Protestors stood outside the County Court In Melbourne yesterday as day one of hearings into Royal Commission into the Institutional Response to Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse began. Over the road in Court 20 of the Magistrates Court, heavyweight legal teams and arts experts were assembled for day one of the child pornography contested hearing against artist Paul Yore.
He has been charged with creating and possessing child exploitation material at the Linden Centre for Contemporary Art in St Kilda in May 2013 for his installation Everything is Fucked.
The case is being heard before magistrate Amanda Chambers, and the anticipated three-day hearing will determine if the case should proceed to trial.
The court decided that the best place to start proceedings yesterday was by viewing a video of the installation. The defence video was shown because the police admitted that it was better than the one they had made.
Given alleged child pornography was to be shown in the public court, the magistrate felt some kind of warning had to be made; she did so, but no one left. For about six minutes Chambers attentively watched the psychedelic rainbows of colour, the ultra-violet lighting, the collage of objects and images. The court also heard a pod-cast interview with Paul Yore describing the sickly sweet surface of the work with references to the spectacle of mass consumerism.
The police case included its proffering of Exhibit #10; seven pieces of cardboard, paper and tin foil that Detective Senior Constable Samantha Johnson of St.Kilda police station had cut out with a Stanley knife from Paul Yore’s installation when police went to the gallery last year after a complaint. These bits were described as photos of children’s heads with or without Pokemon stickers over them, stuck onto the naked bodies of adults, again with or without Pokemon stickers on them.
Yore had his own legal team and there was a separate representation for members of the staff and board of directors of the Linden Centre who had all been called as prosecution witnesses. Two of them were given immunity notices by Amanda Chambers after their team said they were concerned that if they gave evidence it could be used against them and they could be at risk of child pornography charges.
One of the crucial pieces of the defence argument came when Linden’s director, Melinda Martin gave testimony. It emerged that the gallery’s application to the Australian Classification Board to continue to show the work after the police invention consisted of images of the work that the police had removed. The Australian Classification Board subsequently classified Yore’s work “Classification 1, Restricted, suitable for people over the age of 18”.
Yore’s barristers Neil Clelland and Rowena Orr focused on the statutory definition of child pornography. They did not contest the police time line of events, nor any of the police evidence, but they wanted to how the concept of production of child pornography was being proven.
The defence called “witnesses with specialist knowledge” to establish Yore’s art work was of artisic merit. These were Jason Smith, the director of the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Antonia Syme, the director of the Australian Tapestry Workshop, and Max Delany, the senior curator of contemporary art at the National Gallery of Victoria.
Smith (who was appointed this morning as the new curatorial manager of Australian art at the Queensland Art Gallery) told the court that Yore’s work was “difficult, confronting, challenging”. “That’s what artists have always done and will continue to do,” he said.
At one point Chambers asked Syme: “If Leonardo da Vinci made child porn, does it follow that because he is an artist the work has artistic merit?” Syme replied: “Putti,” referring to the Italian word for works of art where chubby, male children are depicted nude and sometimes with wings. “Leonardo did lots of naked children,” she said.
Max Delany will give his evidence today.