Thursday, 29 January 2015

Shag, Bonk, Fuck? Sex, Writing and Self-Censorship

By Ruth Skilbeck

One of the hardest things for many authors to write is sex scenes, as has been often acknowledged. How can one write about sex, without being either too explicit (if one is not writing erotica) or too prudish, leaving out too much. I have written on this before here, and on the process of writing my now published novel Australian Fugue: The Antipode Room, including in the post Sex, Art and the Inner World: Women Artists Claiming their Creative Birth Right
Showing how topical and significant this topic is, this short article is the most viewed article on The Daily Fugue.

This has come up again for me, as my novel is now published! and has its first readers, who have bought it from the online shop at One of my very first valued readers (who is a medical doctor) made the remark, when I had the pleasure of speaking with him yesterday by phone, that in the 70 pages he has read so far, all seemed to be ok, but the one thing he noticed (apart from 'there is an awful lot of drug taking'!)* was the word I used in the voice of Margarita to describe her feelings for Ray. "I don't want to ----him"
Which word do you think I should have inserted here? And yes there is a word in the novel. At first I had put 'fuck' but then that was too coarse for the dialogue, as I explained to him.
It is a sentence I mused over for months, and tried a few options: shag, bonk, or fuck? Which should I have used, should I have used another euphemism "bed him", or "sleep with him"?
What difference does it make, of course one used the criteria of being truest to the character. But what kind of character does want to write or portray when it comes to sex, and their sex life? How far can one go as an author, or should one go in writing about sex?
If you want to find out what term I did use, and whether you think it works, and how I did write the sex scenes, the book is now available.
It is on sale as a print book, and as an eBook in the next few days. I will post details here, when it is.
Meanwhile it is on Amazon, where you can read the first few pages:


*the drug taking, by two characters, is necessary to the narrative- as I will write about in my next article posted here. The novel is as it turns out a moral tale.

Australian Fugue: The Antipode Room, Newcastle: PostMistress Press, 2014
Skilbeck, Ruth (2013), Sex, Art and the Inner World" Women Claiming their Creative Birth Right, The Daily Fugue, 24 March, 2013.

Kindle Edition ebook is now available:

Ruth Skilbeck is the author of a novel Australian Fugue: The Antipode Room, PostMistress Press: Newcastle, 2015. 
The print book and kindle ebook are both available globally:

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Art Journalism in the Time of "Terror" and "Control"

By Ruth Skilbeck

This essay reflects my observations as an art journalist and essayist on changes in the professional and creative field of art journalism in Australia.
I discuss some impacts on my practice, since the advent of the ‘war on terror’ in the early 21st century, with reference to an essay I wrote on my practice as an art critic, artist and writer that was published in 2008.  I was last week invited by the founder of, Richard Price, to put up a paper for discussion in a Session, on the global networking site for researchers, which has over 16 million members worldwide.
I chose to make Art Journalism and the Impact of ‘Globalization’: New Fugal Modalities of Storytelling in Austral-Asian Writing  (Pacific Journalism Review 14 (2) 2008) available, as it was the first paper of mine published in an academic research journal, and it was based on my practice as an art writer, which has changed considerably over the decades, from when I first published my first essay in the Irish Times in the early eighties, aged twenty-two. The world has changed beyond recognition then for writers and journalists. This has given the opportunity to reflect on the changes that are happening now and to invite others to reflect on what is happening now in media and communication, where our freedom of expression and free speech are now the topic of much discussion and contestation around the world. I raise a few questions that have occurred to me based on my practice.

Much has changed since I wrote Art Journalism and the Impact of ‘Globalization’  and since the feature stories I discuss in the essay, on the art of Guo Jian, and Charlie Co, that were based on my interviews and reviews of their work, were published, in Australian based art periodicals (in 2000, and 2003).
How has social media impacted on art writing and the exchanges between writers and artists since then?
In my case, I more recently have moved away to new forms of art writing critically reflecting on the self in the new digital age. For example in essays on my research as a writer and novelist into my mother’s unknown family background, and moving from observing to a more creative role, via my photography and reflections on it. I have also published the first novel in my series that explores silencing, trauma, and the impact of (secret) adoption on generations of a postcolonial family. This seems consistent with social media communication, and “posting”, opinions and images, which is very much based on “the self”.  Yet this new form of social media communication many have adopted, raises questions about what kind of a society we are becoming. How is this impacting on art and art writing, and literature, and practices of art?
A further issue I am considering is: what is the difference between having a writer writing about another artist, or engaging in a dialogue for publication, as opposed to the now rather ubiquitous, self-based,  “social media” conversations?
Is social media having a chilling effect on art and writing, as we are now all writing under some kind of unknown gaze? Or is social media communication for artists and writers, liberating?
How has this impacted on, and is it likely to further impact on freedom of expression of the individual and in groups, and communities, or nascent future communities that are linked by art practices?
Is it significant to consider that now in our present moment, the most ‘valid’ or meaningful art writing of a writer on an artist may be writing on behalf of, or in empathy. For those who are jailed, imprisoned, punished for their writing and art?
It seems that maybe this has most impact now (as it really always has, yet we hear more of it now, and it appears to be happening more).
The terrible assassination of the French satirists in Paris this month, is another tragic case of ‘art journalism’ reflecting and changing events in the world, which had a violent and global impact.

A different example this week is a sensitive and empathetic feature on prominent contemporary Australian artist Ben Quilty’s art mentoring of Australian artist Myuran Sukumaran (33) who with the ‘Bali Nine’ was convicted by Indonesian police for drug smuggling ten years ago, who faces death by firing squad, in the coming months. He is sentenced to death for drug smuggling ten years ago (Deborah Cassrels’ feature Bali death row: when the battle for mercy hits the canvas,’ in The Australian, 23/1/15). Since he took up art three years ago, the feature quotes his friend and mentor Quilty on now the reformed Sukumuran has started up an art school in jail, and had a “sell out” show of his works.
It seems that maybe this kind of art writing as reporting empathetically on behalf of those who are endangered around the world, has most impact now. It is certainly prominent in the rise in social media petitions.  These include this month the PEN petitions, reports and writings circulating on social media, on jailed Saudi blogger sentenced to 1000 lashes for his website which was promoting free speech, and freedom of expression. This is a punishment that takes place in public, and the lashes are so severe they cause severe internal damage and likely death. Due to medical reasons his second flogging has been delayed, as reported on 22. 1. 15. ( 'Flogging of Saudi Blogger Delayed Again on Medical Grounds,' Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2015).  He was arrested in 2012 after "writing articles critical of Saudi Arabia's clerics" on a blog he created that has since been shut down. He was found guilty of insulting Islamic clerics, and of breaking technology laws.
(I I first heard about this through American PEN, via social media Facebook).

Major changes since the journal article and features were published show the changing terrain for artists and writers, and that the struggle of freedom of expression as an artist and writer continues:
Guo Jian, one of the artists in the journal article, whom I wrote on in Sydney fifteen years ago, has now been exiled by the Chinese government, after returning there and working as an artist for several years, he was arrested before the 25th June 3rd anniversary of the repressed 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, and imprisoned, held in detention, for an artwork he made of a miniature replica of Tiananmen Square smothered in rotting meat, a statement art work he explained referred to the rise of consumer culture in China, yet was destroyed and censored by the authorities. He was interviewed by the Financial Times, before the anniversary, for a story entitled 'Lunch with the FT: Guo Jian' by Tom Mitchell (30 May 2015). In it he is quoted as saying that the massacre in Tiananmen Square should never be forgotten or banished from historical record. After the paper was published, he was arrested. His arrest was covered by newspapers and broadcast media in Australia (for instance in the report, the same day, in the Australian 'Chinese artist arrested for marking Tiananmen anniversary' 3 June 2015, and in the Guardian'Australian artist arrested for marking Tiananmen anniversary' 3 June, 2014 and further by newspapers including the Financial Times ). Following discussion with Australia (as he has Australian and Chinese citizenship) he was released from detention, and officially exiled from China. He is now living in the US and working there. When I spoke with Guo Jian in Australia in the late 90s he spoke about his experiences both as a soldier in the PLA and then later as an artist, involved in protests in the square, and very bravely endangering his own life to go back into the flying bullets of the massacre and carry other wounded students to the adjacent hospital; this interview is in my story 'From Mao to Now' published in  2000, the first feature on Guo Jian and his first exhibition in Sydney at Ray Hughes Gallery, Trigger Happy, on the trauma that he suffered and his responses to the Tiananmen massacre, and which is reflected on in my journal article.
On the island of Negros in the Philippines, Charlie Co has gained international recognition, showing in international Biennales, and expanding his practice.

Meanwhile, the huge disparities in resources, of money, in value, in the art world, and the anomaly of the prices paid for art works (and how most artists live, in poverty) has shifted into the global education sector, of arts and media culture degrees.
It is still evident in the auction world, but a most striking development has been the migration of these forces into ‘education as business’, which crystallises some of the inherent paradoxes and inequities facing artists working for nothing, whose work may then be sold for vast prices, which they may receive no royalties from. It also focuses the increasing controversy around art funding, and artists’ lack of a working wage, for most, and in the early years, of studying when fees have become so high and debt now shackles art students for life.
The growing concern about this is shown in a New York conference last week on this, The Artist as Debtor: A Conference about the Work of Artists in the Age of Speculative Capitalism, Jan 23, 2015. . (Incidentally I heard about this through social media networking, in a link posted to facebook via a New School professor).

And another change in Australia, is a perceived leaning to ‘control society’ that in the last couple of years saw the controversial linking of the Biennale of Sydney with funding from the burgeoning private prison/detention industry, with a director of the company that now has the multi-billion dollar contract for running Australia’s asylum seeker detention camps (prisons) on the pacific islands north of Australia, Manus Island, Christmas Island and Nauru. Prior to the 2014 Sydney Biennale, there were attacks on imprisoned asylum seeker detainees, and a murder of one, Reza Berati an architecture student and asylum seeker. An independent review was held, and the verdict reported in this this story by, Review finds asylum seeker Reza Berati killed on Manus Island by Salvation Army officer and PNG security guards. (May 27, 2014).

The controversies and their causes have continued. In the news now, is the hunger strike of 700 detainees, “swallowing razor blades and “sewing lips shut” in protest (as reported in this story in the Sydney Morning Herald (Manus Island protest escalates, up to 700 detainees on hunger strike, January 19, 2015).

 International artists who were making collaborative art works with refugees shown at the Biennale, boycotted the Biennale, and were supported by local artists, and the chairman resigned. (The international artists returned to show their works, some local artists stayed out).
In this way it seemed that Australia is perceived as moving towards, or in danger of moving towards, the more repressive approach of some Asian countries.
I wrote about this here on my blog (The Daily Fugue), as it was happening, I interviewed artists, and covered the artist boycott of the 2014 Sydney Biennale, a boycott which had the outcome of the controversial sponsorship link being severed, then.
How have artists responded, and how are writers writing on the changes we are living through, subjected to, and shaping in art and writing? My blog writing on the 2014 Sydney Biennale Boycott is an example, yet readers know, or can read, that it had repercussions for me (the posts I wrote then are still up on The Daily Fugue.) The time that I was reporting on this on my blog was the time in which Australian journalists reporting on asylum seekers were being referred to the Australian police according to an article published in the Guardian published on January 22, 2015, by Paul Farrell. 'Journalists reporting on asylum seekers referred to Australian police'. Who knows what reach this has, and whether in my case this is relevant.
I had to go to court over the matters I reported on here, on this blog. The charges against me were later dismissed. (LInks to some of the posts I made at the time are listed in works and sources cited, at the end of the post, they are still on the blog, starting in February 2014).

 How real is the threat to freedom of expression, free speech and reporting on issues such as funding and sponsorship controversies in the art world in Australia?
If art writing is a cultural historical record, what is being written now, and what needs to be written to shape the world for the better?
This brings into sharp relief the intersection of art writing and politics, which is increasingly hard to ignore in the social media age where our “mobile” and computer based communication is being shaped by political policies.
This raises the wider question. What is the value of ‘art journalism’ in the new world of social media, self based texting, tweeting, blogging and Facebook, artist websites, and the so-called “surveillance gaze” and the “control society”? The role of the art journalist seems to have shifted (as it always has been) to the artist as emblematic perhaps of the times (as much, by being against the times), recording –and expressing- in their works the world they live in and their responses to the most traumatic, affective, violent, impactful events.
This gives a new meaning to “art writing” and “art journalism” shifting it to art’s writing and art’s journalism, or rather draws out its social and cultural meaning as both reflecting, signifying and changing – or “disrupting” conditioned communication and understandings of what it is to live, as human, and retain our humanity, in our times.
This has been witnessed in the massacres in France, of the Charlie Hebdo journalists, and increasing restriction of journalists, writers and artists exiled, or jailed, and/or murdered, around the world.

These are just some first thoughts on reflection on re-reading this essay I wrote on the art journalism essays I wrote at the turn of the 21st century. Questions readers of the article may like to consider: 
What are your thoughts on the role and possibilities of writing, journalism, and communication of artists in the era of social media communication, through blogs, websites, social networking, and professional, academic and research sites such as
What are the challenges, and opportunities, the threats, and downfalls, and the more positive aspects of the new forms and modes of art writing?
How can artists and writers continue to write and make art freely, when –like anyone and everyone now it seems- their social media communication is under a “surveillance gaze”? Does this matter? Does it only matter if “you have something to hide” as is a common response, or is it having further unforeseen impacts? What kind of new world are we now entering and shaping?
One where the once hallowed ‘private’ space of inner reflection and thought that we brought into our communication with others, and is the space of art generation and germination in creative processes, and thinking, is now increasingly laid open to unknown “surveillance” and data collection? As so many artists and writers now use computers, and digital devices, which are not private, but have a public (yet unknown) function, of data collection.  This radically changes the once private realm of writing from the self, into an open 'communication' (Yet to what extent is this controlled?; private or open to whom?; to what degree does this apply to private writings on a digital word processor for example?) What role is the new art journalist playing in the new “global” media world?  How does this affect the western concepts of the rights of the subject, and the private person?
How can we create a more humane global society in this time of ‘terror’ and ‘control’ and mass digital data collection? Where ‘freedom of expression’ and the rights of the individual subject, are re-emerging as subject of as much significance, and contestation, now as at the start of western modernity.
What are the new challenges, and how can we face them?
I plan to write and publish books in this area soon. Queries and suggestions welcome. PostMistress Press is considering publishing books by authors and artists on art and culture, literature, journalism, and media studies in the future.

Ruth Skilbeck
Author and publisher
PostMistress Press

Ruth Skilbeck, PhD, is an author, novelist, essayist and publisher now based in Newcastle, New South Wales.

Her novel Australian Fugue: The Antipode Room is out now, and on sale in global bookshops. .   

Her essay Art Journalism and the Impacts of Globalization: New Fugal Modalities of Storytelling in Austral-Asian Writing is in a discussion session on 
You can read the paper and join the discussion here:

Works and sources cited:

Skilbeck, Ruth (2008) 'Art Journalism and the Impact of ‘Globalization’: New Fugal Modalities of Storytelling in Austral-Asian Writing', Pacific Journalism Review 14 (2) 2008

Cassrels, Deborah (2015), ‘Bali death row: when the battle for mercy hits the canvas.The Australian, 23 January 2015.

Mitchell, Tom (2014) 'Lunch with the FT: Guo Jian', Financial Times, 30 May 2015

Murdoch, Scott (2014) Chinese artist Guo Jian arrested over Tiananmen, The Australian, 3 June, 2014.

Branigan, Tania (2014), 'Australian Artist Arrested fro Marking Tiananmen Anniversary,' The Guardian, June, 2014.

 'Flogging of Saudi Blogger Delayed Again on Medical Grounds,' Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2015.

Paul Farrell. 'Journalists reporting on asylum seekers referred to Australian police'. The Guardian, January 22, 2015.

2014 – coverage of the Sydney Biennale 2014 and repercussions for this author-arts journalist. A few selected post (more on blog The Daily Fugue), starting in February 2014.

There is more on this on the site.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Three "Fugue" Books by Ruth Skilbeck Available Soon on Amazon

The Writer’s Fugue, Australian Fugue: The Antipode Room, and Post-Traumatic Modernism: Three New Books by Ruth Skilbeck Available Soon on Amazon.

Australian Fugue: The Antipode Room Ruth Skilbeck's first novel will be on sale on Amazon by next week.

Ruth Skilbeck’s book The Writer’s Fugue: Musicalization, Trauma, and Subjectivity in the Literature of Modernity will be available soon, beginning as her PhD thesis, edited and updated, discusses history (and oppression) of freedom of expression in literary writers, and is a call for freedom of expression, beyond the recent theory of ‘death of the author’. She said: “When I was researching the book I found out how some of the world’s best known authors were deeply affected by trauma, of loss of loved ones, exile, and impacts of wars and conflicts, and that these authors used the musical fugue form as a way of structuring their art, to make a way of writing the unspeakable, through using musicalization to express their deep and often sublimated feelings, and to bear witness to atrocities, and to grief, loss of self.
It was after I had finished my PhD that I found out about exiled artists and writers in Australia; writers campaigned on their behalf for their release.
I began to research and write about writers in detention and interviewed a poet and journalist who had been in detention.
This is what drives me now to speak out for the humane treatment of refugees, asylum seekers in detention camps run by Australia, in the islands of Manus, Nauru, Christmas Island, and to see how important the symbolic and literal political act of boycott and protest by citizens is, in the process of change for the better of humanity. That is why boycotted the Biennale of Sydney 2014, until the sponsorship issue was resolved at that time, and why I wrote about it on my blog, The Daily Fugue.” She wrote about this here in 2014.

Post-Traumatic Modernism: Modernity and Literary Fugue, Ruth Skilbeck’s second literary history and theory book expanding on The Writer’s Fugue research and themes, and with new material, will be published by PostMistress Press. She says: “Why I decided to make The Writer’s Fugue available, even though I am writing another book on these themes, is that I have already referred to it by name, in several essays I wrote that have been published by international scholarly journals (Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies; Pacific Journalism Review; International Journal of the Arts in Society) and in books by Routledge and Taylor and Francis (Critical Articulations: Cultural Studies of Rights, ed. John Ngyuet Erni), over the past five years.
 I have also been approached by readers and PhD researchers, and so have decided to release The Writer’s Fugue as a book now, on global distribution, for the record and so that readers can access the research I refer to in my articles, directly in the form in which I wrote it for my PhD and which is how I was referring to it in my published essays.
If I had not already referred to this book (my PhD thesis) in my published essays I probably would not have taken this action, but as readers continue to approach me asking where they can access The Writer’s Fugue, I have decided to do this, even though my next book Post-Traumatic Modernism will be better, and easier to read as it is written for the general reader as well as the musico-literary scholar, so will be free of the “academic jargon” and PhD conventions of literature review section. However students, and PhD scholars may find it useful to read it as an example of a PhD thesis as well as for its content. I have edited it lightly for publication for a wider audience, and added a new author preface, which begins to update my research.

My first novel, Australian Fugue: The Antipode Room will also be available on Amazon within the next week or two. Details will be posted here of all three books when they are on the platforms."

Monday, 5 January 2015

Most Influential Blog Post of 2014: Why I Will Be Boycotting the 2014 Sydney Biennale

As there seems to be a convention of reflection and round ups of blog posts for the year past, I will do the same for my own blog The Daily Fugue.
The most consequential post on this blog in 2014, was my blog post:
Why I Will Be Boycotting the 2014 Sydney Biennale. 

Readers of this blog will know that this article and the Boycott had serious consequences in the real art world, and the best of these was that the Boycott was successful.

You can read the passage of events on my blog, and what happened to yours truly in Australia for reporting on such an action.

All the best for the new year.

Ruth Skilbeck