In decades of literary training I have never had reason to suspect that there was any category beyond farce. Until now.
Not even Ratty ever presided over anything as ludicrous as this. The Ern Malley hoax pales into insignificance as a demonstration of what a ridiculous country we can be when we put our minds to it. Imagine the international headlines: AUSTRALIA'S NATIONAL POLICE RAID ITS NATIONAL ART GALLERY. One can only hope that Barry Humphries is getting a lot of new material out of it.
Some time over the last 24 hours the Bill Henson fiasco has assumed the proportions and hysteria levels of a witch-hunt; one manifestation of this is that the discussion has broadened in some fora (see for example the link to Larvatus Prodeo, below) into accusations that Henson has also "exploited" drug addicts in Europe as subject for other photographs.
And despite the many precedents in various countries (notably the US and the UK) regarding art versus the moral-panic perpetrators, I am actually a bit frightened about what that says about this country and the people in charge of it. There are several different discussion threads on the subject over at Larvatus Prodeo; I've left a comment at one of them that I might paste in here as well.
... No doubt like many other tourists, I was and remain haunted by the addicts in Vienna’s underground railway stations, particularly those in the Innere Stadt. One in particular, can’t remember its name, was so full of floating, dazed, emaciated, deathly bodies that it looked and felt like some nightmare underworld. Some of them were begging. Some of them were unconscious. Some of them were vomiting and/or incontinent.
If representation of them in photography is ‘exploitation’, would representation of them in painting be any different? What if you wrote a song about them? I have been known in the past to write fiction and I hope to write more fiction in the future; If I put this vision of hell into a story or a novel, accurately describing what I saw, is that exploitation? If I write nonfiction in which this scene is described in a documentary manner, is that better or worse? If I refuse payment for these works, does any of that make a difference, and if so in what way?
Here’s another example: ten years ago Robert Hannaford painted a fabulous portrait of Robert Dessaix when the latter was very ill, with, at that stage, a not-wonderful prognosis. The painting is profoundly haunting. Was that exploitation?
My point, and I do have one, is that the logical conclusion of arguments like these is that all art depicting human subjects is exploitation and should be banned. Given the degree of hostility to art that is oozing out of public discourse as we speak, perhaps that’s the aim. I am so appalled by the federal police’s raid this evening on the National Gallery that I’m now prepared to believe anything.