Pornography As Art. Pornography As Art? Pornography As Art!!
What is regarded as pornography can change depending on context and over time. An explicit close-up of female genitals in a men’s magazine might be regarded as porn, while the same picture in a medical textbook would not. A sight of women’s ankles might still be regarded as sexually explicit in some cultures today but not anymore in the West. In Victorian days it was though, and women were often veiled as well. Manet’s Olympia may have caused outrage at the time it was exhibited, depicting as it did a courtesan, but not anymore because society has changed. Even sexually explicit 19th century daguerreotypes are more regarded as erotica now because of the passage of all that time. But maybe they are Pornography As Art.
Pornography is often said to be sexually explicit writing, images or film whose only purpose is to sexually arouse and have no artistic merit. But who is to decide if it is artistic? Just like you can bring an everyday object into a museum and call it art, you can bring a pornographic image into a museum and call it art also. The context in which it is placed gives it artistic virtue, so does that mean it is no longer pornography? Does it now become erotica, a polite and perhaps apologist word for the porn of yesteryear?
For me and the public at large, pornography is just anything that is sexually explicit. I started taking erotic photographs for myself and when they started to occasionally stray into pornography, it did not worry me as I have no taste and I feel no need to put boundaries on my work. The first thing I realised was that photography looked more real than painting, which made it potentially more pornographic than painting could ever be. Being unafraid of genitals and the word pornography, I thought I could take explicit photos and give them aesthetic value also. I could use the same processes I used for the rest of my work to take porn if I wanted.
One of the earliest pictures I created which ended up in my first book, Bernadinism: How to Dominate Men and Subjugate Women, published in 2001, was that of a philosopher reading by candlelight. Years ago there was a short series on BBC Radio 4 called Sex in the Head and on it I heard a woman describe how she liked her partner reading his newspaper by a candle stuck in her vagina. I thought it off beat and imaginative, just the way I like my subject matter and I recreated it but with a young philosopher reading The Destiny of the Mind East and West by William S. Haas.
In another Radio 4 programme, this time The News Quiz, the late humourist, Alan Coren, made a joke about hair getting stuck to soap in the shower and perhaps spelling out words. All I had to do was wait until my soap had worn down a sufficiently, wet it and stick my pubes to it spelling the word “FILTH”.
In the autumn of 2011 I embarked on my Pornography As Art “campaign” deciding to do it in both photography and video. Since the work was to appear on poster sites it seemed right that it should also have a slogan. I had not been to the West End of London for several years and the obvious change was all the huge posters stuck to the sides of stores and in the windows and hoardings of shops being refurbished. I stalked the streets like a documentary photographer, finding an advert and waiting for the right person to walk by. I did a picture outside The Royal Academy, then sometime later it came to me that I should shoot some of the other art institutions in the city and I would throw in some of the top commercial galleries as well.
The thing with ordinary pornography is its ability to arouse diminishes with the number viewings and when it no longer arouses it is thrown away, while with pornography as art, after its ability to arouse decreases it is still left with an aesthetic sensibility worth keeping.