Edited by Robert Atkins and Svetlana Mintcheva
Published in conjunction with
the National Coalition Against Censorship
paperback $19.95 / £12.99 / $23.95 CAN
Amy Adler, Judy Blume, J.M. Coetzee, Alexander Galloway, Hans Haacke, Dee Dee Halleck, Michael Harris, Marjorie Heins, Randall Kennedy, Ruby Lerner, Laurence Lessig, Judith Levine, Lowery Stokes Sims, Eugene Thacker, Siva Vaidhyanathan...
via The New Press :
In private, museum people have told me that self-censorship is indeed the order of the day. But it is quite rare for an official to speak about it in public. Self-censorship occurs behind closed doors. There are practically no whistle-blowers.
—HANS HAACKE, CONCEPTUAL ARTIST KNOWN FOR HIS SOCIALLY AND POLITICALLY ENGAGED ART
If your idea of censorship is an anonymous bureaucrat in a government office exercising prudish control over "offensive" art and speech, wake up and smell the conglomeration. Censorship today is just as likely to be the result of a market force or a bandwidth monopoly as a line edit or the covering of a nude sculpture, and the current system of new technologies and economic arrangements has subtle, built-in mechanisms for suppressing free expression as powerful as any known in other centuries.
In Censoring Culture, the nationally known author of the ArtSpeak books and the head of the National Coalition Against Censorship's Arts Program bring together the latest thinking from art historians, cultural theorists, legal scholars, and psychoanalysts, as well as first-person accounts by artists and advocates, to give us a comprehensive understanding of censorship in a new century.
Robert Atkins is an award-winning art historian, activist, and bestselling author of ArtSpeak and ArtSpoke. From 1987 to 1997, he wrote a biweekly column on art and politics for the Village Voice. A co-founder of Visual Aids, he lives in Palm Springs and San Francisco. Svetlana Mintcheva is the director of the Arts Program of the National Coalition Against Censorship, an alliance of fifty nonprofit organizations devoted to freedom of expression in the arts. She lives in New York City.
via The San Francisco Bay Guardian,
May 31 - June 6, 2006 - Vol. 40, No. 35:
Censorship is xxxx xx xxx
A new anthology looks at how we silence others and ourselves
By David Moisl
REVIEW "The ultimate dream of censorship is to do away with the censor," says Svetlana Mintcheva in Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression, a collection of essays, interviews, and roundtable discussions whose contributors range from Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig and hacker-culture explicator Douglas Thomas to fiction writers J.M. Coetzee and Judy Blume.
Mintcheva, director of the NYC-based National Coalition Against Censorship's arts program, is alluding to self-censorship, and its ability to operate at a perilously imperceptible level — sometimes even flying under the radar of the people doing the censoring. She and her coeditor, art historian and author Robert Atkins (ArtSpeak, ArtSpoke), hope to expand our notions of censorship, elucidating its many forms and thereby making its presence more visible.
The first section of the book deals with economics, touching on the US culture wars and the contentious issue of arts funding. Conceptual artist Hans Haacke defines the wars as "the conflict between those who would like to keep this country an open society versus one regimented by self-proclaimed defenders of 'values.'" Taxpayers do not wish to fund art that offends them, or so the '90s argument went, and now, says Atkins, the United States is one of the least generous arts funders per capita in the industrialized world.
This situation leaves art makers scrambling for private funding, which can bring along its own set of problems, including a market-driven ideology that calls into question the worth of art that's not turning a profit. In "Market Censorship," New Press founder André Schiffrin discusses the situation of booksellers: "The market, it is argued, is a sort of ideal democracy. It is not up to the elite to impose their values on readers, publishers claim, it is up to the public to choose what it wants — and if what it wants is increasingly downmarket and limited in scope, so be it. The higher profits are proof that the market is working like it should."
Elsewhere, the book focuses on censorship disguised as the protection of children, and a political hypocrisy that lies therein: "With poverty, homelessness, lack of health care, and the diminishing quality of public education threatening children's well-being," Mintcheva points out, "it is striking that so much political energy should be harnessed shielding children from the sight of a bare breast, the sound of a four letter word." What qualifies as protection is highly subjective, and the recipients are rarely asked to speak for themselves. The editors try to rectify that situation with a roundtable discussion among a group of teenagers.
Other topics in Censoring Culture include the harmful effects of intellectual property laws, the demise of alternative spaces for modern artists, and the ways in which military research contracts silence dissent at universities. Perhaps most sobering is an interview with Spanish artist Antoni Muntadas, whose File Room is an interactive archive of global censorship incidents. As one might expect, the book’s contributors generally place great importance on media literacy and critical thinking, on teaching people to face what’'s difficult and controversial, rather than shielding them from it. And Muntadas's initial motivation was the belief, shared by Atkins and Mintcheva, that greater visibility would serve as an impetus for change. However, he soon experienced the limits of the "if only people knew about this" approach. Our hypermediated world allows for an unprecedented degree of access to information, but, he says, we may be mollified by oversaturation: "Today, it seems that even if we are arguably successful in getting visibility for key political issues, little changes tangibly."
via Diacritic.org, April 15, 2006:
Facing Up to Modern Censorship
There are two extremely insightful articles on Alternet about phenomena of modern censorship. Both articles concern Robert Atkins, the co-editor of "Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression". The first article "Facing Up to Modern Censorship" is an interview and the second is an excerpt from the Censoring Culture book. Both attempt to drill deeper into the dynamics of modern censorship and away from the common flat perception of censorship being solely a repressive tool used by the state. It expands the culpability to the very artists, institutions and corporations that we commonly believe to resist censorship. I've cut and pasted excerpts from the two online articles below as they relate to my own concerns about the issue of censorship.
Censorship has always been a dirty word. (It derives from the Latin for "census taker" or "tax collector," designating one of the most reviled citizens of the Roman Empire.) In the legal sense, censorship is the governmental suppression of speech. In a broader sense, it refers to private institutions or individuals doing the same thing, suppressing content they find undesirable.
The classic image of the censor depicts a narrow-minded and prudish bureaucrat blind to the transcendent flights of the imagination we call art, burnishing his red pen or his stamp and inkpad with perverse pleasure. This portrayal renders the censor as the very opposite of the creative artist. But censorship often operates more subtly than that, sometimes disguised as a moral imperative, at other times presented as an inevitable result of the impartial logic of the free market. No matter how it may be camouflaged, however, the result is the same: the range of what we can say, see, hear, think and even imagine is narrowed.
CENSORSHIP, ART, AND POLITICS
"Censoring Culture" expands the notion of censorship beyond the acts of removing a photograph from an exhibition or canceling a performance to include a much larger field of social conditions and practices that prevent artists' works of all kinds from reaching audiences or even from being produced. The narrow collecting purview of a museum, for instance, might be irremediably problematic for contemporary painters if no museum in their country collected work by living artists.
OR: Is this a book about politics as much as it is about art?
RA: You can't have one without the other. Artists are both a reflection and a mirror of the social conditions around them -- which is why there is change in art. You couldn't have an artist like Andy Warhol critiquing consumer culture prior to the late-19th century. As an art historian, I believe that the arts are firmly embedded in their moment, and the possibilities for artists are totally tied to the social conditions around them. The idea that artists are visionaries ahead of their time is silly. When an artist's observations are acute, they may be there before anybody else, but they're limited by social and political phenomena.
OR: If artists are canaries in the mine, what are politicians?
RA: I think politicians are always the slowest to react -- it's the squeaky wheel theory. No politician will go out on a limb for anything unless he feels his constituency is affected. While I don't believe artists are visionaries -- it seems like much too strong a word for me -- it does seem that artists and politicians are at the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to quick responsiveness.
CENSORSHIP AND LOCALITY
In Vietnam, seeing censorship in the most simplistic terms is easy. All exhibitions, gatherings and publications must have a permit. It's not rare to actually see articles and images from abroad gone over with a thick black marker (go to the library at the French Consulate in HCMC and pick up a contemporary art photography book and you will see what I mean. Nipples and groins obscured: from coarse black strokes to impressively drawn black underwear and bras).