Artist convicted of child pornography plans appeal
On Wednesday, Helsinki District Court found artist Ulla Karttunen guilty of possessing and spreading child pornography. However, the court did not assign a punishment in the case.
In its decision the court agreed with the prosecution that works produced by Karttunen violated sexual decency.
Karttunen was nevertheless left unpunished, because the court found that it would be “unreasonable to impose a punishment, as the defendant has had the same goal as the lawmakers, when they passed legislation making the possession and spreading of child pornography a punishable offence”.
According to the court, “the crime is comparable to a forgivable act, due to circumstances related to the act.”
The court also found that a punishment would have been unreasonable because the artist has already suffered the consequences of the dismantling of her work of art, the confiscation of her pictures, and the closing down of her exhibition.
Karttunen was on trial because of a work entitled
Neitsythuorakirkko (”Virgin-Whore Church”), which was part of an exhibition at the Kluuvi Gallery called
Ekstaattisia naisia ("Ecstatic Women").
Officials confiscated material from the work, which cast a critical light on material available on free-access teenage porn pages.
The confiscation came after a guest at the opening of the exhibition complained to the police.
The same person had also contacted the Helsinki City Art Museum, which decided to remove the work already before the police showed up.
Ulla Karttunen plans to appeal her conviction. “This conviction was the alternative that I feared the most. I would have wanted a clear decision”, she says.
She says that this decision means that she will be seen to be even more guilty in the court of public opinion, as a person who has been left unpunished.
Karttunen does see some positive aspects to the court’s decision. Helsinki District Court says in its statement that it understands the artist’s critical aim, but bases its ideas on freedom of expression on what she sees as an outdated view of art.
The court says that an artist has a different kind of freedom of expression than a journalist or scientist, for instance.
It does not feel that an artist could, in the same way that a journalist or researcher can, “exhibit as part of a work of art, visual material that is banned by law in order to influence the formation of public opinion in society”.
Karttunen sees modern art as being close to journalism and science. It all depends on taking the context into consideration.
“The difference in the context should be clearly understood. If pictures are displayed in a critical art connection, they do not operate in a pornographic context. Normal porn operates in a different connection from art”, she said.
The court ordered the 199 pictures and 12 exhibition brochures to be forfeited to the state.
On the other hand, the court could order the lifting of the confiscation order concerning Karttunen’s computer, because the police can remove the traces of pictures of the work in the exhibition from the hard disc.
In a statement issued before the court’s decision, Karttunen expressed wonder at why the actual issue at hand is not being discussed.
“It is necessary to ask, why the police or court system, officials or decision-makers, do not grab hold of the phenomenon, which can be seen to be a serious violation of human rights”, she writes.
“This crime will not go away just because a trial concerning the world of art is over, and an informer is convicted.”
She feels that the phenomenon that she spotlights in connection with their work involves “turning childhood into pornography in the name of making a profit”.
The question is not one of traditional child pornography of the type that paedophiles enjoy. Her revelation concerns free online pages, “which are used for advertising commercial porn sites”.
As Karttunen sees it, the matter is clearly unknown to prosecutors and representatives of the court.
“The decision of the court proved my argument right, in the final instance. My argument was that in the midst of free access pages - that is, adult entertainment that is viewed legally - there is a mass of child pornography”, she emphasises.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Artwork critical of child pornography still under preliminary investigation (19.2.2008)
Police confiscate art exhibit as child pornography (18.2.2008)