CENSORSHIP IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Balthus, “Thérèse Dreaming”, 1938. ©Photo by Oliver Berg/dpa picture alliance archive/Alamy.

 

 

 

The Metropolitan Museum of New York has recently faced the harsh decision of whether or not yield to social pressure to dismiss from the exhibition a painting by Balthus considered "sexually suggestive". The work is "Thérèse Dreaming", concluded in 1938, which portrays a young girl at her 12 or 13 years in a position that for the critical eyes of the New Yorker Mia Merrill was totally inappropriate. This led to an online campaign that gathered more than 8,600 signatures requesting its withdrawal when the same work had previously been exposed in Museum Ludwig in Cologne without any setback.

 

 

 

Bia Leita, "Travesti da lambada e deusa das águas", 2013.

 

 

 

Another recent case occurred this summer at the Cultural Center of Santander in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The exhibition entitled "Queermuseu" gathered more than 230 works by 85 Brazilian artists around a project that explored the artistic communication and representation of homosexuality and non-orthodox sexuality. The controversy sprang up a few days after the inauguration, and the social pressure by a group of ultra-right-wing demonstrators and evangelists led the Santander Foundation to close the show. The case was then brought before the authorities who, after carefully examining all the works, came to the unanimous conclusion that none of them had traces of paedophilia.

 

 

 

Detail of “Reclining Nude” by Modigliani in Bloomberg TV and The Financial Times.

 

 

 

In November 2015, the work "Reclining Nude" by Amadeo Modigliani was auctioned at Christie's New York, at that time the second most expensive artwork in the world. Chinese collector Liu Yiqian bought the painting for 170.4 million dollars. The curious thing about this situation is that some media applied to the spread of the news a flagrant censorship that concealed or blurred the most sensual parts of the painting, perhaps to flaunt a decorum and restraint adapted to the general feeling of its subscribers.

 

 

 

Dread Scott Tyler, “What is the Proper Way to Display the US Flag?”, 1989.

 

 

 

Without forgetting the case of the Russian singers Pussy Riot who recorded their hit against Putin in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior of Moscow, and ended up in jail, or the decision of the MACBA to cancel the exhibition "The Beast and the Sovereign" in which one of the central pieces was the proposal of the Austrian artist Ines Doujak, in which a King Juan Carlos was sodomised; the censorship of political overtones underlies some of this cases. Another example is the installation of artist Dread Scott Tyler on what is the proper way to display the American flag. In the work, a US flag lying on the floor was placed in such a way that in order to read a protocol manual one had to step on it. This led to the arrest of several visitors for outrage and the artist himself for violating the law of protection of the flag of 1989.

 

One of the proposals included in the calendar of the “Art Madrid-Proyector'20” program was the organisation of several meetings with artists within the fair. This gave visitors the opportunity to get to know their work better and open a personal dialogue with them after the presentation of their last lines of work. From Wednesday 26th to Saturday 29th of February, we had the participation of Abelardo Gil-Fournier, Fernando Baena, Mario Santamaría and Maia Navas, a group of creators who work with the moving image, but also with the installation, technological art, performance and video art.

Abelardo Gil-Fournier's work revolves around the hybridization between the real and the sensible. This artist and researcher approaches this question in his works from a perspective in which perception, image and material production merge. Both his artistic and research practice deal with issues related to land use and plant growth without losing sight of these three points of interest. This results in works that incorporate the presence of nature from various perspectives, sometimes as a space of experimentation in which to reflect on the connection between art and politics, the relationship of the human being with the environment or the criteria for landscape intervention.

During his presentation on Wednesday 26th, Abelardo told us about some of his latest projects, in which the presence of technology is key to offering an artistic interpretation of the individual's impact into the territory. All this affects issues such as agricultural techniques, the progressive deforestation or the exploitation of land resources. The result is colour-coded pattern drawings that break down the analyzed landscape and offer a more visual and technology-based reinterpretation of these human behaviours. In addition, in this meeting, the artist explained his work “The Quivering of the Reed”, an installation that mixes video image, sound and material elements, and that plays the role of mixing the sensory with the real.

Abelardo Gil-Fournier

Fernando Baena shared a talk with us on the afternoon of Thursday 27th. This artist has focused a large part of his work on performance, happening and video pieces, many of them designed to capture the result of the action and give the work a second life in a new format. The main subjects that monopolize his work range from the treatment of sexuality and gender issues, to migratory movements and the drama of refugees, the exercise of political freedom and thought ... all of them are far-reaching issues that Fernando addresses from a familiar approach, with the use of common materials and recognizable environments. Another of the characteristics of his work is the presence of Marianela León in many of his pieces, a performer who has been collaborating with Fernando for many years until becoming almost an alter ego of himself and starring in most actions that take place in public spaces.

In this meeting, Fernando was able to explain part of his creative processes and to highlight a key aspect to the performance artist: to understand the reaction of the public. In this way, the impact of a work conceived from the theoretical plane is also analyzed, the meaning of which can completely change depending on the viewer's perception. As he himself explained in the talk regarding his piece "Balsa":

"What started out as a performance with an established script ended up being a happening in which the public participated with sometimes unusual reactions".

For his part, Mario Santamaría, who was with us on February 28th, shared with us a completely different work from Fernando's. This artist is focused on the analysis of the use of data, the feeling of manipulation and lack of control over our information that is produced in the digital medium and the desire to transform into something real some ideas as ethereal and commonplace today as the use of virtual storage clouds, the location of web pages or the data flow over the Internet. Much of his work, documented on video or transformed into technological facilities, is a form of research on the impact of the digital medium on our daily lives. His desire to bring these terms to the material plane, which we handle in our language today without really understanding their meaning, has led him to visit server bunkers, storage warehouses, in addition to tracking the exact location of the servers that host his own website to find isolated places far away from humanity.

Mario proposed a material trip to this reality to demonstrate that we are facing a very fragile system, whose durability is sensitive to natural phenomena, as evidenced by some of the documentation work carried out, where he rescued images of wild animals entering these data centres and endangering the livelihood of the digital world.

Mario Santamaría

Finally, Maia Navas, recently arrived from Argentina, shared with us the afternoon of Saturday 29th in a chat in which she told us about her creative work as well as her experience at the head of Play-Videoarte, a festival entirely dedicated to this discipline that she co-founded in 2012, and that in these six editions has combined an annual exhibition with a program of activities that take place in the City of Corrientes (Argentina), at the Cultural Centre of the University Extension that depends on the National University of the Northeast (UNNE).

Maia has a degree in psychology, as well as a degree in arts and technology, and combine her artistic career with teaching. The impact of psychology among her work topics is evident, and some of her video works try to delve into disturbing and perplexing aspects of human behaviour, such as the series "Procedures" that we could watch during the presentation. In it, the artist portrays the daily lives of people affected by OCD syndrome with an excellent visual narrative that puts the accent, almost with a cinematographic vision, on the personal experience of this phenomenon.

Maia Navas, foto de Marc Cisneros

From Art Madrid, we want to thank all these artists for sharing their creative experience with us and giving us the opportunity to dialogue with them about their present and future projects.