Frontal Nudity Nixed

As promised in my After Hours story on Cinema <=>Life<=>Cinema, here’s the video that Regina artist Jeannie Mah originally intended to show as part of her installation before Regina Public Library administration raised concerns about a snippet of frontal nudity . The “challenging” part starts at the 4’13” mark.

Author: Gregory Beatty

Greg Beatty is a crime-fighting shapeshifter who hatched from a mutagenic egg many decades ago. He likes sunny days, puppies and antique shoes. His favourite colour is not visible to your inferior human eyes. He refuses to write a bio for this website and if that means Whitworth writes one for him, so be it.

44 thoughts on “Frontal Nudity Nixed”

  1. Wow – totally astounded here. If this is what is considered challenging, then I don’t know what isn’t.

    Perhaps the RPL should reconsider a lot of the content on it’s own bookshelves if their sensibilities are so easily challenged. Better remove any art book that contains “Nude Descending a Staircase” because that kind-of looks like a naked lady too.

  2. I didn’t see the correspondance that passed between RPL administration, the Dunlop and Jeannie, so I’m not sure what terms were used to communicate the administration’s concerns. In our interview, RPL director Jeffrey Barber did use the phrase “challenging content”. In my mind, it was a pretty extreme over-reaction to what was presented in the video. Our culture these days is awash in images and actions that degrade the human body through violence, poverty and exploitive sexuality. Art like Jeannie’s video that, in the words of Sharon Alward, celebrates “the beauty, meaningfulness and preciousness of the body” shouldn’t be viewed in the same way.

  3. The Dunlop Gallery, situated as it is in a public library (Central and the Sherwood Branch), is in a uniquely sensitive position in re: art that might be controversial. Literally so: both display spaces are close to the library entrance, and both are highly visible. Policy has been to post fair warning to the viewing public, and to make sure that installations that might offend are positioned so that passersby can choose to go in and see them, as opposed to having the installation in their face, without choice. The one and only complaint situation that arose when I was on the RPL Board involved an art-photo exhibit at the Sherwood that included one item featuring full frontal male nudity. The photo was a hologram, so depending on where you stood, you either did or did not see the full monty. The problem was that people checking out their books were in a perfect position to see it, and the Board and administration received a number of complaints and several presentations from the public, both about the show’s content and about the lack of choice re: viewing the photo. (I went out to the Sherwood to check things out, and found that the checkout desk was the viewing spot par excellence.)It should also be noted that children’s books had to be checked out at the main desk, as the Sherwood has a children’s section, but not a completely separate location, as the Central does. The Board was adamant about retaining the show and the item in question; what we did was ask the curator to find an accommodation, which he did. He simply changed the photo’s position. No more complaints.
    Just out of curiosity: Jeannie Mah was at one time quite involved with Friends of the Dunlop. Is she still? If so, she would be very aware of RPL policy and of precedent.

  4. Barb – I totally hear you here. I don’t mean to suggest that art that may be controversial not be discussed or presented with the public in mind – as you say, the Dunlop exists within public buildings and needs to be aware of that.

    I guess it just strikes me as odd that 5 seconds of rather obscured frontal nudity be cut considering most people walking past may only glance 2-3 seconds of the entire video… many people would just see water moving, or perhaps an obscured body moving through water.

    I think in this case it would be totally fair to put up a note at the entrance letting parents know, etc. but this just seems like a bit of an over-reaction, especially given the example that you gave which seems more directly identifiable as frontal nudity.

  5. Laura: thanks for your thoughts. I must stress, however, that the person who “nixed” the frontal nudity was Ms. Mah herself. In Mr. Beatty’s article sidebar, it is noted that she considered moving the location of the video, within the gallery, but decided to cut the footage instead, for her own reasons. Obviously she had a choice as to how to resolve the situation, and she chose to edit the video. It seems to me that pd and some posters are missing that point.

    As to past accommodations at the Dunlop, there have been many edgy installations (and I think particularly of some of the Super 8 shows)which were painstakingly set up so as to be out of the line of sight of anyone who did not wish to view them. This is part of the creativity that curators exercise.

    My last post was rather long, so I didn’t mention that sometimes complaints about involuntary viewing come from library staff who may find themselves, like the patrons at the Sherwood checkout desk, a captive audience.

  6. From what I’ve seen, the Dunlop has always done an excellent job accommodating the sensibilities of the more sensitive members of the public. This incident crosses the line from reasonable compromise to censorship. That video is tame. It would be appropriate in full public view in the foyer of the library. Asking for changes when it’s off in the gallery and partially screened is very, very bad.

    This is like a punch in the nose to artists and people who like art.

    We have to stop constantly accommodating the irrational fears of this City’s uptight weirdos at the expense of artists and audiences. These are the kind of people — interesting, imaginative and creative, thoughtful and playful — that Regina needs. Don’t make it hard for them to live here.

    There are other cities and our creative people will leave if abused. This is abuse.

  7. Gosh, Stephen, I’d hate to think that the pd response to points that were well made is temper, blanket characterisations of people with whom you disagree, and threats on behalf of artists who may not take your view of things.

    You know, of course, what the best long-term solution to the “accommodation problem” is? The Dunlop should have its own space, completely separate from the RPL. That way, accommodation will never be a problem again. Oh, wait…

  8. You’re my favourite commentator Barb but you’re way off base on this one. And you’re right I’m mad about it. Furious. This should not have happened.

    The RPL’s move feels like a punch in the face to me (as someone who wants a creative city) and it certainly does to a lot of artists. If you don’t understand that, that is your failure, not mine.

    Regina is often a very, very hostile place for creative people. You can dispute my assertion all you want but I could find a hell of a lot of people who would agree.

    A lot of them don’t live here any more.

  9. The exhibition was in the works for 18 months. Less than two weeks before it opened, concerns were expressed to Jeannie about the content of her video. She was dumbfounded that something so minor could have raised a warning flag. Art installations operate as an integrated whole. You shift one component, you have to rethink the entire installation. That’s quite a burden to put on an artist on such short notice.

    At the time, the Dunlop was without a director. The last seven years have been extremely trying for the gallery, beginning with the proposal floated by the previous administration under Sandy Cameron to close it because it wasn’t a core part of the RPL’s mandate. I think within the art community the suspicion exists that the Dunlop could still fall victim to budget cuts and program consolidation depending on what happens with the central library expansion. If one of the eligibility requirements to show at the gallery is that you’re going to have to anticipate any possible objection to your work and figure out ways to safeguard sensitive patrons it would be an intolerable imposition on creativity and kill the Dunlop’s reputation as a nationally-ranked art gallery.

    Finally, I’m not sure what would have happened had Jeannie not volunteered to recut the video to avoid the hassle of putting the Dunlop in conflict with library administration. As I note in the article, it’s virtually invisible from the lobby. But the administration may have resorted to papering over the gallery’s front window. That would just serve as another barrier to art and make people who might contemplate entering the gallery feel like they were entering a XXX porn shop.

  10. To clarify: I’m not mad at YOU, Barb. I’m quite happy with your contribution to discussion. But I’m mad at the Library’s de facto censorship. Very, very, very, very, very mad.

  11. Stephen, I get it. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one, because I support the right of the RPL to determine what its mandate is, and understand the built-in necessity to take its patrons’ opinions into consideration.The core problem is the location(s) of the Dunlop Gallery. If artists think that sharing public space cramps their style, and that no form of accommodation is acceptable (as Mr. Beatty seems to be saying in post #10), then the discussion should be about finding the Dunlop a new home. It’s possible that the Dunlop, founded as it was to showcase Saskatchewan art at a time when that art couldn’t find any display venues, has outlived its mandate. Saskatchewan art has long since arrived, and there are plenty of other spaces for it to reach the public.
    To speak to points made by Mr. Beatty above, when I as a RPL Board member received responses from the public to the proposed branch and program closures, the vast majority were “keep the Connaught”, followed at a distance by “keep the Prince of Wales”, with only a few “keep the Glen Elm” responses bringing up the rear. Fewer than a dozen wrote in support of the Prairie History Room. A comparable number of curators and artists from outside the city wrote in support of the Dunlop’s remaining as part of the RPL, but very few Regina citizens did. The general attitide, when it was expressed at all, was “it’s not as necessary as a branch library”. I was surprised by this, as was Jeannie Mah (I recall her discussing this in a past pd article.)
    It’s entirely possible that the Central re-do may be a logical time to have this discussion again.

  12. I think the RPL gains just as much from the Dunlop’s presence as the Dunlop gets from being housed in the RPL. The Dunlop adds an engaging aspect and a deeper relevance to public space because they make art accessible to the public and not locked away in a separate gallery space. Their community outreach work with the RPL, the downtown, etc. is very essential and it would be a tragedy to see this partnership dissolve.

    I think, for me, the issue is whether or not this is even controversial work. In 2009, the Dunlop featured the work of Dan Perjovschi as part of Diabolique – the images were potentially much more controversial than the obscured image of a woman swimming and were drawn on the outside of the building (no hiding it from sight).

    This too was not without some controversy and I’m sure some caution, but it does not change the fact that the Dunlop, RPL, and the artist stood by the work and kept it installed in this way. For me, this just seems like a very odd place to draw the line with what is acceptable or controversial.

  13. I find it odd that whenever I peek in at the central branch issue, one of the insinuations that seems to be coming from “on high” is that maybe we should consider dropping this thing or that thing from the branch because it’s outlived or outgrown or exceeded its whathaveyou. Meanwhile, with every other facility we’re considering building or revamping, the official line is “multi-use just makes sense.”

    If we want our main branch to solely be a repository for textual matter, then fine, ditch the dunlop. And the theatre. And the computers while you’re at it.

    Thing is, I’m kind of hoping that the library we’re going to get will be a gathering place for and archive of all sorts of stuff. Books, movies, art, science, etc. etc. That’s what we (I think) were trying to get at with that library issue we did lo so many months ago.

    I think the question of what can and can’t be featured in the dunlop window shouldn’t be used as a rationale for dumping it. I think the problem can be solved by some creative jiggery pokery with the new layout.

    Maybe, pair the entrance to the adult library with the kids library. And twin the dunlop with the theatre. And then put a coffee shop in there as the nexus for all four.

    Bingo. Everybody’s happy. Especially me. I’m thirsty for coffee right now and I can’t make it for crap at home.

  14. No offense Barb, but you have a nasty habit of putting words in people’s mouths.
    Below is your paraphrase of my comment.

    If artists think that sharing public space cramps their style, and that no form of accommodation is acceptable (as Mr. Beatty seems to be saying in post #10), then the discussion should be about finding the Dunlop a new home.

    What I actually said was: If one of the eligibility requirements to show at the gallery is that you’re going to have to anticipate any possible objection to your work and figure out ways to safeguard sensitive patrons it would be an intolerable imposition on creativity and kill the Dunlop’s reputation as a nationally-ranked art gallery.

    I think we can take it as a given that any time any art outside of the most mundane and banal work is presented in a public space there will be people who will take offense. I can think of shows by aboriginal artists that I’ve seen that some Euro-Canadian people might object to because they offer an indigenous perspective on history and/or current events that clashes with their own. Likewise with art I’ve seen by feminist artists that takes issue with what they perceive to be patriarchal privilege that some men might object to; or queer artists who are challenging heterosexual norms or biases in our society.

    In her installation, Jeannie champions cooperative and communal values that probably a healthy number of Reginans whose values skew more to a free market/private sector society would find objectionable.

    Where do you draw the line? If one person objects, then the work is withdrawn or access otherwise hindered? In my mind, it’s the RPL’s job to facilitate and defend freedom of expression and thought, not constrain it.

    I think you’re also mis-representing the amount of support the Dunlop received locally, provincially and nationally in 2003-04 when the library board tried to ram through its spectacularly ill-conceived plan. I was at a number of rallies that were held during a bitterly cold winter and there were dozens of people in attendance. And the petition that was circulated to resist the cuts to the branches, gallery and prairie history room had well over 20,000 signatures.

  15. Silly silly silly nonsensical sensors (censors) . Thanks for being up front Prairie Dog and Artist – in showing both sides of the issue.

  16. Greg: good grief. Paraphrase you? Do try to admit that other people MIGHT be capable of original thought. My reference was to paragraph 3, post #10, regarding the papering over of the window – which, by the way, has been done before by the Dunlop, as an accommodation. As to objections from the public, you know perfectly well that the RPL, as any public institution, has an obligation to listen to the public, whether one person or a number. As you have already said (post #2), you were not privy to “the correspondence that passed between RPL administration, the Dunlop, and Jeannie”, so you have no idea what the concern was specifically, nor do you know where the objection(s) arose, or the number(s) involved. You have chosen to interpret the situation as (1) hypocritical prudishness (post #2) and (2) political opposition (post #17, paragraph #5). You also continue to ignore the point that the Dunlop’s location in public space means that the gallery must keep that fact in mind.

    What is your reaction to the photo exhibit incident? Was the course of action, which retained the exhibit and dealt with a public dissatisfaction in a respectful way, censorship? Not in my book. The RPL stood up for Queer City Cinema when festival films were shown in the RPL Theatre to significant public outcry, just one example of many where it “facilitate[d]and defend[ed] freedom of expression and thought”.

    In your final paragraph, you think that I misrepresent the public support for the RPL and its programs as expressed in 2003-04. If you read with care what I wrote, you will see that I referred to the responses I received as a member of the RPL Board. I kept the phone log, letters and e-mail printouts, and they were in the proportions that I have represented them. Again, I must cite Jeannie Mah, who, in her work with Friends of the Dunlop, was surprised by what she characterised as lack of local support for the gallery, an indication that FoD and the gallery itself had a major selling job to do.

    Part of that selling job involves sensitivity to the broad range of people who use the RPL.

  17. Ms Saylor, Where on earth would you find a quote that I was surprised that less than 12 people in Regina supported the Dunlop??

    During the Task Force consultations, 21 people out of a total 63 individuals spoke in favour of the Dunlop!!!!

    When the closures were announced in 2003, many people from Regina and from across the country, and indeed, from around the world wrote to the Mayor and to the Library Board. Perhaps you did not receive these personally, as Sandy Cameron had not been forwarding all the letters to the members of the Library Board, as he said that they were repetitive and redundant.

    PLEASE tell me where your citation on what I said (where you claim that i agree with you) is coming from! . Perhaps there were only 12 on the first day, but letters kept coming!!!

    Your numbers on support for the Dunlop are totally inaccurate.

  18. Good morning, Ms. Mah. Apparently you have the same tendency to read as hastily as Mr. Beatty. Your surprise, as mentioned by me, was not at the numbers of letters/phone calls/e-mails I received (because I received them, after all), but at the general lack of support for or interest in the Dunlop in the city. I remember being surprised when I read your remarks in the article (this was months ago, but was very likely in the library edition of the pd that Greg mentioned above). As to Sandy Cameron screening my or any other Board member’s mail/e-mail, no. When I came on the Board, I resisted the move to a RPL e-mail address (which the subsequent Board almost immediately implemented) for the explicitly stated reason that I didn’t want my communications screened. We regularly received any mail that had come to us addressed to the RPL, but once the letter-writing campaign began, the letters arrived at our homes.

    The petition was a different thing; the Task Force hearings were a different thing. What I heard over my phone, saw on my computer screen, and read in my mail was mostly from regular library users concerned about their branch, and in most cases that branch was the Connaught. You may not like it, but that’s what I got.

  19. In post #12 Barb you state “It’s possible that the Dunlop, founded as it was to showcase Saskatchewan art at a time when that art couldn’t find any display venues, has outlived its mandate.” That’s an argument that the Regina Chamber of Commerce used back in 2003 when it spoke in favour of the decision to close the Dunlop. I thought at the time that it showed an appalling lack of understanding about the nature of the Regina art community (in its brief, the RCC even referred to the artist-run centre Neutral Ground as Common Ground.)

    Most of the commercial art galleries in Regina are little more than gifts shops that specialize in art and crafts. There are five I am aware of, the Nouveau, McIntyre, Mysteria, Assiniboia and Traditions Handcraft Gallery, that present formal exhibitions. But they have no real capacity to present the type of curated exhibitions showcasing provincial, national and international artists that the Dunlop does.

    In the public sphere, the Joe Moran Gallery at Wascana Place recently closed. That leaves the city’s flagship gallery, the MacKenzie, along with Neutral Ground, the Art Gallery of Regina and the Dunlop (you could include the Cumberland, I suppose, but again, it has extremely limited resources to mount curated shows.) Four galleries with access to public funding in a growing city of over 200,000 people that is also the capital of Saskatchewan doesn’t strike me as excessive — especially when Regina is keen to promote itself as a cosmopolitan 21st century city to encourage people and corporations from larger centres to relocate here.

    Most of the Dunlop’s operating budget is self-generated through funds it is awarded from various local, provincial and national agencies based on the quality of its programming. If the Dunlop was to leave the RPL that money would still be available to it. But as Paul Dechene noted above, significant benefits can be achieved by creating multi-purpose facilities that are able to share maintenance and infrastructure costs. In today’s political climate, I doubt very much that the will exists to provide the additional funding the Dunlop would need to secure a new site and establish itself as an independent entity.

    When I interviewed Jeffrey Barber, we did discuss the idea that if, after 40 some years at its current spot, the challenges of shielding library patrons from being unwittingly exposed to the challenging content that the gallery sometimes presents were proving too daunting, if consideration would be given to placing the gallery in an out-of-the-way location should Central eventually expand. Barber expressed a preference for keeping the gallery in a high-profile spot in recognition of the important role it plays in the library’s overall mandate to promote literacy.

    As Laura notes above, Central library and its branches house all sorts of material — fiction and non-fiction books, magazines, and now the Internet — with challenging content that patrons, no matter their age, have unfettered access too. Should warning signs be posted on all the aisles to warn patrons of that content? Should book shelves be papered over to further shield patrons from particularly racy content? In my mind, when you do stuff like that you just embolden individuals and organizations who want to limit free thought and free speech.

    One final point. The video that Jeannie intended to show in her installation was previously exhibited in 2008 at the Art Gallery of Regina. It’s located in a public facility too (the Neil Balkwill Civic Arts Centre) where patrons from young children to seniors go to take art and craft classes and participate in other community events. Two years later, in another public facility, it’s suddenly problematic?

  20. if there’s 10 people in a gallery and 9 of those people enjoy an artwork that features some mild nudity while the remaining one person is offended, why does that one person’s tastes outweigh those of the other 9? why is there any concession at all given to people who might be offended by relatively innocuous work? why do the rights of the narrow-minded trump the rights of the open-minded? shouldn’t it be the other way around?

    personally i feel offended that my right (as a person with a mature & healthy ability to handle the sight of an unclothed human) to view a certain artwork, or even a small portion of it, has been removed by the artist or the arts administrators preemptively trying to defuse the complaints of that prudish, hysterical minority who mistakenly and egotistically believe their opinions to be of the utmost importance. artists and curators spend far too much time and energy kowtowing to this irksome segment of society. it should not the institution’s responsibility to tip-toe around the hang-ups, hypocrisies and neuroses of the repressed conservative right.

  21. Thanks for the informative response, Greg. Not all ideas may be feasible, but all ideas should be sought and at least heard out, even the Chamber of Commerce’s. They have as much right to be heard as any citizen. And speaking of any citizen and appalling lack of understanding, numerous citizens back in 2003-04 blithely suggested that the RPL Board charge fees for library cards – which was illegal. So: you listen to all, but not all input is useful. When you listen to the public, you get what you get.

    If in the course of the Central Library’s makeover, new and less problematic space could be made for the Dunlop, that could work (see Paul’s suggestion). With thoughtful design, it could still fall within what Jeff Barber described as a high-profile spot. The challenge is to make the gallery a place that you have to go to to see the work, as opposed to having it in your face whether you want it or not. This is how it already works with books, etc: you have to go to the shelf/terminal and make the effort to expose yourself to the content. There’s CHOICE. (Not altogether unfettered: the RPL carefully monitors use of the internet on its premises, and it doesn’t compete with the adult shops around town.)

    As to the showing of Ms. Mah’s video at the Balkwill, different institutions have different mores and policies, and the Balkwill is first and foremost an art gallery, which serves a less broad spectrum of the public than the RPL.

    By the way: you didn’t answer my question.

  22. One last post from me before I get working on stuff I need to do for next issue:

    As I understand it, it’s the RPL’s concern that when patrons enter Central (and Sherwood Village too) they not be exposed without their consent to exhibitions housed in art galleries in those branches that may contain challenging content.

    But why single out visual art? Challenging content comes in many different forms. If the RPL’s concern is legitimate, as has been suggested on this blog, it’s incumbent upon administration to re-evaluate how it handles all manner of materials.

    I can easily imagine numerous scenarios where a patron who is at the library for one reason or another might unwittingly be exposed to material that they find challenging and potentially offensive. The magazine racks, for instance, are in full public view, and the covers of glamour and gossip magazines in particular are sometimes pretty racy.

    Or maybe they go to sit at a table where another patron has left an art book open to a page with a painting or photograph of a nude on it. Or they’re strolling past the computer station and they catch a glimpse of a webpage another patron is looking at that they find hard to stomach. Or an elementary school age child wanders down an aisle in the fiction section and opens a book to a page that has swears on it.

    In every instance, the patron is being presented with challenging content without their consent (or in the last case, the consent of the patron’s parent or legal guardian).

    If this is a concern of RPL administration when it involves visual art, it should be a concern when it involves any other material that the library has in its collection. Logistically, it would be a challenge to establish the proper screening mechanisms, I admit. But if the concern is legitimate, and the sensitivities of each and every patron who accesses the library must be respected and accommodated, then the RPL has no choice.

  23. Golly, and I was so looking forward to the answer to the question I posed. Instead, a red herring.

  24. Also, to clarify: I’m not advocating for an anything-goes policy at the Dunlop. Nobody on this thread is. But as far as nudity goes, this work is innocuous. There are far more controversial things on view in public spaces, including the library. Greg made a good and fair point about racy magazine covers on open display.

    This exhibit is not a Mapplethorpe show. It is a contemplative exhibit containing a looped film with mild, blurry and tame nudity. The library director flubbed this call badly–which is why library directors shouldn’t play curator.

    Hopefully, lesson learned. I’m so glad there’s a director in place now.

  25. OMG I can’t believe the acriminious comments that are flowing in response to Jeannie’s work. It seems that some people hold a grudge for far too long. To me this is exactly the reason for the Dunlop in the RPL – to not only introduce people to art, which granted most people had little exposure to in the 1940’s when the first art shows were started and art was much more “high brow” than now – but to stimulate discussion and expand awareness and understanding of art – how it has the power to challenge us, inform us, amaze and astonish. I find Jeannie’s work a beautiful, meditative piece of cinema – that creates a calming backdrop to her installation, REVE + POOL (filmed on the rear wall of the gallery behind a wall and therefore not viewable from the door or the lobby) which is about escape. To use this as a pretext for bringing up the past, specifically the 2003 closures, is disturbing. Its obvious that Ms. Saylor failed to learn a lesson from her time on the library board – the library was established as a “Free PUBLIC Library” in 1908 in response to the demands of the public. The board are accountable to that public for their actions and although art is obviously not part of Ms. Saylor’s understanding of what should be in a library, the public indicated that it supported ALL of the services that were slated for closure in a 26,000 signature petition. She felt compelled to resign from the RPL board in the face of public opinion rather than try to be part of finding a solution. Now she is supporting closures of schools as a member of the REgina School Board. Is there a pattern here?

  26. One of the biggest problems I see is that the library doesn’t seem to have a clear, informed or transparent way to deal with public concerns over ‘questionable content’ (I put that in quotations because I really don’t see how Jeannie’s piece is questionable – it’s amazing what people will object to).

    Should the public be able to register their feedback about displays (books, art, music, magazine covers, etc) in a public facility? Yes. Is it the facility or organization’s responsibility to educate and speak to the public about the role of challenging material and invite further dialogue? Yes. Is that institution mandated to take down the work or bow down to everyone who finds offense. Absolutely not. In fact, I would say that they’re doing a huge disservice to the community by taking down the art work. Instead of actually having a meaningful public dialogue about it they are choosing the coward’s path by sweeping it under the carpet. I would go so far as to argue that they are shirking their responsibilities.

    Being publicly funded does not mean that the public gets to interject and impose its will randomly. The provincial government, the city police, the city council, Regina Transit … all of these organizations are able – within certain reasonable parameters – to make decisions that the public might not like. How many people complained about hikes in transit fares? Did that mean that Regina Transit wasn’t allowed to implement them? The argument that because the Dunlop is located in a publicly funded building it needs to take the advice of every citizen with a complaint or proposal is ridiculous. It’s an argument that only seems to apply to arts and cultural organizations and it’s one that boards use to justify their actions. The exciting thing about this for boards is that it can be randomly and arbitrarily applied – especially without some clear and thoughtful guidelines in place.

    I know that it’s impossible to have blanket policy that will address every potential incident of censorship, but does the library even have a set of guiding principals around the issue? Does anyone know what they are? Have they sought advice and consultation about them? If so, maybe it’s time to revisit them? It’s really unfortunate, because libraries and librarians have a long history of protecting freedom of speech. Historically they have been largely responsible for protecting books that have been challenged or banned in North America.

    The (very startling) objection to Mah’s piece should be an opportunity to dialogue, for the RPL to work with artists and the community to come to a better understanding of the role of art as something other than decorative. It’s a huge opportunity, which they are choosing to ignore rather than do the hard job of working through the heart of the issue. It’s lazy and shameful.

  27. OMFG, Jeannie, I cannot believe your work has been “challenged” aka censored by the RPL! What kind of prude is running things there? Is it one of those young boyz who wants to become an old boy? Good grief! This is completely outrageous!!!

  28. The question was: what is your reaction to the photo exhibit incident? (In re: the Sherwood Branch anecdote I spoke of.) I’d be interested to know if he thought that that too was censorship.

    Good morning, Ms. Birley. There is no acrimony (note spelling, and maybe definition too) against Ms. Mah’s work being expressed here; the discussion is on the principle. As to holding a grudge, don’t judge others by yourself. I don’t hold a grudge; obviously you do. I didn’t resign from the RPL Board; I simply did not reapply when my second term expired, mostly because I found the dynamics of an appointed board to be too confining. And, because you are obviously not paying much attention, please be informed that I am not on the Regina Public School Board; I retired, as I had always intended to, in 2008. Someone more eminent than I says this, and I agree: you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.

    Ms. Thibodeaux: the RPL did not “take the work down”. The RPL Board does have policy re: challenges; perhaps you should ask the current Board what it is. You should also ask for a clarification of the relationship of the Dunlop with the RPL. It would be an eye-opener. As to your 3rd paragraph, no one said that a publicly funded institution has to take the advice of everyone who has input; I thought I had clearly stated above that broad input is solicited and listened to, but that not all ideas are feasible.

    Some of the folks on this blog need to read with care before they react.

    I went to see the exhibit at the Dunlop yesterday. My remark in the guest book was “Thought-provoking”.

  29. We condemn the burka and the ḥijāb for being restrictive, and for not revealing enough and yet find fault with an ‘abstract’ of an unclothed, submerged body. Do not let this become an issue about art, this is about people with quasi power and damaged psyches.

  30. @”Ms. Saylor”:

    1. Thibodeau not Thibodeaux

    2. I have a fairly good idea of the historical relationship between the RPL board and the Dunlop. Although I live in London, UK I did work full time for five years at the Saskatchewan Arts Board (2001 – 2006) where I was made quite aware of the situation. That was followed by three years at the MacKenzie Arts Gallery leading their Marketing team. I have a fairly good overview of the arts and cultural community in Regina, particularly as it pertains to museums. I doubt further clarification would be an “eye-opener”. But thanks for making assumptions.

    3. Given that pretty much everyone in this thread has taken issue with something you’ve said, you might want to stop being defensive for a minute and consider whether your perspective is wrong minded or problematic – or maybe that your approach puts people off. I know it’s asking a lot of you, but maybe if you didn’t randomly misquote people and pepper your language with accusations that you are guilty of (“Some of the folks on this blog need to read with care before they react”), people wouldn’t respond to you so negatively, and this discussion might be less acrimonious and more productive.

    4. The board may not have taken the work down but they put the artist in an untenable position at the last minute. They may as well have taken it down.

    5. Maybe *you* should read things more closely. I never said that it is your position that the board should take all public feedback and act on it. Re your statement: “As to your 3rd paragraph, no one said that a publicly funded institution has to take the advice of everyone who has input”. Actually Ms. Saylor, as someone with over ten years in public policy and arts management – people say that all the time.

    6. Contrary to what you seem to think – not all comments on this post (mine in particular) have you or your ill informed opinions/misquotes at their centre. I don’t think I mentioned you once in my comment.

    7. Get a life.

  31. 1. Good morning, Ms. Thibodeau. I sincerely apologize for getting your name wrong.
    2. Thank you for the info about your background. As I don’t know you, I did not automatically assume that you knew about RPL policy or the unique relationship of the Dunlop to the library. No insult to your intelligence was meant, and I regret that you took my remarks as such.
    3. A persom may hold a minority viewpoint, but that doesn’t mean that (s)he is mistaken. Negative reaction is to be expected when people have strong opinions; it’s all part of discussion. And, with all due respect, I disagree with this paragraph and its analysis. I haven’t misquoted anybody.
    4. Perhaps this is what should have been said in the first place.
    5. “Taking advice” means accepting it and acting upon it. That’s different from soliciting and listening to input.
    6. No such assumption made; simply contributing to the argument. And the argument involves the issues, not the personalities.
    7. LOL. I have a life, and so does everyone else who has posted in this thread. We all took time from our lives, however, to comment on issues that were important. And pd sure doesn’t mind hosting riproaring discussions, either in its letters to the editor or on this blog.

    Just an afterthought: I hope that this controversy has not served to divert attention from Jack Anderson’s work.

  32. @Ms Saylor – I could respond to your response and then you could respond to mine and you’d still be wrong but I’d have spent a lot more time here than I care to. I’m in Laos at the moment and there’s cheap beer to drink!

    I’m sure the Prairie Dog is happy to have a lively commenting section but I also think you’ve misunderstood your role here – do you think the community really needs you to moderate, respond and argue with every single commenter who has an alternate view point to yours? We know your position. You’ve stated it in *12* separate posts in this thread. I wonder how this dialogue would have evolved if people were focusing on the issue at hand rather on defending themselves from you? Shame really.

    Full disclosure – I’m posting this comment (my last for this particular thread) in the interest of seeing whether you can stand to let anyone else have the last word.

    And, go… (Anyone want to lay bets on how long it takes for her to respond?)

  33. With all this talk about responsibility to the public and respecting their complaints, you would think the piece was actually seen by the public and that they complained about it.

  34. I’m sorry, I don’t even begin to understand what this is all about.

    The images are beauty, dreaming beauty all the way. Essentially, not the beauty of the nymphlike female body but that of moving water and light. To take offence at such pure innocence and loveliness suggests a disturbed adolescent mind. For me,the film (and the strange reaction to it) brought to mind a Wordsworth sonnet:

    THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
    Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
    Little we see in Nature that is ours;
    We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
    This sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
    The winds that will be howling at all hours,
    And are up-gather’d now like sleeping flowers;
    For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
    It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
    A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
    So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
    Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
    Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
    Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

  35. When I wrote my last post, I hadn’t read the remainder of the thread – a fine tangle if ever there was one! – and was coming straight from a viewing of the film. That was what sent me straight to my incomplete memory of the Wordsworth poem. Later, I wrote to Jeannie. I learned that the water nymph was she – I’d never have recognised the middle-aged lady, which all goes to show how impersonal the dream images are, even the fraction of a second that gave offence…

    “Watching the light, the water and the swimmer, I remembered the last words of the sonnet, then read the whole poem over again and was surprised by how apposite it is, here and now. And that in turn reminded me of the broader implications of this little incident.

    What I suspect is that some of your fellow-citizens may be so very far out on a limb that they are – understandably – disturbed by beauty and by purity. And the disturbance goes deep, deep. You’ve touched them, touched their wound.

    I don’t know what the practicalities may be and don’t want to harp on something that must have hurt you, but it is a pity that you should have cut the film. After all, had it been left as it was, some might have gained thereby. And, if they had only stopped and reflected for one moment, the play of light and liquid might have dissolved some unhappy people’s obsession with an abstract rule from a rulebook of dryness and death, and so relieved a little of their pain.

    In your film, I love the silence. Yet one could imagine accompanying it by music: a slow movement… It could be anything from the Mozart 21st piano concerto K467 that Bo Widerberg used in his film, to the J.S. Bach Double Concerto (for two violins in D minor). Or even the slow movement of the Shostakovich 2nd piano concerto… Or Arvo Pärt – say, Alina. Some of his music has a similar quality – white purity.

    A final, far heavier reflection: we are living still in the age of Auschwitz – “This is Hell, nor am I out of it” says Mephistopheles to Doctor Faustus – and, after a fashion, your film plays a role similar to that of Mozart in the inhuman concrete space of underground garages, factory farms, intensive egg production units. Or calming those who are about to die.

    Yours, Jeannie, is a depth-charge of peace.

    Below the unending storm of death and destruction wave upon wave crossing the surface of the mediatic ocean, eroding the shores of our consciousness, a force far greater, stirring our deepest wound.

    Chögyam Trungpa put it well: “Compassion is an open wound”.

    We’re so afraid of putting our finger on the truth. Once we let go of that fear, it becomes possible to probe the open wound, but without any animosity.

    Only if we face our suffering can we taste our deepest joy.

    Have I succeeded in at least suggesting why I think your film should cause so much upset? For nothing. The nothingness at the heart… I hope I’ve done that.”

  36. Have people really gotten this uptight??? What I saw was a vague ghost of a pair of breasts. Come on Regina Public Library. Let’s get this beautiful art back up if you please.

  37. Same old same old. Plus ça ne change rien, plus c’est devenu pire.

    I’ve read through many of the comments here. Some are eloquent in defence of misguided ideas. It is not the task of a library to shrink from possibly offending some people who are concerned about others’ non-existent sensibilities and are basing their prejudice on incorrect notions.

    I invite anyone to show us where the danger or harm comes from seeing a video like this. (It may remind some of a piece by Bill Viola, whose video of a naked man in water has been shown in many places more prudish than even Regina.) There’s plenty of reputable research from the past 40 years trying to show that images of nudity harm people, including children. Every bit of it has failed, in some cases spectacularly. By that I mean: some studies conclude that it’s *hiding* images of nudity that is so damaging. Who would’ve thought . . .

    A library, like other parts of the wider educational discourse, needs to lead once in a while, especially when it comes to knocking down the senseless body phobia that so damages people, children included. The notion that images of nudity are problematic is one of the more persistent methods of social manipulation in North America, keeping alive the twin pillars of guilt-inducing prudery and pornographic obsession. Isn’t that more harmful than trying to justify a policy that maintains it?

    Censorship should be very rarely applied and only as a last resort. Its wide use is typical of totalitarian regimes and people who are often afraid of themselves. In the Western world it’s the antithesis of thinking, responsibility, education, basic freedoms, and basic humanity.

  38. Ironically (and hopefully) the Regina Public Library administration has likely received far more complaints about its interference than it would have had it simply left well enough alone.

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