Aftershock: The Ethics of Contemporary Transgressive Art
Accused by the tabloid press of setting out to 'shock', controversial artworks are vigorously defended by art critics, who frequently downplay their disturbing emotional impact. This is the first book to subject contemporary art to a rigorous ethical exploration. It argues that, in favouring conceptual rather than emotional reactions, commentators actually fail to engage with the work they promote. Scrutinising notorious works by artists including Damien Hirst, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Richard Billingham, Marc Quinn, Sally Mann, Marcus Harvey, Hans Bellmer, Paul McCarthy, Tierney Gearon, and Tracey Emin, 'Aftershock' insists on the importance of visceral, emotional and ‘ethical’ responses. Far from clouding our judgement, Cashell argues, shame, outrage or revulsion are the very emotions that such works set out to evoke. While also questioning the catch-all notion of ‘transgression’, this illuminating and controversial book neither jumps indiscriminately to the defence of shocking artworks nor dismisses them out of hand.
'Kieran Cashell discusses artists who use everything from soiled bed linens to blood to dead sharks in their works. Drawing on an impressive array of philosophical ideas, Cashell helps viewers tackle the messy details of art by Damien Hirst, Orlan, Marc Quinn, Tracy Emin, and more, as he provides a probing and subtle defense of the moral value of such recent "transgressive" art.'
- Cynthia A. Freeland Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy University of Houston, Texas
mal. Thus, when certain artists encourage exposure to pathogenic motifs through an uninhibited exploration of their own traumatic neuroses (Vito Acconci, Janine Antoni and Jana Sterbak) or when they engage in acts of debasement without rationale or purpose (Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy), or when artists appear intent on publicly unleashing libidinous and violent instinctual energy (the Wiener Actionismus artists Hermann Nitsch, Otto Muehl and Gunther Brus), or, finally, when artists inflict
spectacle of sadistic violence – for the Chapmans’ exploration of the vicarious expression of acts of (sexualised) violence. The vision manifested in later works (such as Zygotic Acceleration) can be seen as a further elaboration of that theme: violence, in this case, as in Great Deeds, is sexualised. The vision of their work is therefore one of sexual violence. I want to be very clear: even if this means that their work is obscene or immoral, I am not arguing that their work, because of this,
practice seems utterly remote from eighteenth-century aesthetic ideals. ‘Art includes’, she recognises, ‘not just works of formal beauty to be enjoyed by people with “taste”, or works with beauty and uplifting moral messages, but also works that are ugly and disturbing, with a shatteringly negative moral content.’49 When confronted with the transgressive photographic work of Serrano, for instance, it is simply not possible to assume a distanced attitude and remain indifferent to its disturbing
Higonnet relates how Mapplethorpe earnestly emphasised the importance of his subject’s consent, saying, ‘I would never do that to somebody.’146 However, she quotes Arthur Danto’s caution that, regardless of Mapplethorpe’s alleged ethos, it is generally not accepted that children are capable of giving consent in this case, because ‘children are inherently powerless in relation to adults.’147 Her analysis of this caveat is worth quoting at length. 118 aftershock We hold this to be particularly
ethically to its demand and thereby reveal its general ethical – and ultimately aesthetic – significance. 5 HORRORSH OW T h e Tran s v a l u a t i on of Mor al i t y i n t he Wor k of Dam i en Hi r s t I don’t want to talk about Damien. Tracey Emin1 With these words Tracey Emin deprived the art world of her estimation of her nearest contemporary and perhaps the most notorious artist associated with the young British art phenomenon. Frustrating her interviewer’s attempt to discuss Damien