Well my mother thought I would be arrested for sending the exhibition invitation which had a small drawing of two girls attached to a double ended dildo on the front but unfortunately this didn’t happen- it would have been great PR for the show. Friends have informed me that there were some interesting conversations, or lack of, at breakfast when it sat on top gas bills and bank statements. That is if they received them at all as a disproportionate number mysteriously disappeared in transit.
More than a few people have asked me whether I aim to shock with this exhibition and book and the answer is most certainly no. And this awareness that I didn’t want to be seen as sensationalist informed many decisions in the making of the work. I think the fact that they are drawings or stencils leaves much to the imagination, they are implicit. The impact of subject matter can be softened and the act of looking made legitimate by the demonstration of good draughtsmanship and overt care. I think that a comparison between the source material and a drawing will demonstrate this point.
If they were photographs they would instantly be flirting with the boundaries between porn and art. I think Robert Mapplethorpe understood this tension and no doubt one of the reasons he chose to photograph his subjects in black and white was to distance himself from full livid pop porno technicolour. This didn’t however stop his 1989 exhibition in Cincinnati being raided by police on the grounds of “pandering obscenity”.
As recently as last summer Bruce la Bruce had 400 polaroids confiscated by Canadian customs- I can’t help but think that the reaction would be different if they were drawings of men with hard-ons rather than photographs.
Another factor is that not one of the drawings in the exhibition is over the size of A4. A 7ft tall painting of a man bound to a crucifix with an erection would be the equivalent of someone shouting blasphemy at you through a megaphone; if it’s 12cm then it whispers and asks you to come closer before telling you what it has to say. And it was your decision to look closer, you were not forced to take it in just by being in the room with it.
And lastly within the context of the exhibition’s location in Soho it’s hardly surprising to see sex on display. It’s difficult to be controversial in the vibrating hub of London’s sex industry.
Shock from a display of sex relies firstly on the viewer not being exposed to the subject matter and then it’s about its proximity to reality. Reality can be aestheticised by the artist’s formal decisions which serve to steer the viewer away from reading of the subject as completely gratuitous. And lastly it’s a matter of context. A small black and white depiction of girls scissoring is only shocking because it’s come through the morning post but almost everyone who received or indeed delivered the invitation has watched porn and seen or imagined more elaborate goings-on. Pornography is always the elephant in the room shitting shame on the carpet. Let’s talk about it.