Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Currently, there's a major graffiti exhibition on at one of Los Angeles's contemporary art museums. As usual, the exhibition has been criticized by morons for glorifying vandalism. The show's focus is on the art itself. Much of it is striking, and the artists are clearly talented.
Legally speaking, painting on a wall without permission is a form of vandalism, but would painting on a wall with permission still be graffiti art, or does the art form require the illegal canvas in order to serve its original function? My point is: Don't dismiss the art just because its commission is a crime. Crime may be necessary for it to exist.
In the past, graffiti would not have been afforded any serious consideration as "art" (meaning: something that rich and pretentious people will hang in their galleries). Citizen anger at the crime left no room for tolerance or aesthetic contemplation. Times have changed... a bit.
Art featuring sexual subject matter is often dismissed. It's conveniently re-labeled 'pornography', a term loaded with negative connotations for most people, and those who label it as such know that, and count on it. Blanket dismissal is a lazy way to avoid dialog. A little like locking the black kid in the closet when the white friends come to stay.
Rarely is pornography considered "art", especially in America, and that's a shame, because it is art. Personally, I despise the way human beings group creative works into condescending categories. Nothing makes me puke more than an academic wanker deciding what is high art, low art, trash, and pornography. Fuck off!, it's all "art", and it's either good or bad. My opinion on it is no more correct or important than yours, and yours is no more important or correct than mine.
In Sono Sion's thought-provoking and dynamic Love Exposure, the protagonist gains a modicum of fame by secretly and resourcefully photographing the pleasant view up a woman's skirt. Known as "Upskirt Photography" or "Panty Peeking", this brand of fetish photography has been ushered in by pure desire, sexual frustration, and technological advancements.
Upskirting has much in common with graffiti. The act of practicing it is, technically, criminal behavior. Floating an uninvited camera lens between a woman's thighs represents an invasion of her privacy. A transgressive act. So does photographing a celebrity on a remote island, in my book, but nobody seems concerned about that. Like graffiti, the commission of an illegal act goes hand in hand with the commission of an artistic act.
Some of upskirting's top practitioners are talented individuals who employ complex and artful methods to snap striking panty shots. Cameras on springs. Cameras in walking sticks. Cameras in sunglasses and light shades.
A pro with a camera may discreetly cartwheel behind his target to gain a perfect ground view. A lens may lurk in a garbage bag beneath a stairwell. A bag pushed under a toilet stall may capture a hundred panty-wrapped treasures. A low level camera at a taxi rank may offer much leg-lifting material for the patient pervert's lens.
Being creative with shooting methods and managing exposure and focus simultaneously are key to the career success of the upskirter.
Perhaps this success will be rewarded one day with serious consideration in a rich man's gallery or museum?
Or is serious consideration and acceptance of the art by folks who are ten years behind the zeitgeist anathema to the art itself?
Does acceptance blunt the needle? Do art forms like graffiti and upskirting require an illegal structure in order to be true? Is a legally sanctioned upskirt still an upskirt? I think not.
Isn't the rush of upskirting based on the belief that the virtual voyeur is getting a private, clandestine view of a woman's panties, and, by extrapolation, her vagina? If you know that she's doesn't know the cameraman was there, that's the sizzle, right? You're seeing the forbidden. That's the picture's power. If the picture is posed, it's just another picture. The transgressive element is no more.
The scenes of active upskirting in Love Exposure are directed and edited by director Sono with a light, subtle flair. The film doesn't take a hypocritical stand against the material that it portrays with so much glee and fun. It doesn't pretend to speak for "victims", either, and doesn't canonize the proponents of the subculture. The film's primary purpose is to tell a great love story over a swift 237 minutes. Because it does this without detouring into the vile puritanism and pandering moralizing of American TV shows like Law and Order: SVU and CSI, it achieves greatness... and respect.
Upskirting, however, can do without the latter.
For some crazy fucking reason, Love Exposure is not available in the U.S. on DVD. Recently, the U.S. has really dropped the ball on Asian cinema. In a country with close to 300 million living skulls, is the market for this material so diminished as to not justify any release? Perhaps. Returns on past releases fuel future investment. No returns, no investment. Other recent titles MIA Stateside include Bedevilled, Cold Fish, and Confessions. All are available or announced with street dates in the UK. Over the past couple of years, the UK (and Australia) have become powerhouse markets for foreign/arthouse releases with companies like Third Window Films, Madmen, Eastern Eye, and Eureka. Make sure you have a multi-zone Blu-ray/DVD player. If you don't, you're missing out on a galaxy of wonders.