Readings — From the November 2012 issue

Ceci n’est pas une poop

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From the 2011 testimony of Ira Isaacs, who was found guilty of obscenity in April, on charges relating to four videos he distributed through his company Stolen Car Films. Michael Grant is an attorney with the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.

michael grant: These films, it’s a fair characterization that they’re sexually oriented. Correct?

ira isaacs: Yes.

grant: And the films involve sex acts incorporating some form of feces, urination?

isaacs: Yes—well, can I back up? Even though there’s sex, that’s not the point of these films. It’s incidental.

grant: How many of these videos have you made?

isaacs: Thirty-nine.

grant: All of those had some form of sexual act in them?

isaacs: No. Most don’t. The earlier ones tend to have more sex, but the later ones didn’t. I realized I didn’t need sex. Sex was kind of like a marketing ploy in a sense. I was experimenting a lot. So I really was on very new creative ground, and I can’t be, as an artist, afraid to make mistakes. So the later ones I produced generally had no sex at all.

grant: Let’s focus on the charged films: Hollywood Scat Amateur No. 7—does that involve sex acts?

isaacs: Yes.

grant: And those acts include oral sex while involving feces?

isaacs: No. The feces in that particular movie is not real. So it’s really not involving feces at all.

grant: And the video Horseplay includes a woman performing oral sex on a number of horses. Correct?

isaacs: Two horses.

grant: Okay. And also having intercourse with a horse?

isaacs: Yes.

grant: You don’t advertise these movies on sites such as the Art Dealers Association of California, do you?

isaacs: No, but there is a reason.

grant: You also discuss in your pleading something about a gallery installation you’re working on. Have you actually completed that and shown that to an audience?

isaacs: No, because it’s not exhibited yet. It’s still, you know, working in my mind.

grant: In the past I believe you stated that “art is what artists do.” If an artist produces something, is it then necessarily art?

isaacs: All artists produce art, but they might not be producing good art, tasteful art, or even serious art. The bar for being art is a very low bar.

grant: Is there anything that an artist creates that you would consider not art?

isaacs: If the artist says it’s not art, it’s not art.

grant: Where do you get that definition from?

isaacs: A part of that definition is from Marcel Duchamp and many people in the postmodernistic movement. It’s a very accepted theory of what people think art is.

grant: Can you come up with any type of pornography that you would consider as not qualifying as a piece of art?

isaacs: If you ask me, have I seen pornography that does not have serious artistic value, I would say most pornography I’ve seen does not. But if you ask me, “Is it art?” Yeah, why not? Somebody created it.

judge george h. king: What allows you to say, “This has serious artistic value?”

isaacs: I try to see what other artists are doing and do something new and different. Chris Ofili and Kiki Smith, they’ve all used these scatological themes in their art, and it’s been very successful. In fact, the Tate museum offers this thing called the Turner Prize, and a couple of years ago a mannequin on a toilet won the award.

king: Because certain of these exhibits also have some use of feces, does that mean any use of feces in visual depiction would necessarily be of serious artistic value?

isaacs: No. I think a large part of it is you have the opportunity to show your work, and I have shown my work on the Internet. It’s been discussed; people have blogged about it. So I think the fact that I’ve gotten a lot of people to talk about it is the important thing. Very much like Rauschenberg’s White Painting.

king: What would be an instance where the use of feces would have no serious artistic value?

isaacs: If you took a film with just a woman in the bathroom just going to the toilet with nothing else happening I don’t think it would necessarily rise to that.

king: What if that were also put on the Internet? What if everybody starts commenting on it? Does that then become serious?

isaacs: That’s a very good question. Honestly, I think art can change. I think if you look at van Gogh in his time, for example, he wasn’t really considered—now he’s a master artist. I think if that piece did go on the Internet, and everybody was discussing it, I think it would be elevated to serious art. It would become that.

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