Photos by Angelika Benz.

Art, Porn and Purpose

What is the purpose of experiencing art? A facile, pointless question, I hope we can all agree.[1] Different artists, different critics, different humans would all give different answers, and it would be hard to prove any of them objectively wrong – or objectively right. The purpose ofa pornography, however, is much easier to ascertain: it is, quite simply, orgasm. Holding the hand, as it were, of the viewer or reader and guiding him or her through a scenario where at the end, o glory, we can participate in the characters’ climax, recreate it with our own body. Pornography may aim to accurately capture the act of physical lovemaking, pornography may aim to preserve the beauty of a nude body, pornography may even aim to make us feel tenderness for the characters, if we may call them that. But these are secondary aims, mere helpers and pointers along the path to the climax. The act of viewing pornography is essentialy the act of self-manipulation: finding a source of sexual excitement and relief. And it is a teleological act of self-manipulation: as we pull down our pants we know where the experience is going to end.[2]

I submit that watching porn is doing something with a definite goal in mind, and this I find contrary to experiencing art. However, there are instances in the historic canon of artworks where nudes figure prominently: even reclined, inviting nudes who would not be out of place in a porno. Take for example Greco-Roman statues of satyrs with a covered chest and a provocatively prominent penis.[3] Viewing a statue is however different from watching a film: in the one you are more or less absolutely free to choose your perspective, in the other your gaze is more or less controlled by the camera. A nude statue not explicitly engaging in coitus need not be viewed as merely an erotic image, and is therefore not pornographic. The same, incidentally, holds for many contemporary depiction of nudes, by artists such as Lucian Freud, who paints nudes as more or less inert bodies the viewer must infuse with erotic power – completely contrary to (good) pornographic images, which almost inescapably create the physical reaction of arousal in the viewer.[4]

Tempting nude or semi-nude figures who provoke the reader do exist in the canon, for example in depictions of the tempation of Hercules or the temptation of Adam. In de Matteis’ ”The Choice of Hercules”, Pleasure, albeit technically clothed, is about as lascivious as one can get. However, de Matteis’ painting makes it clear that the figure of Pleasure is not someone we should imagine ravishing, rather we contemplate Hercules’ admittedtly impressive strength in not ravishing Pleasure and instead achieving his heroic potential. Similarly in many scenes based on the biblical fall Eve is very temtping indeed, but in a context meant to provoke moral contemplation and not carnal satiation. Indeeding lusting after these Eves is being remided of the weakness of the flesh and as such should be accompanied by humility and even shame by the good Christian viewer.

We seperate pornography from art by pornography having a clearly defined purpose. Now, many religious painting and quite a lot of entertainment readily exclaims what their goals are: does this mean that no blockbusters are art? This is surely too elitist an interpretation. But orgasm is a very clearly defined goal, and entertainment or religious contemplation  is not.[5] This is what porn is: a manipulative journey to a pre-chosen destination. And that, I would submit, is exactly what art is not.

[1] Although I suspect it is a vain hope.

[2] Barring any unforeseen and very unwelcome interruptions.

[3] A flaccid one, admittedly, but still.

[4] Of course one can watch porn without being aroused, but often this requires a (not necessarily conscious) decision to suppress arousal for whatever reason.

[5] And of course the two are not mutually exclusive.


                       Paolo de’ Matteis (1662 - 1728): The Choice of Hercules

Ole Andreassen, Lincoln College

The Edgar Wind Journal Launch- Art and Obscenity

A huge thank you to all who came along to the launch of the journal yesterday. 

Ana Finel Honigman’s ‘Saccharine’ exhibition can be found here:

Amy Blakemore’s work can be found in the anthology ‘21 Poets for the 21st Century’.

If you are yet to buy a copy of the journal, contact

Bernini- Pluto and Prosperina, 1621 (marble)

(Component #11 (gelatine, pigment, aluminium, plywood))

(Component #11 (gelatine, pigment, aluminium, plywood))

Component #1, 2010 (Stainless steel mirrors, steel, cement sack)

Component #1, 2010 (Stainless steel mirrors, steel, cement sack)

Modern Art Oxford’s Young Contemporaries by Annie James

Manon Awst and BenjaminWalther wore blindfolds. The artists sat facing each other and spoke in fragments: questions left unanswered, statements that ruptured the sense of the previous utterance. Their goal seemed to be to establish location - their voices described a room, an incline, a hole in the floor, mirrors – and yet no image was concrete. Our sense of their physical surroundings fluctuated as much as our understanding of the identities of the two voices. The orchestrated repetition of phrases like ‘I find myself unable to answer a simple question’ reinforced the idea that there was an obstruction to their communication, as did the vast, engulfing silences that isolated each moment of speech. At the conclusion of this opening piece Awst and Walther removed their blindfolds and left the performance space, leaving also an impression of missed opportunity: ideas were abandoned that might have been shared between the two voices, or between voices and audience.

Awst and Walther’s performance was the preface to a discussion of their work with the critic and curator Ana Finel Honigman at the launch of Modern Art Oxford’s ‘Young Contemporaries’ programme. This student-based collective will include artist talks, studio visits and gallery tours with the aim of increasing the experience and discussion of contemporary art and artists. The launch event was an insight into how the collaborative artists produce their sculptures and installations in that they later described the performance as an assimilation of their working discussions. As the interview with Honigman went on, links became clearer between the performance we had just seen and the slideshow works projected on a screen behind the artists. Awst and Walther related their extensive use of gelatine to the idea that this material comes from the bodies of animals, and so retains connotations of being a living organism even when it is formed into inorganic shapes. In their sculpture Component #11 (2011), identical cuboid slabs of gelatine dyed black rest on the gallery floor, connected by an aluminium pole that pierces them horizontally. Despite the very angular, unadorned nature of the forms, the choice of material gives them a suggestion of latent life: they become sleeping bodies, rooted in place by the harsh metal.

The spatial orchestration of this and many of their other works gestures to Awst and Walther’s professional backgrounds: she is a graduate of Architecture at Cambridge, he directed theatre in Berlin. They discussed how this combination of disciplines informs their practice in that there is always an awareness of the spectator’s potential interaction with the work. In another piece, Component #1 (2010), an otherwise empty room contains two large mirrors facing each other. The individual standing between them sees hundreds of mirrored projections of himself – except that each mirror is punctuated with a random arrangement of holes. Awst and Walther talked about this piece as a means of engaging with people’s processes of perception: the holes in the mirror make the viewer aware of both the space behind the mirrors and their own collusion with their reflection to produce a semblance of multiple repetitions.

As the discussion drew to a close, the preoccupations of Awst and Walther’s practice with interrogating and altering the way we perceive our surroundings became clear. Their use of pierced semi-organic forms and mirrored surfaces echoed the disconnected phrases and ideas voiced in the opening performance, and for this reason it might have been more suitable to give the performance last. What had seemed a confused exploration of the process of communication would then become an expression of the artists’ concerns with materials, temporality and the viewer’s experience.

Sigrid Holmwood and the personality of paints

Sigrid Holmwood centers her practice upon her own bodily connection to the material. The establishment of a 'personality of paints' relates how the she is able to apprehend herself in the same context as her canvas, and interact socially with her materials, as if they were old friends, each with individual benefits and failings. This notion resonates as a completely new appraisal of technical skill, not as an inherent talent, but as something learnt and scientifically investigated. Holmwood's strength lie not only in this relationship to material, but in her innate ability to captivate her audience and fill the room with her curious and effervescent personality. As an old Ruskin student, Holmwood was undoubtedly comfortable in her surroundings and played up wonderfully to the wonderful playfulness of her medieval costume.This dress instantly aligned her work with something of a historic re-enactment as she precociously made her paints in front of a baffled few on a quite Wednesday evening at the Ruskin.

Holmwood orientates her work around the recreation of 16th century techniques which includes dressing in traditional costume. The obsessive nature of creating her own paints and tools from scratch seems implicit to her work. One cannot help feeling impressed in the face of her amazing knowledge of paint and technique. By emulating such detail of the techniques of the great masters of the Renaissance it is difficult to claim whether Holmwood simply esteems her artistic heritage or seeks to mock it. Holmwood laughs along with the western conception of the genius white male artist within whom Linda Nochlin identified the golden nugget of talent. She spoke of her time spent in Rome during her studies and the notion of standing in front of the same physical landscape as Titian, bemused by the idea that 'the trees you see exist in real life'. Holmwood is implicitly spiritually and physically connected to both the great masters of painting through their techniques, but also to the land around her in her efforts to utilise natural resources and recycled materials. The use of these home made paints allow her to evoke the sense of place in exactly the same way as Titian may have done, recreating colours and revelling in the nature of decay and change over time. For Holmwood the paint itself is part of the artistic process and it is the change of colour and the damage of the elements that demonstrates the vitality of the painting, pulsating with life outside of the ‘genius’ white male artist.

The immensely scientific nature of her practice also adds a further level or intrigue where the artist is no longer the mythologised western genius, but a scholar in their own right. Holmwood talked nonchalantly of her discoveries in the experimentation with pigment and colour and spoke with fervour about the enlivening her work by becoming intimate with the 'personalities of the paints'. The interplay of these transparency and opaqueness of colour weaves and balances the characters of these individual colours. This reverence of science was further discussed by Holmwood in advocating genetic modification. Her recycling of materials and the left over materials of works place her practice alongside GN where substances are scientifically enhanced and altered from their original purpose. In this way she drives an art imbued with all the foregrounding of science to replicate and improve upon Titian’s trees.

Foremost for Holmwood art history should be practical, pushing for the academic to ’see with their body not their minds’. Therefore the implicit relationship between her characterful paints, pigments and paper resonate with the tonality of the great masters whilst enjoying all the benefits of scientific discovery; embracing GN and denying all fear of destroying the fabled touch of the genius artist. Holmwood seems to me to push the the boundaries of contemporary art in relation to these original master pieces which should not hold back artists, but drive them to improve these works and scientifically modify their process to act upon the canvas in an entirely new and curious way.For this reason one almost feels a sense of deja vu when appraising Holmwood’s work, as her composition and form bears great similarity to the Italian Renaissance painters whom she studied in Rome, but vibrate with the most amazing fluorescent colours that speak of a futuristic scientific approach to painting. Whether Holmwood’s technique and commitment to all things original and self made is obsession or genius does not seem important, for the finished product is imbued with raw sensuality and colourful personality.

Don’t Miss out!

Don’t Miss out!

Don’t miss out!


Don’t miss out!

Roman Ondák, ‘Time Capsule’, 2011

Roman Ondák, ‘Time Capsule’, 2011

Volunteers wanted for the upcoming Roman Ondák exhibit at Modern Art Oxford

You are invited to take part in a live performance at Modern Art Oxford, conceived by renowned Slovakian artist Roman Ondák, on Monday 7 March 6-7pm. The performance will be filmed and screened as part of Ondák’s forthcoming exhibition at the Gallery, Roman Ondák: Time Capsule (12 March – 20 May 2011).

This new performance, Stampede, will involve a large crowd of people and will reflect on the movement of people through spaces. It acts as a counterpoint to the other work in Ondák’s exhibition, an installation entitled Time Capsule that references the incident at the San José mine in Chile in 2010, in which 33 miners were trapped for 69 days. Where Time Capsule evokes the isolation experienced in the mine, the performance touches on the other extreme, when people experience crowded situations. 

Ondák’s work has a conceptual and performative focus and, at its core, an interest in transferring real life experiences into the context of art. Taking on a variety of forms, from installation and photography to drawing and performance, Ondák’s work makes subtle interventions into social and cultural structures and crosses the borders between art and everyday life, the private and the public, the personal and the institutional.

Ondák was born Žilina, Slovakia in 1966, and lives and works in Bratislava. He has exhibitied widely, and represented the Czech and Slovak Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009.

How to take part

For further details, and to secure your place, please complete and return the short registration form available to download here, email: or call 01865 722733.

The performance itself will last around ten minutes and will involve a large crowd of people walking into and out of one of the galleries, which will be darkened.

Participants should be aged over 18 and be physically fit.

Book now to secure your place.

All participants will be given an invitation to the Private View of Roman Ondák: Time Capsule, on 11 March, and a voucher for a free drink in our Café and a discount in the Gallery Shop. Roman Ondák will be present at the performance.