Minus Porn
cataluge text to the exhibition Precense Balt 1999 by Ingela Lind


One’s gaze is drawn to something mushroom-like, squeezed in between armchairs and refrigerators. The interiors look as they came from hotel rooms in travel catalogues. But it turns out that Palle Torsson’s photographs in fact derive from pornographic pictures downloaded from the Internet.

The human bodies have been retouched into something vaguely plant-like. Yet our imagination gives them amorphous power. We see the bodies now as instruments for sexual dreams, not as victims of torture. The observer, far from being innocent, is part of the sordid pattern of interpretation.

Palle Torsson uses the clichés of pornography to shed light on today’s myths and power structures. On one level, “Minus Porn” is about the Internet, and it experiments with the way our consciousness, our drives and emotions, relate to the medialisation of this aspect of our lives. But the work attains greater depth because the artist also carries on a dialogue with old nude pictures – perhaps above all with the previous turn of the century and its obsession with the seamy sides of human instincts.

In those days eroticism (“sin”) was often portrayed as a combination of fear and longing for social dissolution. Here sin has been infantilised, becoming more like slime or jelly babies. But the dissolution of form seems just as threatening as it was a hundred years ago. Palle Torsson’s pictures are at least as aesthetically ambivalent as those of the symbolists.

Even before this, the artist has investigated the mechanisms of humiliation and the borderline between attraction and disgust, physical intimacy and distance. He has also often challenged the sanctification of art as an institution, recently by designing, together with Tobias Bernstrup, the computer game “Museum Meltdown”, where the players were urged to vandalise works in the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm. Since then, among other things, he has slept naked with kittens in a shop window and invited the audience to pay admission to enter “the Performance art brothel”.

In comparison to this, “Minus Porn” thus seems to be a classical figurative work. Almost by reflex, I pour well-known historical nudes into the holes left by the censored bodies, which is easily explained, since pornography works with stereotyped art models, in the same way that art works with pornographic images. But when I feel the satisfaction of discovering a Franz von Stuck or a de Kooning here and a Tom Wesselman there, “Minus Porn” suddenly seizes tighter hold. The underlying ideas link pornography’s crude commercial exploitation of people’s dreams to society’s other, more concealed power hierarchies. And it asks painful questions such as: Who throws the first stone, and isn’t everything for sale nowadays? Including you?

Through its beauty and playful superficiality, “Minus Porn” appeals to the desire of the public. While resembling sweets, however, it simultaneously undermines the appetite by means of distance and feelings of disgust.

Pornography (the sex drive?) becomes something mutually asocial. A carnivorous plant or a bewitching siren’s song.