Institute's erotic art ban angers gay artist

Works removed from end-of-year show

ANNA PEARSON
Last updated 13:00 19/12/2012
Artist Nelson
COLIN SMITH/The Nelson Mail
Nelson artist Alex Ouston with the hand made adornments on sparkling wine bottles

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Artworks by a Nelson artist showing gay men with dressed up genitals were banned from an end-of-year art exhibition.

Alex Ouston's final Bachelor of Arts and Media project featured "drag" pieces adorning sparkling wine bottles, with a QR code linking to a website with images of the decorations in situ - on men's genitals.

The Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology told Ouston, 37, to remove the link to the website from his art project, and to take down any reference to the institution.

Ouston said the works "showing happy men out of the closet" were the culmination of a year's research into gay rights, and an exploration of his own experience growing up gay and coming out.

He said removing the QR code "reduced the intended read by the viewer", as the project was about "making a social comment on the availability of safe information".

Ouston's hand-made adornments were initially displayed on sparkling wine bottles donated by a Marlborough winemaker.

However, when he was asked by NMIT to give the champagne sponsor more information about his project, and a link to the website, the wine makers "saw blatant pornography and pulled out straight away".

"I was a bit gutted. They [the adornments] looked really good, and the labelled bottles added greatly to the reading of my art. It just proves how prudish people are about nudity and sexuality," he said.

Ouston said he had been working with "on the edge" pornographic and erotic imagery since he started art school five years ago, and NMIT needed to have better systems to deal with students who wanted to work with explicit or taboo material.

"Even in my first year I did a naked photo montage of myself as a project. It was addressing

identity - how I see myself as masculine or feminine," he said.

The tutors should have guided him better, rather than leaving it to a "last minute freak-out" while they were marking his work - a week before the show opened to the public.

"I guess I feel a bit short-changed. It's like they're saying they don't want their name on the project, yet, hello? I'm a student of NMIT. I thought it was an adult education learning environment. Boundaries have to shift in order for culture to grow and survive. I'm pretty sure that other art institutions have shown more graphic, violent, sexual and taboo works than NMIT could ever consider showing. Why should Nelson be any different to Wellington, Auckland, New York or Sydney?"

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NMIT community support and service industries group manager Chris Hubbard said there were several issues that prevented Ouston from receiving approval from the institution's research and ethics committee.

Many were due to safety measures for his models and sponsors "rather than the content, or type of research that he was engaged in".

"Alex had not sought sufficient approvals from each of his models. This created a situation potentially harmful to their long-term wellbeing, and to NMIT for supporting the public presentation of material that had not gained adequate approval. The research and ethics committee asked Alex to remove the QR codes based on these issues."

Mr Hubbard said Ouston was not the first student to engage in research that touched on the explicit or taboo.

"While our students are engaged in research and development of ideas, they are welcome to explore any theme they like. However, once a body of work moves from the studio to public presentation, a range of other concerns become important."

Mr Hubbard said Ouston had been well-supported during his time at NMIT, and encouraged to explore areas of interest to him, but did not provide clear communication of his full intentions.

"It was only when his final work was seen for assessment in the week before the exhibition that the scope and implications of the issue became apparent."

- The Nelson Mail

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