Adrienne Cameron is a visual artist and emerging curator. She grew up in rural Victoria and has lived in Melbourne, the United Kingdom and Germany, having only recently returned to Australia. In this curated collection, she explores the edge of pleasure.
Pleasure! Today most people say they seek happiness for themselves, friends and families but is this the same as pleasure? Generally we just want to feel good and avoid pain. On the other hand, there is a thought that pleasure is intensified by pain. The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, cites how the pain of thirst intensifies the pleasure of quenching it. Some say the same for all addicting pleasures whether food, sex, gambling, or other ‘vices’. Nevertheless, pleasure and fantasy can captivate us in the moment, with little thought for the headache in the morning after a party.
James Whitington 'Shunga I'
The ancient Greek philosophers considered happiness (or eudaimonia as Aristotle and others named it) as the ultimate goal of life. But for them this was not just having a laugh with a friend or enjoying a meal with a lover. Virtue was much discussed amongst the Platonists and seen by many to be essential to the attainment of happiness. According to Epicurus, however, happiness was a complex appreciation of a way of living to achieve tranquillity, free from fear with an absence of pain. Unlike the early Christian belief that a desire for pleasure was prompted by the devil, Epicurus and his followers like the poet Lucretius, considered that we humans should enjoy ourselves but not to the extent that we diminish our futures. We should take pleasure in moderation because licentiousness brings pain and sorrow. Indeed, Lucretius likens the obsessed lover consumed by torments of desire, to the mythical giant Tityos who endures daily tortures from cupids (the original myth had vultures feeding on his liver).
Brett Whiteley - 'The Lovers'
In his book The Sacred Word, digital archaeologist Bernard Frischer reports Epicurus as saying, ‘I know not how to conceive the good, apart from the pleasures of taste, sexual pleasures, the pleasures of sound and the pleasures of beautiful form’.
Steve Rosendale - 'Goodbye Columbus'
Cliff Jones - 'The Life Class'
So how do we explore pleasure today? Should we accept pleasure as a part of life without concern for excess or moderation? Or follow Epicurus’ opinion that as sentient beings with simply one life that ends with death, we should enjoy pleasures in the moment, but with an awareness that the future too can have pleasure if we are well enough to enjoy it.
Mark Schaller - 'Peel Me A Lotus'
Plato divided pleasures into pure and impure: those without pain are pure, and those with impure. He acknowledges that as behavioural motivators, both pleasure and pain are most important in making ethical choices. We can allow ourselves to be lured into bad decisions, ignoring the better choice. But Plato also recognizes that impure pleasures are often a response to our emotions so that we can laugh from malice yet with great joy, as we can laugh with a dying friend. So, pleasure is an intense and important element of our lives and deaths. But it can also come with a bite!