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May 26th, 2008

Nudity, People. Nudity.



Bill Henson's latest showing of naked teenagers has gotten a lot of air time lately, though for all the wrong reasons, it would seem. Still, what do you expect after an over zealous child protection officer calls the cops on your art show, though?

The above image is not taken from this show, incidentally. It comes from an earlier show, around 2001, and doesn't at all suggest that Henson has been exploring representations of youth, and has received international acclaim for such things, no. Instead, the response has been along the lines of this quote: "I find them absolutely revolting, and whatever the artistic view of the merits of that sort of stuff — frankly I don't think there are any — just allow kids to be kids." That's from our popular Prime Minister of the moment, playing to the benches, right there, and ignoring art critics and other people involved in art establishments. Wouldn't want to be seen saying anything like, "Yeah, what's the big deal? Don't you think the witch hunt for child pornography has gotten a little out of hand these days?"

No, wouldn't want to say that.

The problem with the response here is that it chooses to believe in the idea that individuals below the age of eighteen do not have a sexuality. It then, in Henson's case, makes the leap that he is sexualising the young boys and girls represented within his work (it is telling, in fact, that all the shots of his show on the television and in the news show that of a willowy blonde girl, naked and with her face blurred). The sexualising of the images will depend on the individual, of course, though personally I find the images show on TV rather static and a touch boring, but that's just me--I haven't seen the full show, and some of the more interesting pieces I found in a google image search from Henson's work do show a sexuality.

This, for example, is from Henson's Luminous project:



There's a fragility to this image, I find, an awkwardness to it, as if the boy and girl are just pushing through to those first moments of sex, where the touch is either too much of a grope, or too hesitant, and is done somewhere in the dark, away from the parents, while the city lays before you, lit up in all, an audience that just needs to turn its head to see you.

I through the last line in just to draw attention to the fact that 'child' sexuality is just something that a lot of society needs to turn its head round to see, glaring at you.

It's there just in the behaviour of teenagers, though to make any gross sweeping statement such as 'it's in all teenagers, or kids should be kids, or no child has ever touched himself/herself sexually' misses the point of individuality. Still, I ask you, anyone reading this, if they can honestly say that they never ever thought about sex before the legal age of consent? In year ten, I had the biggest crush on my young, Goth English teacher, and had she even hinted at some inappropriate, I would have thanked Jesus, Buddha, and Allah, all in one before running towards her. But you can track back further: my mother loves telling the story of a year six camp scandal, in which all the Christian mothers and fathers were horrified to hear that their sons had engaged in a competition to see whose dick was biggest. I mentioned this to Djae, once, since the pair of us were shacked up in some beach side Christian hostel thing with holes in the wall where the only scandalous event was that a girl flashed us--I was good with it--and he was horrified because he wasn't there. "To see all those Christian dicks!" He reckons he would have come out earlier. According to Mum, though, all those kids had to go to the Principal and get a stern talking to about the evils of showing your penis to another boy and she laughs and laughs when she tells this, because I don't think she ever thought much of those Christian parents. Incidentally, she works at DOCS, the child protection agency, just as an aside.

Returning to Henson's show, however, what it illustrates is the further trend in our society to render adolescent behaviour as perfect, vanilla innocence. Marbles in recess, comic books at lunch, writing in diaries about dreamy boys... oh, wait, that last one is connected to sexuality as well. But I suppose, really, part of the issue here is the 'adult' that is Henson showing them, and since he is apparently the more knowing, more intelligent, and can be argued to be taking advantage of them. Never mind, of course, that he's dealing with models, never mind that they're being paid, never mind indeed. But that fantasy of the older man and younger girl is no more worth tarring with the one single brush of inappropriate than anything else in the world, especially given that the older woman and younger boy relationship is not met with as much disapproval. One might even wonder, in fact, with Henson had been a middle aged female showing the similar images--perhaps with a slant on males--if such an issue would have been raised, even? Such a question is rather silly, of course, but then the reaction to the whole thing, and society's increasingly conservative and blinkered attitude to sexuality is.