All in all, this appears to have been a good week for paedophiles. As long, that is, as they can call themselves artists.

First we have the case of Roman Polanski who apparently should be forgiven for drugging and raping a teenage girl because he’s had a really tough life and makes really nice movies. My facebook wall has been covered with reposts of this article from, which reminds us that, yes, he might make great movies, but he’s still a rapist.

But hot on its heels we have another hang-over case from the 70s, that of the photographs of pre-pubescent Brooke Shields. In case you haven’t heard about this one yet, it goes something like this:

Back in 1975, Brooke Shields’s mother gave the aptly named photographer Garry Gross permission to take pictures of her ten year old daughter naked in a bath, in full make-up and with her tiny child’s body covered in oil. The photos were used in many different contexts since then, some more obviously straight off kiddy-porn than others, because Shield’s mother had signed away all rights to the photos in exchange for $450.

In 1981, when Shields was 16, she tried to sue Gross to get control of the images, and stop them being distributed – but was unsuccessful. (Why she also didn’t sue her own pimp of a mother I have no idea…) Gross later sold the rights to the photos to American artist Richard Prince, who re-contextualised them as ‘Art’ under the title Spiritual America.

As Art, they are now part of a new exhibit opening at the Tate this week called Pop Life. But in the latest twist, the police have just ordered the image of Brooke Shields to be removed because it counts as obscenity under laws against child pornography.

Now I know at this point its expected that we all throw our hands up in the air and start spouting something clichéd about censorship and freedom and blah blah blah. But I’m finding it very difficult to not support someone, anyone, taking a stand to say that no, these images should not be displayed.

First on the general principle that child porn is wrong. The judge in Shield’s court case who ruled that the photos are not sexualised, and just show “a prepubescent girl posing innocently in her bath”, must have been either incredibly naive or on the receiving end of a good bribe.

But secondly on the fact that a particular individual, no matter what her subsequent choice of career, has been and continues to be exploited through the these images. That Richard Prince knew her objection to their distribution, and decided that this warranted him publicising them further, demonstrates a rather revolting misogyny on his part. Yeah, it makes a good story and its really, like, edgy, y’know? But some cynical wank repeating half hearted clichés about America’s obsession with sex and fame (and I realise that with that sentence I’ve probably granting his $151,000 art work more depth than it deserves – maybe he really did just want to show a naked child) isn’t a good enough reason to hurt the victims of child porn.

The photos should not have been taken in the first place. They should not have continued to be distributed after the 16 year old was old enough to made it very clear she didn’t want them to be. That she’s no longer a child doesn’t make it any different – just as it makes no difference that Roman Polanski’s 13 year old victim has managed to survive her rape and make a life for herself, and no longer wants him to be prosecuted because it would cause her and her family further harm.

I’m disappointed that it took a bunch of Met officers walking into the Tate to point out that taking photos of naked ten year old girls is wrong, and am preparing to be drowned out by the cynical, condescending cry that “Its art!” and therefore all ok. Just us its sad that it was considered all ok to allow Roman Polanski to carry on having a successful and rich life making art after he admitted drugging and raping a 13 year old child.

But its funny how these things get taken up and turned around. Last week as Polanski was making headlines across Europe and the US, Chile was gripped by quiet another story. That of a 14 year old girl who was kidnapped while walking home from the cinema with her boyfriend, violently raped and beaten, then dumped by a canal. When her father went the next morning to try and collect a prescription for the morning-after-pill that the doctor had given him, he went from pharmacy to pharmacy across Santiago only to discover that none of them actually stocked it. As time ran out for him to get it before it was too late (abortion is illegal in Chile under all circumstances), he eventually had to take his traumatised daughter to the emergency room in the hospital.

The case has caused outrage in Chile, with all the major newspapers and the candidates for the upcoming presidential election condemning the pharmacies for not stocking the pill (which has been legally available for women aged 14 and over without their parents permission since 2006). Many have pointed out that its useless it being legal, if its not available.

In the context of other news, its refreshing to know that rape of children can still cause outrage and a compassionate debate about its consequences.

I (very) recently came across the work of Do-Ho Suh, an artist whose sculptures filled with hundreds of tiny figures pressing up and out at the world conjure up images of pressure and conformity, but also collective space and solidarity.

Do-Ho Suh "Public Figures"

Suh’s Korean origins are a major theme in his work – in particular he returns to the effects of compulsory military service on both an individual and a nation. A giant chain mail suit of armour that seeps out into a carpet: each link under foot is a dogtag, and all there is inside the suit is a mirror. His self portrait is a line of suits, each rigidly neat. Nostalgia for something hated, the memory of having been dehumanised, the trauma of militarisation across generations.

Other works explore the existence of a foreigner, and that thorny issue of where you consider “home” to be after half a lifetime spent as an im/emigrant. But its his works that make use of the tiny figures that have really captured my imagination. There is an obvious reference to communist propaganda iconography, but he’s doing more than shoot at that particular pop-culture fish in a, like, totally ironic barrow.

The figures stand shoulder to shoulder, arms raised high, backs and legs bent under the same weight. Literally holding up the viewer in some cases; in my favourite piece holding up the plinth rather than sitting on top of it. Their faces could be expressionless – or they could be relaxed. Other sets of figures glow, gently melting into sensual pools of light. Somehow they don’t seem to imply repression so much as solidarity, warmth. Suh himself has said he sees them as expressions of the crowd, as a comment on collective and personal space.

And yet… their tiny stature, the sense that they are a collective version of Atlas doomed to stand holding the world for eternity… There is no doubt these are also images of repression, of the endlessly replaceable little people who make world go round but are oh so easily trampled under foot. But is it repression through forced solidarity (collective dehumanisation), or solidarity as a means of pushing back against (resisting) repression? I can’t decide. And I think that’s really the point.

Detail from "Public Figures"

I feel I can’t leave it without mentioning Antony Gormley, given that I already talked about both his “One and Other” plinth piece, and his “Fields” project which makes use of thousands of tiny blobby figures. But I’m actually finding the similarity between the two artists quiet irritating. I always appreciated Gormley’s work, but seeing Suh’s subtle, multi-layered and frankly far more interesting sculptures, I’m starting to find Gormley a little smug. Perhaps its wrong to put two artists next to each other like this. But if we do, say for the plinths, what do we get? Much as I like the idea of selecting people to “become” art on camera and be broadcast live around the world, I can’t help but love the concept of the people taking up the plinth above their heads and carrying it off.

I’m really excited about Antony Gormley’s new plinth project in London. It started today, and already looks like being as wacky as only the British can be.

To explain… Trafalgar Square in the centre of London has four large plinths set at its corners, three of which have some dead victorians on them. The last one was also meant to have a dead victorian, but they ran out of money and it stood empty for decades. In 1999 the Royal Society of Arts decided to commission a series of art works to be displayed on the plinth, by contemporary artists. It was such a success that it was decided to make it a permanent project. So this year, it was Antony Gormley’s turn.

Marc Quinn's sculpture "Alison Lapper Pregnant". Not a dead victorian.

Marc Quinn's sculpture "Alison Lapper Pregnant"

Gormley is a British sculpture, perhaps best known in the UK for the massive “Angel of the North”. His work plays on ideas of the human condition through the human form. Usually involving casts of his own body, simplified and left in lonely places. But he also likes to incorporate involvement in the process: the “Fields” series involves thousands of tiny terracotta figures, nothing much more than blobs with eyes, that he enrols hundreds of volunteers to create. The figures are then placed in a confined space, all facing the viewer with their thousands of little eyes looking up at you.

they're watching you...

they're watching you...

When I was an undergrad, I got a serious overdose of Gormley via Colin Renfrew, who was still teaching while I was an undergrad in archaeology. Renfrew might be famous for being an archaeologist, but he also happens to be a Lord, an ex master of Jesus College, and a wealthy patron of the arts. His house and Jesus College are covered in art works by famous and soon-to-be-famous contemporary artists and sculptures. Gormley is one of his favourites, and he and Renfrew have worked together on various projects, one of which resulted in Renfrew’s latest book “Figuring It Out: The Parallel Visions of Artists and Archaeologists”.

(On the face of it its a tad strange. Here is Britain’s one stalwart processualist, the guy who still spits venom when anyone mentions Hodder and refuses to accept that “so called post-processualism” actually exists: and in his old age he takes a turn towards super contemporary art. But there you go.)

As an undergrad it meant my European Prehistory classes involved looking at a lot of Gormley’s sculptures. We all went on a field trip to the British Museum to see Fields of the British Isles. Later that afternoon, while wandering around the European Prehistory halls, I came across a little group of Jelly Babies that someone had stood up on a table, with a little sign next to it saying “Antony Gormless”. Wonderful.

Anyway, so Gormless has the fourth plinth this year, and his idea has been to open it up to the public participation. For 100 days, a different person will stand on the plinth each hour, 24 hours a day. Those who applied have been selected at random, with the only aim of making it representative of all parts of the UK. They are allowed to do anything at all in their hour, and so far after the first day it seems that there is quiet some variety. A lot of people doing things for charities, several just standing there looking about for an hour, already a protest crasher (protesting against tobacco products being shown in films), someone advertising happy hour at his pub, and a spouting politician. Last time I checked the live updater, there was a guy sitting in the rain reading a book.

You can see it live here. I really wish I were back home to see it right now, and would love to hear a report from someone whose in London at the moment who can tell me how its going.

Their site keeps crashing my web browser, but I’m still feeling inspired by Henry VIII’s Wives, a Glasgow based art collective who, among other projects, are attempting to build Vladimir Tatlin’s ‘Monument to the Third International’.

Except in bits. And scattered all over the world.

So far they have a few chunks in Belgrade (and if anyone reading this ever finds themselves in Belgrade, please drop into the Contemporary Art Gallery for me and let me know if its as fantastic as it looks from its website).

Also worth exploring by Henry VIII’s Wives are the Glasgow pensioners recreating iconic moments of the twentieth century. A commentary on the power of iconography indeed.

Glasgow pensioners recreating iconic moments of the twentieth century - Henry VIII’s Wives