de Jong: What made you conceive of Playing Doctor?
Peter Luining: First off, I was preparing for an installation at the time that dealt with our changing sexual morality. I collected material such as porno magazines, 8 mm movies and sex education books from the 1960's and '70's that I wanted to exhibit in glass showcases, much like antique books. My idea was to present those documents as if they belonged to a period us moderns could hardly imagine. When I stumbled upon the image that I used for Playing Doctor in a sex education book from the 1970's*, I immediately recognized its potential as an interactive art piece: by using a magnifying glass I would recreate the experience of playing doctor, a game most of us have played as a child I'm sure.
EJ: Playing Doctor might well be considered child pornography nowadays. It could cause you a lot of trouble.
PL: In fact it did cause me a lot of trouble. For example my American web host decided to ban me in 1999. They said it was pornography, with reference to their terms of service which prohibited the presentation of explicit content. I then moved the site to a Dutch internet provider which hasn't given me any trouble so far. Then of course there was also the reaction of the internet audience, and I got a lot of hate mail because of it, from all sorts of groups -- from radical feminists to Christian fundamentalists. I remember one feminist group threatened to do all sorts of nasty things to me if I didn't take the piece off-line within a certain amount of time. The deadline expired and nothing ever happened.
The problem is that all those who objected never got the point really. First of all, the entire thing is just innocent play. Secondly, the picture I used just absolutely isn't child pornography to me. Child pornography means pictures, movies, etc. where children are abused. The image in Playing Doctor just shows two children having fun. And thirdly -- but of course not everyone who visits my site knows this -- the picture comes from a sex education book that was distributed by a major book club called "Boek & Plaat," books and records. This was one of those book clubs you had in the Netherlands in the 1960's and '70's which sold records and books at huge discounts, and their main target group were ordinary families.
In my view, the reactions to Playing Doctor showed the complete intolerance that we suffer from today. It's the exact opposite from the 1960's, when "anything went." In my opinion neither extreme is particularly healthy. In a piece like Playing Doctor I hoped to put our sometimes totally ludicrous reactions to pictures of naked children nowadays in some perspective.
* Atlas der Seksualiteit in Woord en Beeld [Illustrated and Annotated Sexual Atlas], Gunther Hunold. Omega Boek BV, Amsterdam, 1973, ISBN 90 6057 222 X
Peter Luining: Playing Doctor. Excerpt from "Interview with Peter Luining," by Esther de Jong. Originally published in the Dutch language in Zoetzuur, nr. 1, March 1999.