It's been called sexist, bullying and unacceptable voyeurism. But Women Who Eat On Tubes, the Facebook group that invites users to post images of women eating on the Underground, also qualifies as art – at least, according to its founder, Tony Burke.
The 39-year-old film director told the Telegraph that his group is akin to wildlife photography, explaining, "At its truest form, it should cherish its subjects in the way a wildlife photographer cherishes a kingfisher in a river... It’s the most normal thing in the world: eating. We transport it into high art."
First set up in 2011, the group is now about to hit 20,000 members. The rules are simple: post a picture of woman eating on the tube, naming the time, food and Underground line. It's attracted its share of condemnation – journalist Sophie Wilkinson, whose photograph was posted to the site and received online abuse after requesting the removal of her picture, wrote in the Debrief that she felt "victimised and hurt", describing the entire group as "stranger shaming". Members of the group have called critics "keyboard warriors" with no sense of humour.
But founder Tony Burke believes that Women Who Eat On Tubes is nothing more than a provocative "crowdsourced art project" that enriches the everyday commute to work.
"It gamifies the fairly mundane task of commuting," Burke tells Dazed. "It's something to look for other than reading the Metro or watching an episode of Dragon's Den on your iPhone. It creates a little live challenge." The challenge being, apparently, getting the photograph before anyone realises what you're doing.
For the record, Burke says that he is trying to weed out and block the worst offenders in the group ("I don't want to have a picture of someone eating a banana and a load of people talking about blowjobs"), but maintains that accusations of sexism are based on kneejerk anger and miss the artistic aim of the group entirely.
"I think there's a certain amount of headless chicken hysteria amongst the feminist movement," he says. "They've seen something seems like an easy target and have gone crazy without thinking about it from a creative point of view. I don't understand the huge furore over it, because eating is a very natural thing. You're allowed to do it on the tube, you're allowed to take pictures on the tube – I don't see the issue."
"I'm not in the business of keeping people happy," he continues, "what's the point in that? We have a responsibility as a creative community to create. I'm happy to create debate and challenge people. If I have an idea and I think there's artistic merit in it, I'm going to put it out there. If it upsets people, that's OK by me."
In 'other things that are art' news: losing your virginity (and then not losing it) is art, and this picture of Vladimir Putin by George W. Bush is also art. Now you know. Personally, I don't buy Burke's defence: it's a rare artist who lets members of the public join in their artwork by contributing lines like "Looks like shes sucking up that 6incher no problem". But what do you think – does this have any artistic virtue, or is it just an exercise in joyless provocation?
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