Searching millions of books instantly, with NGram Viewer …

I had heard about Google’s Ngram viewer a while ago, but it was only recently I saw some research that had used it—about the expression of emotions in twentieth-century books. If you go to the Ngram site, it opens up with a sample already in place to help exploration.

There are some limitations (including that the data only relates to published books), but for writers, historians, anyone interested in culture, the Ngram viewer can help to create new insights. It is really worth taking a while to get to know it.

Google's Ngram viewer.
Google’s Ngram viewer.

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Ironising the ironisers: Edwards does Britney from behind

Daniel Edwards’ take on the pro-life debate is so outrageously perverse the pro-lifers are beside themselves, not knowing if they should be thankful or horrified. Edwards plants Britney Spears on all fours on a bear skin rug, arse in the air, the head of her baby crowning between her spread legs while her milk-laden breasts hang underneath her. The media release, reproduced below (from Capla Kesting Fine Art), is a finely tuned comedy sketch, from which no-one gets out alive.

Daniel Edward's sculpture of Britney Spears.

The three photographs of the work on the web site are all taken from the side or front. There are no ‘posterior’ shots, so to speak. This leaves some drama for the collectors’ vernissage, I suppose, and saves unsuspecting under-age art lovers from throwing up on their computer screens. This little fit of modesty also serves to emphasise the main beguiling feature of the sculpture: Britney has such a calm, sexy (if you like that kind of thing), knowing expression on her face, not at all the kind of look you would expect to find on a woman pushing a baby through her pelvis. Indeed, as little Sean Preston is about to squeeze out the other end, Britney seems to be concentrating on showing the bear a good time. The bear, actually, appears to be enjoying himself, in the middle of a sort of bear-ecstasy and letting out a little growl.

Dedication honors nude Britney Spears giving birth

Pop-Star’s Pregnancy Idealized In Brooklyn Monument to Pro-Life’

Daniel Edwards
Monument to Pro-Life: The Birth of Sean Preston
Capla Kesting Fine Art […]

BROOKLYN (March 22, 2006)——A nude Britney Spears on a bearskin rug while giving birth to her firstborn marks a ‘first’ for Pro-Life. Pop-star Britney Spears is the ‘ideal’ model for Pro-Life and the subject of a dedication at Capla Kesting Fine Art in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg gallery district, in what is proclaimed the first Pro-Life monument to birth, in April.

Dedication of the life-sized statue celebrates the recent birth of Spears’ baby boy, Sean, and applauds her decision of placing family before career. ‘A superstar at Britney’s young age having a child is rare in today’s celebrity culture. This dedication honors Britney for the rarity of her choice and bravery of her decision,’ said gallery co-director, Lincoln Capla. The dedication includes materials provided by Manhattan Right To Life Committee.

‘Monument to Pro-Life: The Birth of Sean Preston’, believed Pro-Life’s first monument to the ‘act of giving birth,’ is purportedly an idealized depiction of Britney in delivery. Natural aspects of Spears’ pregnancy, like lactiferous breasts and protruding naval, compliment a posterior view that depicts widened hips for birthing and reveals the crowning of baby Sean’s head.

The monument also acknowledges the pop-diva’s pin-up past by showing Spears seductively posed on all fours atop a bearskin rug with back arched, pelvis thrust upward, as she clutches the bear’s ears with ‘water-retentive’ hands.

Britney provides inspiration for those struggling with the ‘right choice’, said artist Daniel Edwards, recipient of a 2005 Bartlebooth award from London”s The Art Newspaper. ‘She was number one with Google last year, with good reason—people are inspired by the beauty of a pregnant woman,’ said Edwards.

Capla Kesting denies the statue was developed from a rumored bootleg Britney Spears birth video. The artist admits to using references that include the wax figure of a pole-dancing Britney at Las Vegas’ Madame Tussauds and ‘Britney wigs’ characterizing various hairstyles of the pop-princess from a Los Angeles hairstylist. And according to gallery co-director, David Kesting, the artist studied a bearskin rug from Canada to convey the commemoration of the traditional bearskin rug baby picture.”

An appropriate location for permanent installation of ‘Monument to Pro-Life’ by Mother’s Day is being sought by the gallery.

Swinging pink flesh drives Indonesian Muslims wild

The following post is, statistically, the most popular (well, most clicked) post on this site for Indonesian web-surfers. Google link stats suggest this is because many web-surfers located in Indonesia come here hoping to see ‘Anjasmara nude’ (‘Anjasmara bugil’). Could this be true? If you are visiting this site from Indonesia, leave a comment to register your disappointment, or any other feelings you have.

Here is the photograph and installation that is causing all the fuss in Indonesia. It is neither very offensive nor very interesting. As usual, scale makes up for what imagination fails to provide: apparently it is pretty big—“massive,” the journalists say. The photographs show the wall-height photograph is wrapped around an actual pink swing—like a backyard or playground swing, painted pink—large enough for a child (or small adult) to sit in. And the little, white dots that coyly camouflage the models’ naughty bits are in the original and have not been added to protect you here.


However, in truth, as everyone in Indonesia seems to realise, the furore about Pink Swing Park is not really about art at all but about the larger national debate in which power-hungry religious ideologues have decided they will mobilise the passions of their followers by attempting to outlaw whatever they say will inflame human desires.

Tight clothing, erotica and, who knows, maybe even chocolate (!?) are on their way out in Indonesia.

Women, in any case, should stay at home. That is the simplest way to prevent them inflaming male passions.

Now, to be perfectly honest, I think this is the correct strategy. I believe we should be encouraging the whole Muslim world to introduce radically repressive laws against all forms of indecency, sexuality and anything that inflames desire. While we are at it, let us encourage them, also, to reject everything tainted by the unfriendly, unclean hand of the West. And I think we should encourage them to keep their women at home, sheltered, uneducated and forbidden to travel without chaperon. The Muslim world should be encouraged to destroy all its great works of art, as the Taliban did in Afghanistan, and to destroy as much history and as many books as they find objectionable. Only in their own countries, of course, and as an example to the rest of us.

Navel gazing ruled out as Indonesians button up

Photo: Agus Suwage and Davy Linggar
By Mark Forbes Herald Correspondent in Jakarta
February 25, 2006

ROCKING in a pink swing fashioned from the cab of a pedal-driven rickshaw, Agus Suwage felt at peace. He had just installed his Pinkswing Park exhibit at Jakarta’s international biennale and was surrounded by massive panels with multiple pictures of a near-naked man and woman frolicking in a utopian park—a world away from thoughts of religious furore, public condemnation and possible imprisonment.

The softly spoken, bespectacled 47-year-old seems an unlikely martyr, his only concession to the battle now enveloping his life is a peaked camouflage hat with a skull and crossbones button pinned to its front.

Within days of November’s exhibition launch, Islamic fundamentalists had shoved Suwage to the forefront of their struggle to redefine Indonesia by descending on the biennale, forcing its closure and demanding prosecutions. At first police claimed his work blasphemed the story of Adam and Eve, then last week they told Suwage he faced five years in jail for producing pornography.

The same groups staging violent demonstrations against the West over cartoons of the prophet Muhammad are targeting pornography in their battle to transform Indonesia into a strict Islamic nation. And they are winning: parliament is set to introduce a sweeping anti-pornography law.

Expected to be passed by June, the law imposes a rigid social template; couples who kiss in public will face up to five years’ jail, as would anyone flaunting a “sensual body part”—including their navel—and tight clothing will be outlawed.

Most women’s groups are horrified, entertainment industries believe it could destroy them and Bali’s embattled tourism authorities are alarmed at the prospect of sunbathing tourists being arrested.

Mainstream Islamic organisations are warning of moral decay and backing the bill, while politicians, wary of alienating Indonesia’s Muslim majority, are condoning the growing anti-porn movement.

Plans to introduce Playboy’s soft porn to the Indonesian market next month have become another focus of rowdy demonstrations, with protesters portraying the magazine as a symbol of the decadent West’s attack on Islam. Playboy’s publishers are proposing a bizarre compromise, no naked women will be featured—Indonesians, at least, will be able to say they only buy it for the articles.

In Jakarta, police have seized hundreds of thousands of “erotic” magazines—including FHM and Rolling Stone—and DVDs, after an edict from police chief Sutanto to “eradicate pornography”.

The Islamic Defenders Front spearheads the anti-porn protests. It took two days to track down its leader, Habib Riziek, this week—he was at police headquarters, seeking information about “his men” arrested for allegedly attacking the US embassy in Jakarta last week. Porn, including artworks such as Suwage’s, contributes to moral delinquency, Riziek claims. “We don’t care about the technicality of the picture,” he says. “What we care is that the picture is publicly exhibited and it is pornography and it would damage morals.” Suwage believes his work captured attention because one of the models, Anjasmara, is a popular soapie star. The two models, photographer Davy Linggar and the curator of the biennale, Jim Supangkat, are also facing criminal charges.

Suwage is increasingly bitter about Supangkat’s reaction to the protest. After hundreds of demonstrators arrived at the exhibition, a panicked Supangkat ordered the offending panels to be covered with white cloth. Other artists draped their own works in solidarity and Supangkat closed the biennale, permanently.

Suwage believes his prosecution is linked to pressure to pass the anti-porn law and the desire of fundamentalists to impose Islamic rule on Indonesia. Suwage, who is afraid of prison, says he is determined to fight.

Based at a small cafe gallery in Jakarta’s backpacker precinct, Suwage and a motley collective or artists are mobilising against the new law. “From this case, we make a manifesto for art against the pornography bill. It’s very dangerous for freedom of expression but it also threatens other aspects of society.” Riziek remains emphatic the bill is essential to “guard the nation’s morality” against pornography, which extends past explicit photographs to “anything that could arouse sexual desire”.

Balkan Kaplale heads the parliamentary committee finalising the pornography bill and is confident it will become law this year.

It would halt the publication of magazines such as Playboy, he says. “ Playboy would place a time bomb in Indonesia, what guarantee is there it would not arrive in the hands of our children? Playboy is American magazine. Please, don’t play this game with Indonesians, we have dignity.”

Indonesians also have sensuality, says leading feminist and university professor Gadis Arriva. “Women here have always dressed sexily and in tight clothes, this law is something very alien to us, we have barebreasted women in Bali and Papua, this is part of our culture.”

In Bali, the head of the government’s tourism authority, Gede Nurjaya, agrees. Traditional Balinese art and dance could become illegal, he believes. He is concerned prohibitions against kissing and revealing bodies could be imposed against foreigners, destroying Bali’s faltering tourism industry.

Arriva says most women’s groups oppose the bill. “Most of it restricts women, what they wear, how they act. It even creates a board that would go around monitoring women’s behaviour.”

The new law would also gag a flourishing emergence of young female writers, who write openly about sexuality. “It states it is illegal to express any sexual desire, even imagine sex—how do you prove that?” asks Arriva.

She sees the anti-porn movement as part of an agenda to reshape Indonesia, with pornography a symbol of Western culture to the many Muslims who believe globalisation aims to destroy their culture. Adrian Vickers, Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Wollongong, agrees the debate is “part of whipping up a moral panic about Western decadence eroding Indonesian culture and morality”, with the potential to push Indonesia towards an Islamic state. “Given anxieties about terrorism, a more Islamic Indonesia could see Australia very much as the enemy,” he warns.

A closed society looms, says Suwage. “There would be no freedom, it will have a big impact for us, for artists, but it will go everywhere. I don’t believe a picture can change a person’s morality. Morality starts from the individual, from inside, not from dogma.”

with Karuni Rompies

Elsewhere, on a similar theme

and on the changing face of Indonesia

Pathologies of outrage

Tania Ostojic (after Corbet's 'Origin of the World')

The Rent-a-Negro website link flew around the internet a while back, many people linking to it as a humorous site. Initially few people recognised that the site was, as well as being very funny and beautifully written, a ‘serious’ art project.

More recently, and more controversially, Tanja Ostojic’s poster of a reclining nude in blue briefs with the symbol of the European Union planted over the hidden entrance to an unknown woman’s vagina, caused outrage in Austria.

Other posters commissioned by 25PEACES were by Carlos Aires, a Spanish photographer, depicting international leaders (including the Queen of England) having sex.

What are we to make of these web sites and images? The Austrians, currently thinking hard about their relationship with Turkish immigrants and the possibility that Turkey might one day join the EU, were naturally sensitive to Ostojic’s image.

The 25PEACES commission of over a hundred works contained images that attempted to provoke debate about the relationships of global political leaders.

From this distance—and it is very difficult to judge reactions and emotions through the news and over the internet—what looks like public outrage may only be a storm in a teacup. In reports about the public outrage over art works, generated for the sake of news or not, there is almost never any real discussion of the ‘art’ in the art. Is it no longer relevant—because only ‘facts’ are reported in the news—what an artist’s other works are like?

Reporting (in Europe) about the controversy over the Ostojic image blends it seamlessly with reporting about the other posters and of people’s reactions. However, there are two facts it is useful to know…

1] The Ostojic image exactly reproduces Courbet’s famous painting in the Museé d’Orsay, ‘The Origin of the World’. The title of the reference painting, alone, should be enough to make us stop to think what might be going on here.

2] Ostojic’s art often focuses on issues where politics and women’s bodies collide. Look at this remarkable image of a woman in a camouflage burka 

To me, this is a much more powerful work than the 25PEACES commission, but I don’t expect to be bowled over by everything an artist does. Artistic works of this kind set out to dislodge our thinking from fixed positions.

Beginning with exactly the same methodology and materials, Carlos Aires’s contribution—global leaders fucking—seems thoroughly tame. Why? Possibly because the idea underpinning the images is weaker. Possibly because we sense, as viewers of the works, that Aires has strained too hard and with not enough effect after the outrage the work sought?

These are more typical Aires photographs. Confronting, in a dull way, but competently photographed and printed (on metallic paper: a trick from the advertising industry).

Part of the problem with Aires’s contribution to the 25PEACES commission may simply be that he has miscalculated the objects of his scorn. Why is Queen Elizabeth in the group at all?

The outrage over such art works is a good thing. Artists, old and new, sink or swim in the tidal flow of public perceptions. Commentators on art works behave as though this isn’t the case, and has not always been the case. The pathologies of our outrage, the process by which we become aware of what has moved us or left us cold, need to expand our peripheral vision beyond the images themselves while not losing focus on what it really is we are looking at.

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