Monday, July 13, 2015

Phantasmagoria, monstrosity, perversion and the Degenerate in Art In Australia

Surrealism as an art movement is at its foundation transgressive, cynical, satirical and critical. All the adjectives within the title of this posting can and do apply to a variety of surreal art. The early Surrealists pointed out the hollow men, ideas and doctrines of its time, using visual symbol and word. Attacks by the surrealists mocked a complacent, accepting bourgeois society directly, or through the political and religious structures that motivated and lead it. Surrealism was and remains fiercely intellectually driven, anti-Fascist, anti-nationalist, anti-theistic. There were an array of reasons for how or why this intellectual rejection of conventional structures developed, social and geo-political, dating to well prior the 1st and 2nd world wars, that I will not go into here. Here I merely wish to demonstrate how Surrealism did, and still does, encapsulate all the aims and characteristics of what Art is understood to stand for in intellectual terms, and why this practice is under threat. 

In 2015 the Supreme Court of Appeal in Victoria heard an appeal for a 2014 judgement by Justice Kyrou, who had found against myself and fellow artist Demetrios Vakras. The following question was posed by one of the appeal court's judges, Justice Digby: "Did Mr Cripps (the Gallery Director) know the [art] exhibition (by Vakras and Raymond) would be contentious?" Apart from the sheer irrelevance of such a question to determine any of the facts in the case, it demonstrated the very stark chasm of understanding existing between the reality of what are intellectual pursuits, like art, and the law as represented by its practitioners. Arguably, one might consider our judges sit at the higher end of our society's intellectual bell curve, yet the reality is this is as false an assumption as the one made in any belief in the existence of an inherent fairness in law. Secular societies, like our own, generally equate fairness with logic and reason. These are intellectual concepts and they are valid but they do not feature as complementary characteristics within our legal system. The rule of law concept is governed by other motivations and ignores pagan concepts such as logic and reason. Fairness does not figure where precedent and case law, as a codex and charter, operate. As one gets too close to see through the veil to the real system under which our courts operate, one sees how more and more it closely aligns with religious imperatives of control, rather than for agreed to contracts around social protection and regulation. Suffice to say here there is an inherent absence of what are traditionally held and understood concepts of logic and reason within our legal system.

Our legal system relies upon the setting of precedent and rule of law and its application under case law conventions in order to work. This though relies upon all players in the court behaving as they should. If Vakras' and my case is to be shown on appeal to have been mis-judged, then perhaps some will claim that this demonstrates the court's methodology does make the correct call. However, under so basic an analysis, we instead have a logical fallacy, as such a conclusion would ignore what it took for that appeal and correction to have been made. It is the case the appeal only went ahead because we lost everything we've worked for across our adult lives in order to fund the appeal and compel the law to do the right thing. We were forced to ensure that the appeal would proceed otherwise, regardless of errors in law, errors in judgment, and the magnitude of these errors it would not have gone ahead. Others coming after us as a consequence of the judgement against us, whether this is understood or not, currently have had to deal with a minefield of legal outcomes with ramifications that spread into limiting our human rights.  It needs to be stated loudly and defiantly over and over that a fair and healthy legal system does not limit rights, nor limit access, nor limit truth, in order to instead enable the meting of a kind of justice that achieves only individual aims, aims bearing no relationship to lofty claims of protecting a citizen's universality in the eyes of the law. Vakras' and my experience situates such lofty claims into the realms of sheer fantasy. Judicial impartiality is critical to the fair and equal application of so stringent a doctrine as case law and rule of law. A judiciary must be as selfless and as blind to external biases as the symbols of the court claims they shall be and are. The reality is, as we have come to know to our complete detriment, that the facts become what the judiciary decides them to be, regardless of evidence, making the law as flawed as the ability for its judiciary to resist what individually held subjective sensitivities and confirmation biases they each may possess.

"His" HONOUR Lee-Anne Raymond 2014
So, when a judge of one of the highest courts in Victoria, Australia asks; Would an art gallery director have been aware that art might be contentious?, and no one except the unfortunate artists, responsible for said "contentious art", understand the absurdity of such a question, you have as Kafkaesque a situation as any that can be imagined in fiction.

Such a question might justifiably be posed by one completely unfamiliar in anyway with art, art concepts and art practice. It cannot though justifiably be asked by one with limited or no understanding of Surrealism alone. Because, though a judge may not be aware of surrealism, art and artistic pursuits are understood to have elements to varying degrees of and potential for contentiousness. Art, it is accepted and known, will push boundaries, so our supreme court should be just as aware as my high school educated hairdresser is that one does not go into an art gallery expecting to not be presented with a challenge. One goes into an art gallery expecting challenges, expecting to disagree as well as agree, expecting to potentially have their thinking changed or charged by exposure to a different perspective.

Such a question, as it was asked in a court of law regarding a judgement under appeal seeking to ascertain if that element of the appeal is valid, might well presuppose that art that is "contentious" is the either invalid, or unlawful, or both, or that it is to be held as less likely to be justifiably art at all. Perversely and in addition art that is "contentious" has for now been found by the Supreme court of Victoria to be possibly "racist", due to a use of "foreign" words. In the 2014 trial the claim was made, and the judgement upheld that claim, that because words written in a script other than the English "alphabet" (sic) to describe the meaning behind the visual works, it was possible to detect "racism".  In this trial the statement was made that the text needed to be corrected into English, or made more vague, or taken away all together so as to remove the potential for offence made by the "contentious" and/or probably "racist" art. This was all said to have happened, but, it was asserted, to have been done without any claim that the art was "racist", it was just that the director thought it might be "racist" because he did not understand the writings at all, and anyway there were "foreign" words used. Those "foreign" words were Greek, 4 in all, and all were provided with their english word equivalents in translation. Other "foreign" Greek words included the signature of the artist to his works, a practice of his since the late 1980's. How it could be possible to conclude that the use of Greek at all, or the use of Greek words translated into their Latin text equivalents might be possible to be perceived to be "racist", is now the subject of a Federal court claim. What were these sinister words? Chaos, Chasm, Christ and Wisdom. The problem apparently arose because these words being written in their Greek equivalents, transformed them into holding another meaning altogether, making them very scary words indeed.

Surrealism's use of symbols, the fantastic, and the grotesque, as applied in satire or as biting juxtaposition, was not something new but something it embraced within it visual arts sphere enthusiastically and adeptly. In our 2009 exhibition "Humanist Transhumanist" we did little differently and adhered enthusiastically to these traditions in our presentation complete with visuals, text panels and self-published manifesto. The fantastic and grotesque in application has long been employed by artists and as recently as the Gothic Romanticists in immediate historical context with and as precursors for the Surrealists. The Surrealists mined the Gothic repertoire not only for thematic value but in seeking to transform medium and technique. Blake's use of imagery and text, the technical transition into a use of print making, etching and aquatint translated into Ernst's collages and ManRay's photographic experimentation.

From Goya's seditiously biting War series, to Fuseli's nightmarish visions of a human psyche undermined by an inner torment, the exploitation of symbolic meaning sat behind an application of fantastical imagery to great provocative effect. As a two centuries earlier Dürer might have thought, it is sometimes necessary to distort, juxtapose and disfigure, to disjoint and cause alarm in order to effect understanding and comprehension of an alternative idea and way of thinking. (Try telling this to a judge in present day Australia.) In the case of Goya and Fuseli each utilised religion, superstition and pagan themes to bind their visions. Fuseli and his contemporaries were critiqued for their "bombast & extravagance", though not in a law court. Satirical caricaturist Gillray, a contemporary and beneficiary of Fuseli's themes, applied an openly raw and grotesque symbology of imagery and words to hit home his message of seedy sedition, collaboration and/or political hypocrisy. 

Presages of the MILLENIUM with The Destruction of the Faithful 1795 James Gillray
The Surrealists were shaped by these influences during similar times of upheaval, deploying a new and unrecognisable symbolism with which to turn accepted thinking and taste on its head. Surrealism was classified Degenerate along with other modern art forms by The Nazis and Hitler. The Nazis' required art (contradictorily it would seem but never argue with a Nazi) to need no explanation in order that it be better understood by the ordinary German/people. The contradiction was that explaining the art made it more degenerate than ever of course because, before explanation you might only have the suspicion it will be contentious because you can't understand it. In 1937 the Nazis instructed that art must be simpler, in 2009 Vakras was told as much by Robert Cripps who again confirmed in court in 2014 that the art was not simple enough to be understood and so it was possible for him to then assume it held a more nefarious meaning. For this reason the viewer of the art needed to be protected from potential harm with the positioning of disclaimers. In the judgement by Justice Kyrou following that trial Surrealism and at least the Surrealism of in particular Demetrios Vakras and also of Lee-Anne Raymond was rendered Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) as that judgement concluded it was possible to conclude the art might potentially be "anti-Palestinian" or "pro-Israeli" and therefore too contentious. Neither Cripps or Justice Kyrou managed to explain either how or why this could be so. It was simply accepted in judgement that if the art could not be understood, it might be considered "anti-Palestinian", because  "Palestinians are oppressed" by Jews.

In the expression of ideas deemed seditious, anti religious or anti-social it would seem that art can become degenerate anywhere, including in Australia.

The surprise is this occurred in a modern democracy, in Australia in the 21st century, and it would seem for now, to little or no protest of any kind from an obviously comfortable, complacent and compliant Australian art scene. Art, of the politically, socially and religiously powerful expresses the ideas of these foundations in only uncritical, consistent with conventions of taste, and compliantly supplicating ways. Such art celebrates the status quo not only in taste but in thinking, in attitude, and in effect society will stagnate where a thriving art scene of this kind is supported and endorsed. Protection of socially approved-of art forms, that have no idea to challenge or theme to propound, so as to prevent hurtful offence being caused to anyone, does us the worst kind of social harm. History has shown this over and over. Such art, the art of sycophancy, reflects the kind of society it exist within, and such art in time with the benefit of hindsight becomes categorised as propaganda at worst, decorative at best. 

Surrealism panel at NGV & Lee-Anne Raymond (by Demetrios Vakras) 2015

The freedom to criticise ideas is under threat in Australia, the effect of which is being seen in the arts. Like the metaphoric canary in the coal mine we as artists are signalling to you all it is time to come up for fresh air. Take a clear deep breath and think. Subjects are now off limits that formerly had no such barrier to being debated. Criticism of social systems, political figures, religions, cultural practices are all off limits for fear of causing offence as the result is very real and punitively punishing consequences. It is as though being offended because someone has critiqued your idea is a new kind of assault crime to charge a critic with. Do not criticise my ideas because as I identify with them by critiquing them you will have critiqued, humiliated and offended me, and for that I will sue you and the court will agree with me. This is the legacy of our Supreme Court of Victoria case, the case against artists Vakras and Raymond.

Next time you feel affronted or challenged in a gallery steel the personal ire you may experience enough to ask the following question of yourself. Should I upon entering an art gallery expect anything less? 

Gothic Nightmares. Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination Martin Myrone (Tate Publishing)

""HIS" HONOUR" 2014 (pencil on paper) Lee-Anne Raymond 

"Presages of the MILLENIUM with The Destruction of the Faithful" James Gillray - p 187, image 133 - Gothic Nightmares. Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination 

Surrealism panel at National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) & Lee-Anne Raymond (photo and text by Demetrios Vakras) 2015

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Je sui Charlie Hebdo - in memoriam

With respect and in memoriam:

As an atheist and surrealist artist who has and who will continue to criticise religions I reserve the right to offend, insult, humiliate, ridicule and defame all gods and their associated prophets. But depicting one and critiquing one prophet only, Mohammed,  is illegally and illegitimately outlawed not only on the threat of but by the real prospect of execution. The brittle religion of Islam is protected on pain of death by followers of that faith. Those defending the rights of that faith to express itself without criticism fail to understand they are defending the intolerant and a brutal ideology based on intolerance.

I make no apology to Islam, Christianity, Judaism or other religions and supernatural belief systems for any hurt. With regards criticism of religions the mainstream media, political climate and social commentary have contributed to the demonising of anyone who critiques Islam because to do so is claimed to be racist and right-wing. Yet conversely Christianity or Judaism are fair game because, they somehow deserve it having caused enough bloodshed, pain and outrage in the past. Err, what? The sheer contradiction, lack of logic, and lack of historical knowledge is breathtaking.

Charlie Hebdo were largely shunned and cast as intolerant by this mainstream as, "white privileged male racists" for their critical satire lampooning Islam (only Islam). Charlie Hebdo though ridiculed all religions and politicians or societal structures on a wide scale and has done so with anarchic glee, none were/are/will remain immune. Why did/does their satire of Islam illicit a different examination by apologists, was it, is it fear of offending intolerance? Such acts of provocation, of anti-establishment dissent and resistance have a long history in France and in pre and post industrial western Europe. For free thinkers, and those who enjoy the freedoms afforded within a free society, whether tasteful or not, such criticism including the right to satire and ridicule a subject, are recognised cornerstones of that free society. Charlie Hebdo are a stark and now painful reminder to society that it needs prodding and lambasting for it to wake from its "sleep of reason”. Charlie Hedbo in all of its satire was delivering one message, perceive of what you are forgetting to protect and preserve, your hard won and long treasured freedoms.

The ability for any force or will to destabilise and undermine free societies exists and the responsibility to protect what underpins them sits squarely with those who treasure freedom. We are these custodians, us, we are the ones who must protect such a society by exposing its flaws, foibles and fallacies. This is what Charlie Hebdo was getting at with every lampooning of authority.

Surrealism was born from such an era emerging from within a society that needed reminding of what it was allowing to slip through its fingers. The freedoms we take for granted today were under attack then by an ideology and a warlord of a different kind.

We are living in as similarly an absurd time as now surrealists, satirist, critics of all kinds are again being shunned and marginalised for critiquing that which is oppressive and backward in Islam. Defenders of Islam claim it should not have to defend itself due to random misguided acts of violence by its followers - which forgets that all these followers, follow the same doctrine, the Koran and Hadith. Under such circumstances a response is warranted. By not responding strongly or at all fails to neutralise those elements within Islam who continue to take all of the prophets "teachings" to their literal conclusion. And, their mantra is always the same.

In the related violence and hostage taking in Paris following the Charlie Hebdo murders by the Islamic terrorists, the Kouachi brothers, their associate, Islamic terrorist "Coulibaly told BFM he had 'coordinated' his actions with the Kouachi brothers and wanted to defend Palestinians and target Jews" (ABC).

So, there we have it. Mocking the prophet, criticising Islam all links back to the conflict in Palestine and an insidious Jew hatred in the mind of the terrorist. It is the most deep seated and chronic of encumbrances affecting the very viability of Islam and the reason for why it is the biggest threat to the stability of a modern society which, as in the France and Europe of the 1930’s, continues to prefer to be blind to and in denial of it.

The primary motivation as always are predictably an unbridled racism toward and hatred of Jews. To critique Islam means you support Jews and are anti-Palestine so one must be eliminated to defend the other. Criticism of Islam apparently justifies any backlash by Muslims against that critic. Criticism of Judaism or Christianity elicits no such equivalent assertion or defence. It is the critic of these acts who must instead answer for the criticisms made. It is the critic who is forced to defend their criticism as if their criticism is somehow responsible for inspiring acts of violence done to protect Islam from insult. Islamic Jihadists* blame any insult to their prophet on Jews and claim they are defending Palestinians from Jewish violence who cause conflict by their very existence in Palestine. Jews do not apparently belong in Palestine and need to get out one way or another. With this sentiment those who sue surrealist artists, when informed their ideas about Jews and Palestine are racist and have a historical beginning pre the establishing of Israel, are in alignment. It is a successful tactic in the aim to subvert and deflect blame so that only the critic and the Jews are responsible for the actions of violent religiously motivated murder, such as that enacted by the Kouachi brothers on their unarmed victims.

Put simply Islam hates a critic and hates Jews. Passages in the Hadith essentially state the existence of Jews in Arab lands is to be addressed by their elimination from those lands. Jihadists* act murderously on such passages because to do so, as goes their own claims, defends Palestinians and Arab lands invaded by Jews (the so name “occupation”). Islam even hates its own progressives. Islam hates its apostates, a Muslim may not leave Islam to do so is the worst of sins punishable by death. Islam tolerates people of the book, Christians, but then defines them as non-Muslims describing the Christian trinity as a blasphemy. Islam in particular just hates Jews.

Modern Islam in contrast with other major religions continually demonstrates its unwillingness to peacefully co-exist. The so called "religion of peace" label is a marketing propaganda well utilised to deflect blame and erect barriers to nullify any scrutiny. The idea that a religion operating without scrutiny is a problem waiting to happen is not so far fetched or without precedent if we look at the conduct of the modern Catholic Church and its other associated institutions recently held to account. Islam as per most religious institutions lack the maturity and intellect to be self regulatory. Yet, there are those who maintain we must absolve Islam from responsibility for addressing acts, that are done in accordance with its doctrine, by the faithful who exact brutal revenge because the doctrine demands it.

The problem for modern society is that Islam acts to its exclusion, consistently demonstrating that its tenants are incompatible with modern thought and even basic principles of human rights. In 2015 Islam remains a totalitarian, backward and redundant belief system. Muslims, as Ayan Hirsi Ali stated post the Charlie Hebdo attacks in an ABC 7:30 interview, need to better imagine or hope for "an ideology or ideas of life, love, peace, tolerance”. (She will astoundingly be labelled racist and right wing for doing so.) Should Muslims dare to view such a future of course they ultimately will need to abandon Islam in order to achieve it.

Freedom Series - Exhibited as part of One Law for All exhibition London, 2010
Monsters emerge with the “sleep of reason”.

* "jihadist" is a term considered "anti-Arab or anti-Islam" by Apple and its third party dictionary vendor New Oxford American Dictionary. Best inform all the mainstream media outlets including France24, CNN, ABC, BBC etc, etc.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Use of Greek script judged “racist”, “sinister”, “anti-Palestinian". Only in Australia.

View of exhibition Humanist Transhumanist 2009
View of exhibition "Humanist Transhumanist" 2009
A Supreme Court of Victoria judgement released in June 2014 endorsed the racist claims made by plaintiff Robert Cripps.

In the trial it was declared that “text labels, 50x100mm pinned below each painting” included words in an “alternate script” to that of the “English alphabet” (sic), making it possible to reasonably conclude that the text potentially communicated “anti-Palestinian”, “sinister” and “racist” messages.

It was argued, by Cripps’ council, Christopher Dibb, that because Cripps was not of Greek background he could not properly interpret or understand what was written on these "text panels". The only conclusion, that was available to Cripps, was for him to deduce that the use of Greek script was potentially “sinister, racist and anti-Palestinian”. Under examination Cripps could not explain how this was so in his testimony.

Justice Kyrou, in his judgement, found this was the reasonable conclusion to make and that Cripps had responded reasonably with the actions that he took. In doing so Kyrou has:

1. Validated perjury.

- No labels were pinned under the paintings. This was demonstrated by the evidence provided in trial which included photographs taken prior to the dislcaimers that Cripps posted. Cripps had testified that he posted disclaimers as a reaction to labels which are clearly absent in the photographs. Emails and documents cataloguing the exhibition content reveal that the photographs of the exhibition match what was discussed with the gallery prior to the show. The evidence demonstrated there were small numbers pinned under the paintings to reference against a gallery catalogue of works list for all viewers to consult, just as had been discussed in the emails between the artists and the gallery. The evidence and the facts they conveyed were all dismissed by Justice Kyrou.
2. Validated and up-held racism towards an Australian-born artist of Greek heritage. 
- In finding it reasonable for Cripps to have concluded what he did and taken the actions he did because of the presence of an alternate script to English (sic), Greek, Justice Kyrou agreed it could be considered to convey sinister, or racist, or anti-Palestinian messages to use Greek words. A finding that is in direct contravention to S. 9. of the Race Discrimination Act.

The Australian-born Greek artist, Demetrios Vakras, has for many years signed his paintings in Greek and as part of his artistic oeuvre long sought to elaborate on the ancient scientific and cosmological meaning behind many Greek myths. In doing so he is manifesting his heritage, a protected attribute under the Race Discrimination Act, (S. 9).

In Humanist Transhumanist there were a handful of Greek words used in context of two paintings with essays pinned beside the associated paintings on A4 size paper (No 50x100 labels under paintings ever existed). These Greek words were methodically translated into Latin text for an English speaking audience to comprehend. The context of these essays was to elaborate on the meaning of the visuals in which the artist anthropomorphised myth-concepts to reveal a holistic, cosmological explanation exists behind Greek myth pertaining to, for example, the Pythia (the Oracle of Delphi) depicted resting between, χαός (chaos) and χασμός (chasm), in another Χριστός (Christ) is referenced as is σοφία, (wisdom). It is therefore these Greek words that Justice Kyrou found in his judgement to be potentially “sinister", “racist" and "anti-Palestinian” in agreement with the plaintiff.

Justice Kyrou, in his judgment, also concluded the art and exhibition to be “offensive”.

On much Justice Kyrou and Robert Cripps were in agreement.

Justice Kyrou awarded record financial damages against the artist Demetrios Vakras and co-Exhibitor (this author).

If the absurdity of the claim that the use of Greek text could be considered in any way to convey a sinister message is unclear refer to any Wikipedia entry on χαός (chaos). Is this sinister, anti-Palestinian and racist?
Then compare it to the actual text from the exhibition in question, "Humanist Transhumanist". Is this sinister, anti-Palestinian and racist?
Pages 30-31 Humanist Transhumanist Catalogue.

The author has used Greek words in this posting. Is this sinister, anti-Palestinian and racist?

If one is sinister, anti-Palestinian, racist, then they all are. Or, is it only the case when a Greek does so?

It is valid and correct to ask why is this judgement is not considered one of the biggest failures of the Australian Court System? Do the courts have more rights than the people they exist to serve?

If this is the Australian justice system working then it is as unjust and backward as any one can imagine produced under totalitarian regimes and Australians who claim to advocate for our human rights or to “keep the bastards honest” are silent. 

The matter of Cripps discriminatory actions against Demetrios Vakras is being pursued in the Federal Court.

Refer Justice Emilios Kyrou Judgement [on Austlii]
Refer Justice Emilios Kyrou Press Release - alerting the media of his judgement [Supreme Court of Victoria website]
Refer Cripps V Vakras & Annor - full Trial Transcripts [Link]

About Leeanneart

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Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
We are first and foremost human with a responsibility to the humanity within us and not to any faith, political, apolitical, social or societal group, union or faction. We are responsible for our own reputation, and for what deeds we do and what achievements or otherwise in life we enjoy. The rest is nonsense.