The sensorship of Ceci n’est pas… to be considerated by the Supreme Administrative Court

In December, the Helsinki Administrative Court rejected the Baltic Circle festival's appeal against the police's decision to ban the work Ceci n'est pas mon corps. The festival has appealed the administrative court's decision to the Supreme Administrative Court. Baltic Circle feels that the future solution will be of great importance from the point of view of freedom of speech and also for how street art will be presented in Finland in the future.

The closing scene “mon corps” of Dutch Dries Verhoeven’s Ceci n’est pas… performed at the Baltic Circle Theater Festival in Helsinki in November 2014 had to be censored based on the police’s decision. In the scene, the older female performer was supposed to sit naked in a glass display case in Lasipalatsi square. The police issued a ban on the performance of the scene in its original form and demanded that the festival put underwear on the performer so that the scene could be performed.

In its decision, the Administrative Court accepted the police’s view that the work in its original form would meet the criteria for violating sexual decency. According to the Administrative Court, the scene would have caused aggravation in the audience because of the nudity, because the random passerby had not been informed enough about the nature of the show. In practice, fulfilling such an obligation to inform would mean that works of this type could only be presented in a fenced area in Finland, which takes away the basis of the art of public space.

However, similar works have been presented in open public spaces in Finland.

“Last August, the work Encounter with Flies was performed at Kansalaistori, where a young woman stood naked in a glass booth surrounded by hundreds of flies. This piece was performed without interruption, but our similar piece Ceci n’est pas…, where an 83-year-old woman sits naked in a glass booth, was interpreted in advance as causing an obvious aggravation. Is the aging body such a big taboo in today’s Finland and does our society really need to be protected from such an image?”
– Hanna Nyman, executive director of the Baltic Circle festival

The case is an important example for freedom of speech and art, and the festival wants to continue the discussion on the topic. The prior censorship prohibited in the Constitution and the freedom of art protected in it should guarantee that freedom of expression and methods prevails in art, which contributes to promoting and diversifying social discussion. In the festival’s opinion, the police and the Helsinki Administrative Court have not properly taken into account the artistic nature of the use of freedom of expression in their decisions.