A recent project evoked a strong sense of emotion and in some instances, disdain for the collective work of myself and three others.
That work was Unicorn. A project to provide students with real work experience of the creative industries.
Designated Art Director, my team consisted of Photographer, Assistant Photographer and Model. Our brief was to create a two page printed clothing advert for a made up unisex clothing brand called Unicorn. The requirement for students was to role play together and create not only photographs of our brief, but to gain experience we can use in a professional career.
From the outset, I had wanted to push boundaries and challenge people’s views, using the brief by creating a conceptual piece which highlights unisex clothing while demonstrating that men and women are equal. Compared to some, my views are unorthodox because I do not subscribe to political correctness, nor the notion of appealing to a common denominator who may not accept,the artwork. It is simply produced and and what I enjoy about art, is its inherent ability to provoke and have the viewer ask questions to understand why.
Unicorn was constructed and presented in a safe environment, free of real world constraints, free of the advertising standards agency and free of the fear of the work becoming banned or censored in any way. It was, and is an educational project which I used to push the boundaries of the educational institution, and to learn how far it could be pushed with these constraints. Peer reviews and professional constructive criticism is somewhat unanimous in that the the theme and photographs created are outstanding from a conceptual and artistic viewpoint, not necessarily from an advertising viewpoint. (To be perfectly honest, I would wish to work with an advertiser who wanted to push boundaries, to create a set of lasting images which invoked a sense of emotion, to create a discussion on the subject matter and above all else, have fun while doing it)!
The subject of the photographs are a fight between a male and a female, each wearing unisex clothing. While I certainly don’t condone real violence, domestic violence nor sexism I do condone and support artwork, (in any form, whether that’s sculpture, drawing, literature, film, painting, performance and of course, photography) which doesn’t hesitate to communicate challenging ideas. Without it, great art simply would not be.
Consider Fountain, (left) one of the first examples of artist censorship, this artwork by Duchamp consisting of a porcelain urinal was quickly rejected for exhibition by the Society of Independent Artists in 1917. The kicker here is that this exhibition claimed to accept all artworks by those who paid the fee; Duchamp paid the fee, but was denied under the terms of the work’s “indecency.”
I also draw your attention to Robert Mapplethorpe’s “The Perfect Moment”. In the summer of 1989, Mapplethorpe’s traveling solo exhibit brought national attention to the issues of public funding for the arts, as well as questions of censorship and the obscene. The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., had agreed to be one of the host museums for the tour. Mapplethorpe decided to show his latest series that he explored shortly before his death. Mapplethorpe’s exhibition included photographs from his X Portfolio, which featured images of urophagia, BDSM and a self-portrait with a bullwhip inserted in his anus. The hierarchy of the Corcoran and several members of the U.S. Congress were upset when the works were revealed to them, due the homoerotic and sadomasochistic themes of some of the work. Though much of his work throughout his career had been regularly displayed in publicly funded exhibitions, conservative and religious organisations, such as the American Family Association, seized on this exhibition to vocally oppose government support for what they called “nothing more than the sensational presentation of potentially obscene material.”
In light of the incident the Institute of Contemporary Arts stated:
“The Corcoran’s decision sparked a controversial national debate: Should tax dollars support the arts? Who decides what is “obscene” or “offensive” in public exhibitions? And if art can be considered a form of free speech, is it a violation of the First Amendment to revoke federal funding on grounds of obscenity? To this day, these questions remain very much at issue.”
These are two, of many examples of artworks which are deemed controversial, and I challenge you to consider who deems art to be controversial? I believe that if no one encouraged “outrageous” art of this kind there would be no more Arbus, Witkin, Ionesco, Saudek, Serrano, Helnwein, Meisel, Henson etc… Look them up, ask yourself “Why” share the photographs with your friends and ask them what they think!
I applaud the Vice fashion shoot “Last Words” featuring models styled and posed as famous female writers who have killed themselves. At their times of death. I don’t consider these photographs or their message tasteless, while I agree that suicide is not a fashion statement, I see an opportunity to highlight depression, self harm and suicide using fashion as a presentation method. There are many people interested in suicide, who study it who argue for, and against it. They already have considered what it means to them, unexpectedly what Vice did was to juxta a depressive and thought-provoking controversy with the idea of self-improvement, or jealousy. (All while you’re window shopping for the next thing for you to acquire into your life)! Read Jezebel’s differing view on the story here.
Unicorn was also banned, because there were no questions raised after viewing the photographs, because it was only the photographs which were seen, and not the collective team work which brought the concept together.
One of the most important things in art photography is highlighting a theme, especially themes and ideals which people often struggle to talk about openly such as depression, self harm, ruined childhoods and domestic violence. While I’m no Damien Hirst, Banksy or Helen Chadwick, they inspire me and Unicorn was created with similar ideals to their artwork, to demonstrate that in this crazy world full of censorship, full of ‘thought crime‘ and political correctness, it’s ok to photograph a man and a woman fighting. It’s it’s safe to do so for the sake of art and for the sake of furthering discussions between people, who have not considered it. If we ignore these issues, if we censor work like this, then the real discussion of violence between men and women cannot happen, and I don’t want to live in a world which doesn’t provoke discussion!
I’m very proud of the team I worked with on this project, they are all skilled and the work would not have been as hard-hitting without their dedication and support, (Thank you Zoe & Chris)! I leave you now with what really happened on the Unicorn shoot, fun!