The carcass of a dead dog draped over a beer crate was installed as a sculpture at the Dunedin School of Art at Otago Polytechnic this week, provoking tears and outrage among students and faculty members.
Almost immediately after being discovered in an exhibition space, the surprise work by a second-year male art student was removed and the sculpture studio closed for the day.
Shocked students were briefed by art school lecturers the next day and given the chance to debate ethical boundaries in display art.
The morbid installation was intended as a tribute to the animal, which was allegedly found by the student on a Dunedin road, already dead, and without any identification tags. Negative reaction to his sculpture had taught the student a valuable lesson about what was considered acceptable, a faculty member said.
In retrospect, he understood the difference between displaying objectionable material within an exhibition context, which people could choose to view, and ambushing people with offensive content in public.
Once students understood the context of the sculpture and its maker's motivation, they were less offended by it, staff said. It had become a beneficial learning exercise, a teacher said.
Because the student had learned his lesson and was sorry for upsetting classmates, there would be no disciplinary action taken.
The father of a second year art student who was disturbed by the work said he was concerned whether the polytechnic had a line which could not be crossed in terms of inappropriate or offensive actions by a student in the name of art. His daughter did not need to be exposed to dead animals in order to learn.
Dunedin School of Art head of school Leoni Schmidt released a statement about the incident, but would not comment further.
"While we actively encourage our art students to express and push their creativity, there are ethical limits and boundaries that the Dunedin School of Art adhere to.
"Following Monday's incident, we have had a full debrief with the students involved, and feel they now have a better understanding of the school's ethical boundaries when presenting art in a public space."