DISCUS(T)?: CONVERSATIONS ON THE MALE BODY
See the work from the exhibition here
Photo Credits: Alex Linganu
Discust: conversation on the male body was self curated, temporary exhibition that took place in Kelowna B.C. from Aug 3rd - 14th in the vacant building at 1476 St. Paul St. Used as a prototype for the grass roots initiative, the projects goal was to utilize alternative space to directly engage the community on a variety of levels.
The exhibition consisted of large, life size oil paintings depicting young men naked from the waist down in environments and poses ranging from personal to overtly homo erotic. Some of the works are of friends with their name doubling as the title of the painting, many are self portraits. Others show anonymous individuals as "ghosts", covering their faces and upper bodies with a white sheet leaving their genitals revealed.
The Discus(t)? project included a number of public events situated in relation to the actual works. These including an opening reception with a public performance, two artist talks (at the Vernon Public Art Gallery and at the St.Paul Location), a panel discussion at the The Okanagan Institute Express title "the male body in Contention", as well as a public forum to hear responses to the project in the gallery space on Aug 7th.
This exhibtion was supported by the Arts Council of the Central Okanagan.
City Bylaw - No penis, no gouch
During the opening reception for the exhibition Kelowna city bylaw officers arrived asking for the sign outside the gallery to be removed or covered as it was in violation of city bylaw. This particular bylaw states that " No person, owner or tenant shall permit a sign which contains statements, words or pictures of an obscene, pornographic, or immoral character ...(City of Kelowna Bylaw no. 8235)" When asked which areas needed to be covered to make the sign acceptable the officer pointed to the penis, and then to the area between the models penis and anus. Bylaw officials later declined the invitation to speak at the public forum to explain the criteria used to determine how and what content is deemed to be obscene, pornographic or immoral. the sign itself was a folding street sign about 1ft by 1ft, with the offending image approximately 8 x 6 inches.
Press, Publicity and Controversy
Shortly after the opening reception I was invited to speak on the radio show The Open Line with Phil Johnson as well as the CBC's Daybreak South Program. These both proved to be popular opportunities for the community to actually phone in and voice their thoughts about the community reception to the exhibition, censorship and their thoughts on nudity and the male body. This public conversation quickly carried over to the community newspaper with articles and a wide range of letters to the editor, (see some of them here) and then into various online forums. Most notable is Jennifer Smiths Article, "the Naked Truth About Nude Art" which ran on the front page of the Captiol news and elicited a large response from the community which included advertisers pulling their support from the paper and a number of the papers not actually being delivered that day as paper carriers (and/or their parents) refused to deliver them. Utilizing community and social media proved to be valuable means of engaging the public and extending a discussion about art beyond the walls of the gallery where many sides of the discussion were able to be heard and expressed.
Background Information - curtains at the Kelowna Public Art Gallery
Although approximatively half of the works were completed prior to me seeing the exhibition at the Kelowna Public Art Gallery, the heavy emphasis on discussion and community engagement became necessarily in response to the retrospective exhibition of works by painter Joice Hall in Spring 2010. During the exhibition a large portion of the work was placed behind curtains because the paintings depicted full frontal male nudes. When taken on the guided tour the exhibit was given a feminist slant when it was explained that Hall created and exhibited these works in the 60's 70's and 80's, and part of her motivation stemmed from being a woman desiring the the right to be the "looker" rather than solely the object to be looked at. (It was also explained that it wasn't until then that some of the Canadian art schools first began to allow female students to draw from a male model in life classes.) Inadvertent or not it's troublingly ironic that twenty years later the male body's in Halls paintings remained shielded from the direct gaze of the audience. Something about the classical social values that we prescribe to the male gender continue to make it indecent to expose the male body and to make it "vulnerable" to being looked at in the same way we treat the female body so often.