arts.
Somehow, in the depiction of religion, we have become so culturally afraid, and so immediately reactionary, that our capacity to consider the intentions of the artists simply falls away. In our desires to both reflect upon and simultaneously reject images of the human body, we find sites that fall within our realms of acceptability, as well as ones ones that simply respond and report. Somehow, we all know outwardly and inwardly that the intricacies in weaving a dialogue about the erotic versus the pornographic, for example, is one most of us will never have.
We could reconsider the critical dialogues that ask these questions, from essays such as The Pornographic Imagination by Susan Sontag through The Story of the Eye, by George Bataille, but in each instance we would somehow fail to fully comprehend what is at stake. What is at stake is not a battle against interpretation, as Sontag might suggest, but one that is against representation. We move further and further away from the image as the site of dialogue, and closer and closer to the moment when the image becomes merely the moment.
We watch helplessly as the capacity of an image to generate a discourse becomes more and more in danger of having any relevance whatsoever. Imagine the day that Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ ‘A Corner of Baci’ becomes impossible to exhibit because it contains sugar, it could promote unhealthy eating or, in an unintended moment it could lead someone to suffer from a glycemia related issue.
Artists, be warned, the space for discourse is shrinking. Each time artists, organizations or institutions fold like a house of cards, we each reinforce the belief that the questions we ask, and the answers we propose, have little or no value or meaning.
Consider this the next time to hesitate before supporting anything that pushes, gently, the boundaries of our shrinking freedoms. Look at the Slide Shows at the Village Voice or LA Weekly. Click on over to Last Night’s Party. Buy a complex work by Sontag, or Bataille, or any other number of writers. Or support a publication that tries to highlight the fact that representing the body isn’t always already the same as making pornography. Otherwise, we’ll be back to covering Renaissance statues to protect their propriety, and the hemline index won’t have anything to do with economics, but it will have something to do with the restraints of our freedoms.