Sunday, December 28, 2014

Art and thought in Australia is as dead as dead due to a fear of critical thinking

"Freedom of expression in Australia is not just governed by the laws of defamation, obscenity and blasphemy that vary from state to state but by hidden disciplinary forces, systems of control that seek to create a reality of their own making." Dr Marcus Bunyan, Sept 2013 
Lee-Anne Raymond near text panel describing the aims and origins of Surrealism -
National Gallery of Victoria 27/12/2014 - Modern art section 

Australia is governed by a deeply protective, institutionalised, conservative moral philosophy that is reinforced by a self-interested cultural sector, legal authority and legislature. Rather than acting to resist in the erosion of freedom of expression these authorities and cultural bodies keenly maintain the status-quo preferring the entitlement this brings above overthrow, evolution, revolution and therefore change. The art of Surrealism has at is core the nature of transgression. As an art-form, as a way of life (as many of the original Surrealists experienced it), the genre observed the world in which they lived through a critical lens reflecting reality and truth to demonstrate what was the real illusion or delusion - the perception of the accepted reality as being all that was good and beneficial. Now in more enlightened times, we see the Surrealists as cause cébre fighting against evil and oppression, yet they remain marginalised fringe dwellers in our public art institutions. In their time the Surrealists were roundly rejected and marginalised for their unflinching criticisms of authority and of the political and societal institutions in which they lived. They were labelled “offensive”, “immoral” and “negative” and their art “degenerate". They had many enemies but fortunately a few influential allies in addition.

Metamorphosis with Nicab (detail) 
In Australia 3/4 of a century later judicial institutions protect themselves by enacting religious like decrees, edicts, to prevent criticism and will and do punish their critics for transgressions, artistic or not. Individuals within or who are outside beneficiaries reinforce their own position and tenure by ensuring no steps are taken to question either their own or the institution's role. No mirror may be held up to liberate the truth, let alone allow for the kind of truthful self-reflection that might allow for illuminating change. In Australia there is a distinct and entrenched perception that to question authority is simply wrong, to challenge it or expose truth “negative”, “intemperate”, "racist", "immoral", “offensive” and perhaps “degenerate". To be critical is to be “aggressive", to be transgressive, “intemperate” and “immoral" and therefore repugnant to society. 

It has become so very Australian to be squeamish about speaking out against anything, be it an idea, an organisation or a person for fear of causing offence. This is in no small part due to the fact there exist written and unwritten laws to deter and prevent criticism. The unwritten laws will have you socially and professionally shunned. The written laws have the critic fearful of attracting financial repercussion and legalised persecution. 

Additionally there is an Australian characteristic, perhaps transposed with force by colonial, antique (European), magisterial beginnings, that is now a self-sustaining conservative moral. So, although born from more imperious beginnings (lèse-majesté), keeping silent for fear of experiencing physical harm, has transformed into a distinct Antipodean fear of expressing critical thinking because it can and does attract financial penalty and social ostracism. In my case criticism of how a Director of a now defunct gallery behaved toward us during an exhibition by myself and fellow artist has resulted in record penalty and complete ostracism from commentators in the arts or political communities. Presumably this is because they might agree with what is a truly bizarre judgement in the face of the actual trial evidence, and, or are too fearful of receiving the same treatment, to object or question it. Logic and reason are the enemy of our judiciary if as it transpires the evidence regardless of the facts are what the judge says they are. 

Australians and the institutions that are intended to operate for their benefit are intolerant of anyone who would seriously challenge such institutionalised authority, effectively shunning those who speak for freedom of expression and thought. Unwittingly (one would hope) by their acquiescent silence Australians who could or might normally speak up are merely reinforcing their own censored existence, and the persecution of those who do attempt to resist it. 

When we legally constrain our artists and thinkers who might criticise us, deter criticism through the actual application, or threat, of law and punishing legal fines we are assisting in the creation of our own end of times. When we enact laws to limit critical analysis and thought of a subject, an idea, an uncomfortable history, an authority, a religion in order to protect these concepts from harm (defamation) we are limiting our own freedom of thought and expression.
In a liberal, secular democracy, where dogma (religious, political, cultural) and its protection above all is allowed over a flexible application of logic and reason it is the beginning of the end of that social framework.

To be an atheist, an artist, a thinker in Australia is to court trouble and rejection particularly in the court system which is heavily peopled by the practicing faithful. Atheism, art critical of religion and political contradiction, art which provokes thoughts and ideas that challenge the status-quo are by their mere mention controversial. Australia's squeamish conservatism would have us believe that to criticise culture, policy, politic is to be subversive and “negative” if not seditious. It is considered better, more acceptable and more safe to reject the critic and then their criticism and protect authority even when logic and reason suffer. When this is most evident it is where any criticism of the Islamic religion and doctrine is shut down instantly with cries of “Islamophopia” or “racism”. Atheists long critical of Judaism, Christianity and the gods of antiquity are now automatically labelled “racist" and “Islamophobic" when Islam is critiqued. All atheism is viewed with some contempt and suspicion by the general religious majority but the Islamophobia slur has been so effective that even some self-described atheists consider other atheists critiquing Islam to be somehow phobic and suspect.

Add to this the insidious creep towards official censorship within elements of our own human rights institutions supportive of oppressive blasphemy laws that utilise defamation law to further a cause that claims critical debate regarding faith systems is "defamation of religions”. It is a peculiar and malignant marriage of convenience representing the biggest self-made threat to the universality of our human rights in recent history. They propose laws that would legislate religions and doctrines deserving of special protection from harmful criticism as they are an attack on the human rights of the faithful who are defamed as a consequence of any criticism. The result if successful (several attempts have been made at the UN) would be catastrophic as it will criminalise blasphemy on a wide scale. As Dr Bunyan notes above ultimately they would succeed in shutting out all "dissent" by creating a "reality of their own making".

To depict in my art real criticism of religious doctrine i.e. Islam is a transgression too far, one that goes against conservative, institutionally reinforced Australian moral sensitivities. Critical art is considered “offensive” art because Australians fear critical thinking and its consequences. We must work hard to protect our rights, many are unwilling, or too uninterested to do so. 

So the NEW-Moralist declares an artist “racist" in public and receive judicial sympathy and support for it. Thus an unbalanced legal system further punishes the artist for communicating truth, and, to object to what is categorically unjust and a persecution becomes further evidence of malice. The artist is labelled the “liar” and the bully is rewritten as victim. The evidence becomes what the judge says it is.

Fed and endorsed by its colonial parent legislature Australian courts, the Victorian Supreme Court as a case in point, are leading the way onwards and downwards towards censorship and protection from criticism any idea particularly those held by the religious. It is an implementation by stealth of "defamation of religions" law. 

To critique religious doctrine is, simply put, as valid a form of social questioning as to critique a judicial system. Both are off limits in Australia. It is credulous to believe that in this country we have support for real forms of artistic expression or critical thinking under such conditions. 

If you are a critical thinking artist, an atheist and a free thinker in Australia then you are considered offensive and racist and you will have no supporters come to your aid to argue otherwise.

Note: Top: Quote extracted from the research paper 
Transgressive Topographies, Subversive Photographies, Cultural Policies
Dr Marcus Bunyan - posted online here

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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.