Coale's Notes: Carnal knowledge: Gordon Coales treads the fine line between art and pornography

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The Independent Culture
MONDAY: I am fully recovered. I feel grateful for the bank holiday, since it represents one extra day on which Alan's exhibition is not visible to the public. I still doubt whether we are going to survive this.

TUESDAY: I have now seen the exhibit with my own eyes. Exactly what I was led to expect - a 'sponsored by Lovestyle' banner over the entrance - the gallery filled with coin-operated video booths, showing X-rated material. Olly demonstrated. pounds 1 for half-a-minute. Hopefully it may deter some visitors. I had a meeting with Fiona. She still holds me entirely responsible. I said that in that case, I would take responsibility. I was simply not prepared to defend the show. We should realise that we had overstepped the mark. We had a small but loyal audience, who had learnt over the years to accept mystification, but they did not expect to have to be exposed to naked pornography.

It was not a matter of censorship, but of responsive community relations. We should have the courage to admit our mistake, and quietly close it down before Dave Curley got on to the story. I would try to word a press release to this effect.

She agreed, but insisted we inform Alan. I said we should involve neither Alan, nor Mr Pullet of Lovestyle, until afterwards. The priority was to avoid controversy from any quarter.

WEDNESDAY: Black news this morning. I was working away on my press release, when the Herald arrived, complete with the 'Curley on Wednesday' column (headline: 'X-Rated Exhibition'). There was a brief and lurid description of the show, followed by: 'Has the Wormwood Centre finally overstepped the mark? Over the years, the public has come to expect to be mystified by its exhibitions. But what they do not expect is to have naked obscenity rammed down their throats. So let's not hear the word 'censorship'. The issue is community relations. The Wormwood should now have the courage to apologise, and close down this sordid spectacle. Forthwith.' I asked Fiona what on earth I should do. She said there was no alternative now but to fight it. Then Olly, who seems to be taking an unhealthy interest in this exhibition, came in to say he had noticed that over half of the booths had broken down.

I saw this as a heaven-sent solution to all our problems, but Fiona said: 'Can't you see what that would look like? Get them repaired at once.' I rang up Pullet, and asked him to come and fix the booths. He said: 'Those were top-grade units.'

Olly told me later he thought the problem might be over-use. He couldn't give me precise figures, but he believed that gallery attendance was probably higher than it had ever been. I asked him who these people were. He said they were mainly first-time gallery-goers. 'And they don't just pop in. Many of them stay for up to an hour.' He pointed out we must be making a considerable amount of money.

Only a matter of days before it hits the national press.

THURSDAY: Pullet came round with a repairman. He said the machines weren't designed 'for this level of punishment'. He congratulated me on the success of 'our' show.

I was amazed later to bump into Alan, up from London to return to his vomit. He greeted me warmly, and introduced me to his pet art critic, who said: 'Very impressive. Very strong show.' He gathered it was attracting a certain amount of controversy, and for that reason, he anticipated considerable interest in London, mentioning several galleries.

FRIDAY: Spent the whole day fielding telephone calls with Fiona. First we ascertain the nature of the interest. To one sort of inquiry we say: 'Record- breaking show. Extremely popular with local community. Great sponsorship success story. No time for elitism here. What's good enough for the public is good enough for us. No hypocrisy, please.'

To the other sort: 'Highly controversial show. Honest and necessarily disturbing examination of pornography. Arts under threat. Real danger of censorship. No hypocrisy, please.'

At the Wormwood Centre, we can't stand hypocrisy.

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