I know it when I see it’ – Obscenity and Censorship



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Colloquium Speakers

Prof. Kerstin Mey,
University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, England

I know it when I see it’ – Obscenity and Censorship


Nothing is obscene per se. Like the aesthetic the obscene as its ‘Other’ is essentially a value judgement related to the perceived qualities and effects of images, objects and acts, and a historically determined, dynamic cultural category produced through processes of reification. It inhabits a contested cultural, social and political territory. Referencing examples from contemporary culture in Europe and North America, the presentation aims to demonstrate how the obscene is situated at the interface of the aesthetic, the legal and the moral. It describes how the obscene is constructed through public debates and mediations between these value systems. The popular statement ‘I know it when I see it’, first set down in writing by US Supreme Court Associate Justice Potter Stewart in 1964, conveys a standard attitude. It has informed judgements in legal cases, levelling the charge of obscenity at objects or acts and its initiators, producers or publishers. With such a charge, demands for the enforcement of the law or challenges of official censorship measures have been raised. The presentation will argue that in the digital age and despite a heightened fluidity and mobility of images and objects across cultural spheres, the category of the obscene has not lost its grip on the governance of public discourse and display.

Biographical Note
Dr. Kerstin Mey is Director of Research and Enterprise at the University for the Creative Arts. She also holds a Professorship in Fine Art there. Since May 2012, she leads CREST, the GuildHE Consortium for Research Excellence, Support and Training. After studying for an MA Art and German Language and Literature, and a PhD in art theory/aesthetics she held academic positions in universities in Germany and the UK before she joined UCA. Her own research is concerned with the situatedness and models of contemporary cultural practices; public pedagogies; art, documentation and archiving; and knowledge production at the interface of art and science. Publications include the authored book Art and Obscenity (2007); and edited volumes: with Smite and Smits, Artistic Research (2011); with Kroenke and Spielmann: Kulturelle Umbrüche: Identitäten, Räume, Repräsentationen (2007); Art in the Making. Aesthetics Historicity and Practice (2004). She was Artistic Director of ISEA 2009, the 15th International Symposium on Electronic Art, held on the island of Ireland.

Anne Crilly


Filmmaker and Lecturer at the Centre for Media Research, UU.

Presentation on the banning of her film ‘Mother Ireland’.
Derry based Filmmaker, Anne Crilly, discusses the censorship of her C4 documentary 'Mother Ireland' which was the first casualty of the 1988 Broadcasting Restrictions and the effects of censorship on the artist.

Biographical Note
Anne Crilly is a filmmaker and Lecturer in the School of Media, Film and Journalism at the University of Ulster , Coleraine. A founder member of the C4 Workshop, Derry Film and Video, her work has been broadcast on C4, TG4 and screened at many Film Festivals.

Dr Greg McLaughlin
Senior Lecturer, School of Media, Film and Journalism at UU, Coleraine.

Whatever you say, say nothing!’ Media censorship and self-censorship in the Northern Ireland conflict.


The Broadcast Ban of 1988-1994 is often explained in the context of Britain’s ‘war on terrorism’ in Northern Ireland, an inevitable conclusion to the state’s determination to deny terrorists the ‘oxygen of publicity’. It placed restrictions on the directly expressed statements on TV and radio (throughout the UK) of paramilitary groups, including their spokespersons and their political affiliates. Although it was not as absolute in its proscription as Section 31 in the Republic of Ireland, it was just as effective. Voices had to either be dubbed out and subtitled or dubbed over by an actor’s voice, out of synch. The latter was the most common method of application and the most telling because without specific guidelines from government it put the onus of responsibility on the broadcasters. In the end it became so troublesome and time consuming that it was easier not to include interviews with or statements by restricted parties. Research by the Glasgow Media Group shows that the ban had an almost instant impact. In the first year of its introduction, appearances on TV by Sinn Fein politicians such as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness reduced by 63 percent on the year before.

However, the broadcast ban has to be seen in the wider, political context of a struggle between the state and the broadcasters over coverage of the conflict since its beginnings in 1968. For broadcast journalists and producers had a daily choice to make: resist political intimidation or keep their head down and stay silent. This presentation examines their record and asks what was the more widespread and insidious: direct/indirect censorship from without or self-censorship from within?



Biographical Note
Greg McLaughlin is senior lecturer in the School of Media, Film and Journalism at the University of Ulster Coleraine, with a research specialism in questions of media and conflict, both locally and internationally. He is the author of The War Correspondent (Pluto Press, 2002) and, with his colleague Stephen Baker, The Propaganda of Peace: The role of media and culture in the Northern Ireland peace process (Intellect Books, 2010). He has also published a range of other articles and book chapters on this theme as well as on the political economy of local media and journalism in Northern Ireland.

Dr Aislinn O’Donnell /Jonathan Cummins
Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Limerick/Filmmaker and Lecturer in Time-Based Media, UU

Freedom to Speak One's Mind, Indirect Censorship, Censorship of Self.
Film-maker, Jonathan Cummins (University of Ulster) and philosopher Aislinn O'Donnell (MIC, University of Limerick) will offer a presentation focused upon a consideration of the inter-related and sometimes conflicted relationships between freedom of speech, indirect censorship, self censorship and considered censorship. This will be addressed, in part, from the position of art and philosophy practices within highly scrutinised institutional settings. 

At face value this could appear peripheral to the main question of censorship and the arts yet much censorship begins before an official censor is engaged. And this is frequently the case in less monolithic forms of practice where subject-participants retain a voice from production through to public display. What are the issues that arise in art and cultural practices before a work arrives in the public domain that emerge before possible State or institutional censure? Freedom to speak comes with responsibility but how might one mediate such concerns or the visceral inclination to censor self. How do indirect forms of censorship influence one's freedom of speech and final outcomes? What are the challenges of listening and engaging in certain conversations?, and how might art constitute the players involved when a work is then taken to civic space? These will be the primary questions addressed in this discussion. The presentation will consider forms of curtailment and voice in a broader sense through an introduction of the concept of parrhesia, or fearless speech. Film and texts will provide key source material.



Biographical notes
Aislinn O’Donnell
received her PhD in philosophy from the University of Warwick and currently lectures in Philosophy of Education in Mary Immaculate College (University of Limerick). She is also Associate Fellow with GradCAM. O'Donnell has taught philosophy in a number of universities including UCD and the University of Dundee. She taught for three years on the NCAD MA programme, Art in the Contemporary World, and worked with NCAD on a European Grundtvig project examining the role of cultural practice and educations in prisons. O'Donnell aims to democratise philosophy and expand our conception of the “Academy”, and the role of the Academy in society. With support from MIC, she has been teaching philosophy classes, developing collaborative research practice and writing with people in a range of informal settings, including closed institutions. Instead of treating people as research subjects, these spaces become research sites offering opportunities for co-enquiry. This approach is influenced by contemporary art practice and research. She has presented and responded at events related to art practice such as Terminal Convention (2010), Re-gathering on the Grounds of Art  (2008), Ethics: Politics of Resistance in the Contemporary World (2009), 2020 Visions: Imagining the art & design college of the future (2007), Liminality (2011), Truth, Lies and Videotape (2009). She has been invited speaker and presented at a range of conferences on topics relating to education and prisons and has written and spoken about the work of philosophers such as Deleuze, Spinoza, Bergson, Arendt, Foucault, Oury and Irigaray. Recent and forthcoming articles include “Beyond Sexuality: Of Love, Failure and Revolutions” (2011), “Thinking-in-concert” (2013), “Unpredictability and the pedagogical encounter” (2013),"Shame is revolutionary" (2013). Her other philosophical interests include Spinoza and the Spinozist heritage, feminist philosophy, the relationship between passivity, receptivity, vulnerability and ethical life, relational ontologies, and the relationship between institutions and the production of subjectivity drawing on the work of Foucault, Irigaray, Deleuze, Oury, and Guattari.

Jonathan Cummins worked in the film, television and online industries in Ireland, and the US prior to focusing on his film-based art practice. He worked for ten years with prisoners as part of a programme run by the National College of Art and Design, Dublin. Much of his work has considered the challenges associated with engaging with closed institutions and those within and the potential for art and film based education in these environments to operate as a broader dialogue of reflection and investigation. He studied sociology at Trinity College Dublin and he has an MFA in Media Art from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) where he also studied screenwriting. He has exhibited and screened his film-based practice at Le Centre Culturel Irlandais Paris, Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin/Madrid, Video Dumbo and other events. He regularly contributes to and screens work at art and academic events, recently including the symposium Public-Education: Another Place Another Thinking, Grad-Cam, The Lab. Dublin, May 2012; the Scribani Conference, Re-Imagining Imprisonment in Europe, Trinity College, Dublin, September 2012; the conference Engendering Dialogue III, Pedagogical Encounters: Feminist Philosophy and Education, University of Dundee, Dundee, June 2012; the symposium A Sense of Being, a European Grundtvig project, NCAD, Dublin, 2011; and European Prison Education Association Conference, Manchester, 2011. He has produced award-winning short films, which have been screened and broadcast internationally. He has curated exhibitions by artists including Miranda Pennell, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Phil Collins and John Gerrard. He works as an associate lecturer with the School of Art & Design Belfast.

Dr Derval Turbridy
Senior Lecturer in Literature and Visual Culture, Goldsmiths College, Univ. of London

Knowing Bloody Sunday: A Question of Adjacency
Abstract: Adjacency––the quality or state of being adjacent, or of lying near, bordering––is a series of paintings and mixed media works based on the maps, photographs and witness statements used and issued by Widgery Tribunal and the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday. Adjacency explores the slippage between topography and cartography, and between narrative and the event, in our understanding of what happened on 30th January 1972. The questions raised by Adjacency are situated between the relativism of postmodern historiography and an ethical imperative.

Biographical Note
Dr Derval Tubridy is Senior Lecturer in Literature and Visual Culture at Goldsmiths, University of London. Author of Thomas Kinsella: The Peppercanister Poems (2001), and editor of a special edition of Irish Studies Review (16/3, 2008) she has published chapters in Beckett and Nothing; A Companion to James Joyce; Contemporary Debates in Literature and Philosophy; Ireland: Space, Text, Time; Seeing Things: Literature and the Visual, The Irish Book in the Twentieth Century and Samuel Beckett: A Casebook, as well as articles in Performance Research; The Irish University Review; Irish Studies Review; The Journal of Beckett Studies, and Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui. Her research focuses on the intersection between language, materiality and process in twentieth-century and contemporary literature, philosophy and visual culture. It has been funded by the Fulbright Commission and by the British Academy. In 2006 she co-organised Beckett and Company, a conference on Beckett and the arts at Goldsmiths and Tate Modern. She is currently co-organising The Future State of Ireland, a conference on cultural responses to economic crisis, at Goldsmiths, November 2012. A painter, she keeps a studio in the Lewisham Arthouse where she has recently completed a series of paintings and mixed media works called Adjacency that explore the slippage between topography and cartography, narrative and the event, in the context of the events of Bloody Sunday.



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