Getting ’em out for The Lads: Lee Horyon

(Thursday Rant.)

Lee’s work separates the vague relationship between image and desire.”

Since when has the relationship between image and desire been ‘vague’? A vast porn industry is predicated precisely on the fact that  the relationship between image and sexual desire is very clear-cut indeed. How else would pornography ‘work’?

Take a look at Horyon’s work.

Am I the only one to find them offensive?

I am reminded of the old sexist ‘joke’:
“You don’t look at the mantlepiece when you’re poking the fire”.
Dress it up in meaningless, high-sounding sophistry as much as you like; the fact remains that images of headless/faceless women in poses ranging from the titillating to ‘softly’ (ha!) pornographic are, in my opinion, offensive to at least half the human race.

The last one, with her ass in your face, is veiled, for crying out loud.
This in a world where women the world over are struggling to throw off ‘the veil’, both literally and metaphorically.

Subjecting women in this fashion, reducing them, not to ‘objects’ (all art objectifies, as I’ve argued before) but to detached, depersonalised commodities purveyed to the male gaze is, in my opinion, not something to be tolerated in the name of ‘art’. There’s no denying Horyon’s technical excellence, but art is not just about how you make it; it’s also about what you choose to make. I’m all for freedom of expression – which is why I’m having my say here – but retrograde representations like these contribute nothing; they merely perpetuate the millenia-old view of women as little more than the means to male sexual gratification.
Strip-tease, burlesque, pornography, these works: they’re all the same in their rejection of an equal relationship between ‘viewer’ and ‘viewed’, and therefore equally deleterious.

Compare if you will Rembrandt’s magnificent Hendrickje Bathing:

The National Gallery, London

This is a woman, Rembrandt’s common-law wife, who was both desired and deeply loved. She has a name and a face; she is a person, not an idealised/air-brushed cipher, and is presented to us with all the tenderness and respect that Rembrandt’s matchless painterly skill allowed.
In her complete trust and lack of self-consciousness, she is very much an equal partner in this work.

That’s what it’s all about.

11 thoughts on “Getting ’em out for The Lads: Lee Horyon

  1. Hey there,

    Argument well made and generally speaking I agree wholeheartedly with your viewpoint.

    However it feels like a very strong reaction to this work, which I didn’t feel was quite as sexualised or objectified as you’re describing. It’s not particularly shocking or new in any way – not in the sexualisation front anyway, nor fully nude in any of the images. The women portrayed are not degraded and I don’t believe any disrespect was intended – in fact they are less sexualised than your average TV or Magazine advert in most cases.

    Exploration of voyeurism has been the subject of such a huge volume of artwork over the years, and although it isn’t something we normally touch upon on our site, I don’t necessarily feel that it is something we would avoid.

    I’d like to send you my apology that the images we published have offended you.


    • Hi Richard, thanks so much for taking the time out to respond; there is no need whatsoever to apologise – my sensibilities are my own, and there’s no reason why anyone should have to take them into consideration, as long as I’m allowed to have my say. You, very graciously, have done this and listened to me..
      I think my reaction to these works is so strong simply because there IS a such a proliferation of this ‘harmless’ stuff in our culture; as you say, it’s ‘not new in any way’. It’s a sexism which is accepted, integrated, taken as a matter of course, seen as no cause for comment; in my view this is the most dangerous, insidious form of sexism of all; it oh so quietly reinforces age-old attitudes towards women.

      So I guess these images were the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. I’m actually glad you did post them – it gave me something to think and feel passionately about. Always a good thing!
      Thanks again, Richard, and all the best.

      • Hi Glennie,

        Thanks for getting back to me so quickly, it’s really appreciated.

        It’s no fun offending anyone, so for me it was important to apologise, but thanks for your kind words too.

        In 2010 myself and a few friends lodged a complaint against a London men’s suit business who portrayed overly sexualised women in their ads that were used in a shopping centre complex. I believe at that time I probably felt similar to you in regard to this. You are right, there is far too much overt sexualisation and objectification of women in society, and it is wrong. In that instance, we forced the business to withdraw their ads thanks to support from several mainstream newspapers.

        In my opinion though, unlike ads in a shopping centre, art is a good platform to explore these issues and open a debate at least – and also presents the viewer with a choice (even if that choice is whether to view/appreciate it or not). I also believe that many people who observe and appreciate art at least have the sense to question what they’re seeing rather than just consume it (unlike newspaper Page 3 readers, for example). What makes me more concerned are forms of popular media where there is a more sinister tone to that objectification, where it’s used for the purposes of pure commercialism or to reinforce sexual degradation.

        I’m glad some people are willing to call it out when they see it though – so for that you have my entire respect.

        All the best,

  2. I what would I say… I guess I’d first like to agree with agree with Glennie, in that unnoticed sexism, is far more dangerous the noticed, in that, just like the public education I’ve been ranting about, it can be trusted. Systems of oppression are far more dangerous than individual acts because people lose perspective.

    Secondly, I tend to agree with Richard in that, most people who view art tend to question, then choose to appreciate it or not. Rather than simply consume it.

    Lastly, I don’t really get the explanation of his work because yes, there is a strong connection between image and desire, especially for men (google the studies). Further, I don’t see how associating the art with voyeurism dissociates desire from the equation (voyeurism is lusting against someone’s will), especially given the framing. I mean, the concept is neat, but I think it’s a better idea for exploring the psychological state of a person, than trying to make a point on desire or voyeurism. There surely better ways to explore those as well.

  3. Very interesting post Glennie, if a little difficult to grasp your ire initially. The images are obviously voyeuristic but also quite banal, so I started with indifference and worked my way up.

    I don’t really like to comment on the quality of paintings when I’ve only seen photographs because a painting, in it’s surface, ought to be more than image (for me). That said, I’m going to, brace yourself!

    Each of the images displayed is designed to draw your view to the crotch of an objectified female form. The use of double exposure adds an interest but is not, for me, fully exploited in expressing the act of revelation, in that they seem to fall short of the intention they appear to express. The figures are depersonalised by excluding faces and thus the notion of communication – at the same time the gesture appears to be deliberate – but it’s all a bit Blackpool Postcard (a little bit saucy).

    I’d agree entirely that this objectification is entirely negative. It’s not even as if it’s idealised.

    Then I thought about it, and read all the comments, and I think you’re right. It is insidious, rather than the postcard the analogy should be the Athena print, a kind of middle class frisson or quiet thrill. I started to imagine a buyer and shuddered.

    It has elicited some sophistry, and I’m also guilty, but I think that if we excuse ourselves, or our peers, because we ‘get it’ because it’s ‘art’, we add to a portrayal of the female that is retrograde, separate, and essentially dangerous. It is in fact the same viewpoint as in the page 3 argument used earlier, but I can’t be guilty of that, I’m an artist?

    • Thank you, Andrew and Ian; percipient and generous with your time as always.
      The most interesting thing for me is that two of you came initially from the ‘why all the fuss?’ angle, which again underlines for me the overridingly casual acceptance of ‘bad’ stuff that we as a culture have become inured to through sheer proliferation. Yes, Andrew; this is indeed the real danger. And yes, Ian, I don’t think art is a ‘special case’: ‘high’ culture, ‘pop’ culture – the terms these days are meaningless in that they are and always were part of the same overwhelmingly patriarchal system of value; they are not separate.
      I’m also interested, Richard, having just noticed it, in why you didn’t include on your ‘front’ page the image of the faceless woman on the toilet with her knickers round her knees? How did you ‘choose’?
      Anyway, that’s enough from me. Thanks again to all for your thoughtful responses; much appreciated.

        • Hi Glennie,

          It’s hard for me to answer your question because it was another team member here that picked this artwork and published, rather than myself. However, from a moderation perspective – we would tend to avoid publishing images that may not be “child-friendly” as such on our homepage at the very least.

          As I said though, for me I didn’t interpret the work, when I saw it, as being negative as you’ve perceived, but I do understand where you’re coming from and I empathise with your view.

          I don’t think art is an excuse, what I said earlier was that it is a medium that allows for and prompts exploration and debate – rather than being purely for consumption like Page 3, or for the purpose of commercialism in the case of a piece of advertising.

          I have dug around a little to see if I could find much of a statement from the artist, but I’m not finding much – perhaps not much in English because he’s Korean. However, the artist would have to be really rather ignorant to have made this work and to not be aware of the issues we’re discussing, so I would hope or imagine that the work at least in part is designed to provoke that discussion by intent.

          Perhaps the artist is expressing a delirious lustful feeling of the male gaze when faced with a female body, through the double-exposure kind of effect used – I’m not sure? But you are making an assumption that the artist has the intent of being derogatory to women. Personally I didn’t feel that but I don’t know – maybe I am totally wrong – but such is the subjective nature of art. For example, Cindy Sherman’s photographs depict women in stereotypical derogatory roles, but we all know that Cindy is using them to make a point, rather than just as a sexist expression.

          In contrast, Page 3 is not designed to raise these questions at all, and its consumers have no interest in the debate either. This I see as the difference?

          Perhaps you think I am defending the indefensible, but for me the portrayal of women in mass-media is on a different level to this.

  4. Hi Richard – no, I’m not making an assumption that the artist is being derogatory towards women by intent; my whole point is that this sort of thing is done casually, as a result or by-product of certain ingrained attitudes which are no longer questioned as they should be. I never judge an artist by ‘intent’ anyway; I firmly believe art is autonomous and should speak for itself, and this is what it says to me. ‘Art’ is a two-way process between the work and the viewer, and we all bring our own agenda to bear on what we make of it.
    Maybe, as you say, Lee is trying to make a point and provoke discussion on the very issues that we’re discussing; I hope so because he’s certainly succeeded!
    Please do let me know if you find out any more about him and his work.
    I’ve now got brain-ache.
    Kind regards,

  5. I found the technique interesting. The one rule I have about female nudity is… why are the women young and beautiful? If there is no other reason to look at the pictures than I think you’re dealing with commerce and not art.

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