Usher: Life for Sale on eBay Not Worth $2 Million

June 25, 2008

This past Sunday, heartbroken Ian Usher opened up an eBay auction for bids on his entire life’s property in Perth. In less than 24 hours, the bidding frenzy had raised the top price to over $2 Million (AU$1 = US$0.96). Interestingly, the next day, Usher decided to let common sense — not greed — rule. His property, it seems, isn’t worth THAT much. Good for him.

Realizing the eBay system was allowing non-registered bidders to place potentially fake bids, Usher issued a statement yesterday:

Apologies to all, but I guess there are a lot of bored idiots out there…

…after a long day on the computer, I have decided to pull all bids back as far as the first registered bidder, and the price is back to A$155,000 as I write this … we are back in the land of common sense and reality, so it’s over to you.

We’re happy to report that as of this posting, he now has 58 solid bids, with a top bid of over AU$383,000. We’re definitely rooting for Usher.

Which leads us to a thought-provoking NYT Op-Ed piece by Paul Krugman, posted coincidentally on the same day Usher put his home, his property all on eBay. Going against the grain, Krugman asks: Why is owning a home so integral to living the American Dream? Why is homeownership equated with having a “vital stake in the future of our country” (as the Bushites are pushing us to believe)?

Krugman writes about U.S. policies that historically favor homeowners. Non-homeowners are pretty much second-class citizens. But, he argues that we should recognize that homeownership has major risks. One of them being: Homeowners are rendered immobile by their homes. They can’t move around as much or as fast.

Which brings us back to Ian Usher. By the end of the auction, he will no longer be a homeowner. And he will have sold everything he owns. But he will have gained a fresh start. This is the future: letting go, feeling free.

Some might call it the audacity of hope. Go, Usher!

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A Life for Sale on eBay

June 23, 2008

Does everything have a price? Apparently so. Ian Usher, a 44-year-old Englishman living in Perth, Australia, has had enough of his life. So he’s selling what he feels has defined his life up to this point: 3-bedroom home (valued at AU$400-420,000) and all its contents in Perth, car, motorbike, jetski, kitesurfing gear. Introductions to his friends. His lifestyle. Even a trial stint at his job at a carpet store.

Usher has published the details on http://www.alifeforsale.com and is holding an eBay auction that ends this Sunday, June 29th. As of this posting, his eBay listing (which opened Sunday) already has 115 bids. The current bid is at AU$2.2 million (approximately US$2.1 million).

Why? Apparently, a broken heart. Usher says he married “the best girl in the world”, but was “blindsided…by a shocking and awful discovery.” He doesn’t specify. He does say this though:

I now live alone in a house that was being built for us to live in together…I am still surrounded by all the memorabilia of our years together… Everything in my home is a reminder of the wonderful past we shared.

So, after a year in this house I decided that it is time to sell it and move on.

What next?

Upon completion and settlement I will walk out of my home for the last time in just the clothes I am wearing, and carrying only my wallet and passport.

My current thoughts are to then head to the airport, and ask at the flight desk where the next flight with an available seat goes to, and to get on that and see where life takes me from there!

Considering that Usher expected to get just £185,000 (US$365,000) according to BBC, he’s not doing badly. Perhaps people facing foreclosure might adapt his strategy. Why just sell the house? Hey, throw in the whole deal. And the personal narrative too.


Australian Authorities Drop Sex Crime Charges Against Artist… and Bust 42 Queenslanders

June 6, 2008

On Cafe Philos this morning: Australian police have decided NOT to prosecute artist Bill Henson and his gallery Roslyn Oxley9 on charges of pornography. They were following the advice of Nicholas Cowdery, NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, who felt there was no reasonable prospect of conviction, particularly in this complex and “notoriously difficult” area involving law and art.

In smh, Assistant Commissioner Catherine Burn said the police jumped into action after receiving THREE complaints, adding that they “would respond if there was one complaint from the public… It is the role of the police to respond to community concerns and investigate complaints.” Burn did not explain how or why one complaint constitutes a public. Three complaints must have felt like a national movement.

Playing politics, Social Conservative Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has both backed down and not backed down from his condemnation of Henson’s work (previously described as “revolting”). In the same smh report:

I said what my views are as a parent, I don’t budge from that. But I’m not about to go around and start dictating to the legal authorities what they should or should not do… Organisations like that are at arm’s length from politicians…

Meanwhile, in northeastern Australia, police have arrested 42 Queenslanders in one the nation’s biggest pedophile busts. The Daily Telegraph reports that Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson expects to charge 70 to 80 more people over the next fortnight as part of state and federal efforts to bust a global child pornography network.

A 59-year-old teacher charged over the bust has committed suicide. A second teacher, 48, is recovering after a failed suicide attempt. A parliamentarian declared that society would be better off if pedophiles committed suicide before they abused children.

These two near-simultaneous events in Australia (Henson’s liberation and the Queensland arrests) are fueling the fires of highly-combustible debates about rights and responsibilities in an increasingly technological, globalized, and some say (sadly) post-human, civilization.

Our societies are collective works in progress. And our individual humanities are all we have. It is absolutely crucial that we continue to negotiate both — without wishing death or violence on anyone. Life is not a zero-sum game.

See blixity’s previous post on Bill Henson’s case.


Censoring Bill Henson: Government, God, and Gallery

June 2, 2008

Australian authorities took down Bill Henson’s purportedly pornographic photographs from his gallery, Roslyn Oxley9, on May 22, and the battle between public good and private expression continues.

On the right: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd leading the charge with: “I think [the photographs] are revolting… kids deserve to have the innocence of their childhood protected.” On the left: the arts community, led by playwright Michael Gow and writer Alison Croggon, armed with an open letter asking politicians to rethink their positions. (Apparently novelist John Coetzee and actress Cate Blanchett are now among the signatories.)

Taking a broader perspective, Richard Phillips wrote in wsws last Friday about the scapegoating of Bill Henson and the ensuing witch hunt:

Rudd and the rest of the Labor leadership have seized on the Henson issue as a diversion from mounting social tensions resulting from the rapid rise in the cost of living and growing hostility—just six months after its election—to the Labor government… Rudd Labor is trying to develop a political constituency among the extreme right, Christian fundamentalists and other disoriented layers to use as a means of intimidating and suppressing critical thought…

Another perspective to consider is the gallery’s role in supporting their artists. The owners, Roslyn and Tony Oxley, have largely complied with authorities. Following the police raid, this “Media Statement” went up on their website, essentially acknowledging self-censorship.

rosoxleyweb

I cannot claim to know their full position on this. And I understand they are facing death threats and criminal charges — sincerely, who can blame them for compliance.

But I am disappointed and confused about Roslyn Oxley9’s silence. As of this writing, their website’s “NEWS” section still has NOTHING about the debates unfolding around Henson — a story that could become the Australian counterpart to the Robert Mapplethorpe controversy (to name just one) in American art.

Ironically, this is in their website’s “About The Gallery” section:

Since 1982, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery has been committed to the advancement of the most serious and innovative forms of contemporary art.

Through its exhibition program the gallery has supported work that is challenging and at the forefront of contemporary art practice.

The gallery’s silence suggests there are limits to such commitment and support. The obvious gap between what they say and what they do is troubling. This is NOT an attempt to prescribe. This is an attempt to raise a broader question: What role should a private gallery (i.e., no public funding) play in advocating for critical thought and expression — particularly in an increasingly conservative sociopolitical climate?

(See blixity’s previous post on this.)


Police Shut Down Exhibition, Accuse Artist of Child Pornography

May 25, 2008

roslynoxley

Police raided Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Sydney, Australia last Thursday, just hours before the opening of an exhibition featuring new works by acclaimed contemporary artist Bill Henson. Australian news media report that 21 photographs of a naked 12-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy have been seized from the gallery. 41 images have been removed from its web site. Indecency and obscenity charges will be brought under state and federal laws.

We know the art-vs.-pornography, censorship-vs.-free-speech drill. Political and sociocultural authorities are now locking horns in fury. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has weighed in, calling Henson’s photographs “revolting” and “devoid of artistic merit”. (Rudd was described as being “out of touch with everyday Australia” by opposition leader Brendan Nelson.) The art community is outraged and prominent arts figures have accused the Prime Minister of hypocrisy. Child protection advocates, determined to be offended, are calling for Henson’s criminalization.

I don’t know where I stand on this issue — particularly as it involves children and art whose status continues to be subservient to political ideology. But I do hope it opens up a serious and heated debate (not another theatrical cockfight) about what it means to be a citizen of a certain civilized state. As capital globalizes and we morph into “one world, one dream”, it is important to ask what it means to be an Australian vs. American vs. Chinese vs. Danish vs. Dominican. Citizenship has distinct rights and privileges, as well as moral standards and social responsibilities. What should we be able to see in public and in private?

Michel Foucault famously theorized that what exists has been allowed to exist. Jacques Ranciere writes about the “distribution of the sensible”, loosely defined as the system of divisions and boundaries that define what we as a society can perceive through our senses. As a New Yorker, I’ve grown accustomed to the post-9/11 police strategies of “If You See Something, Say Something”. It’s time we also say something about that which we do NOT see, what we collectively elect to leave out, eliminate, mutilate, conceal, or render extinct. The works we take down and the silences we administer define our humanity just as powerfully as the paintings we leave up and the speeches we amplify.

LEFT – “Amor Vincit Omnia” (translated as Love Conquers All), 1601, Caravaggio; RIGHT – One of Bill Henson’s seized photographs. (Black bar added by Australian news site.)

henson