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Cock drag and conservatism

Posted in: People
By Jacqui Stanford - 5th January 2013

Gay Nelson artist Alex Ouston presented a ‘cock drag’ inspired piece for his final Bachelor of Arts and Media project at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. He was forced to tone it down. He tells us what happened.

Tell me about the pieces you created?

For your final year of the NMIT degree you are encouraged to develop your art practice in an area of interest or inquiry, for myself my work has been about gender and sexuality orientation and what is the term all about when referred to "coming out of the closet", as a gay male I have been through this process and it was part of my degree that I investigated the constructions of language and history and how we are influenced and controlled by society in behaving in so called socially acceptable behaviour.

My first experiments for the year, I was working with gay imagery directly from pornographic magazines, and this further supported my inquiry into what is considered a figurative portrait, erotic or pornography, all of this is art, it is staged, performed and created for a purpose, but to what degree can people actually say they like pornography and what is socially acceptable.

My final piece was taken from an experience known as 'cock drag' a form of penis adornment, through recreating some pieces as a visual discussion for a gallery environment with the removal of the flesh "a naked model" I was trying to address the NMIT policy of being in a public exhibition space.

By adding a Q&R code I was trying to address the technology gap of having the right type of information, addressing that people and knowledge can create fit or unfit opinions, the Q&R code led to a website with a R18 warning showing men wearing 'cock drag' the images are more erotic in my understanding and rather fun and tasteful, I did seek permission from my models and many of them were well aware of the consequences, but I lacked the formal documentation that NMIT required for the ethics committee.

(You can view more of my work at

How are feeling about your work basically being banned?

I wouldn't say my work was banned like the Nelson Mail journalist describes it, but they did have a strong influence on how the work was presented and with the removal of elements like the Q&R code and website, it greatly reduced the viewer’s experience and understanding of what I was trying to communicate, I feel that they should have recommended changes to the work rather than asking or removing elements of my work without a clearer understanding about how this reduction in the read the overall presentation is influenced.

Are you surprised at the conservatism?

I am surprised at the conservatism, that while NMIT actively encourages you to explore your areas of interest, when they are posed with the question like what are the parameters and boundaries one could work happily in don't exist, its mud on their face as well, one of the most annoying things I hear is this is Nelson what do you expect, or go to the bigger cities like Auckland or Sydney where its more acceptable, what is it and why is it not acceptable here.

What has the feedback been like about your work?

I am getting a mixed feedback about my work you can follow the article on and see what people write there, or alternatively look at my Facebook page to see comments from friends.

The comments like oh another gay is having a hard time boo hoo really makes me angry, there is a lot about straight society that looks so depressing to me, and really how do they go about communicating change in society. For me art is a great media just look at how well graffiti works and no one has to go before a committee before they spray on a wall.

What’s your response to the claims you didn’t seek ‘sufficient approvals’ from your models?

I did have permission from my models although it was not well documented or formal enough for NMIT and many of them were well aware of being identified or their images being ripped off and appropriated, I feel that NMIT could have personally contacted one or two, my other option was to simply blur or chop of their heads but that really distracted from the fun expressive out gay men imager I wanted to use.

As for the champagne bottle standing in for my phallic symbol, I was aware that if I purchased and displayed on labelled bottled and those business didn't approve then I was subject for defamation, I was questioning when do I pay for something when does it become my property to do with whatever I wanted.

I did briefly have a Champagne sponsor but didn't cross my T's and dot my I's disclosing all of the projects intentions however in defence they learnt a lesson that when sponsoring somebody they really shouldn't hand out their product willy nilly.

Now let’s take an example of Absolute vodka and its sponsorship of fashion design influenced by Tom of Finland. Now here’s an artist whose work screams of gay stereotyping and sex, so in my opinion there are business out there who will be associated with on the edge art.

Where to from here to you? Will you ever tone your work down, so to speak?

Being a gay man in New Zealand has its ups and downs, and the work of our Queer youth in schools and communities up and down this country are not looking for pity, I feel that we are simply taking back a way of life that was taken away from us in the past.

I will make normal art sure and continue with queer drag performance and appreciate pornography not only for its purposes but for its ability to record and document gay and queer existence.

My earlier more pornographic and loud collages were exhibited at the NZAF art exhibition the same night as my NMIT exhibition and no complaints there.

I like to think that when like seeks like especially with the access to the world through the internet it shouldn't matter where I live.

I hope this gives you a clearer understanding about my project and some of the issues I had to work through, making art really isn't as easy as painting a nice picture.

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Jacqui Stanford - 5th January 2013