After a tour of the permanent collections commented by NOMA's Director Emeritus, looking at Chinese potteries, paintings, sculptures and listening to the history of the museum's collections, the crowd moved to the auditorium to view David Wojnarowicz's video "Fire in My Belly" recently banned from an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. The controversy still lingers at the Smithsonian...politicians versus artists.
I felt privileged to be able to watch the entire silent video (approximately a half hour) at the local museum in New Orleans. The visitors in Washington D.C. are not allowed to look at the short 4 minutes 11 seconds version. I was also curious to see the crowd's reactions. Some people left early, visibly upset, my neighbor was making painful sounds during the roosters fight, but overall the room was very quiet, almost too quiet, one could feel some tension.
The raw video was of poor quality at times. The silent version gives all the weight to the pictures, gruesome. A scene succeeds to another, but there is some progression to the story which usually ends up in death, like in the combat of roosters. The rapid succesion of pictures creates an emotional overload, one has not completely absorbed a scene and is hit with the next.
During a half hour, the spectator is saturated with death, tragedy. The message is grim, without hope.
The edited four minutes version (with 11 seconds of controversy) is especially moving. Touched by the images, disgusted at times, I felt like the artist wanted me to participate to his suffering. The artist made me more receptive.
I found the video very powerful, difficult to watch, unpleasant at times.
The controversy has drawn the attention to, but also away from the artist's work. Interesting exhibitions bring up controversy. Desacralisation? Censure? It is important to recalibrate these words, adapt their meaning with the evolving values of our society. Last Summer, visitors had to be eighteen years old to look at Larry Clark' photographs at the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, but in Prague fifteen years old could visit the exhibition "Decadence Now".
Would I have watched the video if not banned? Most likely not.( It would not have been on the big screen at NOMA!)