Art or porn? The Tate's two hours of non-stop sex

One of Britain's top artists makes a "beautiful" blue movie - and it gets cleared for screening
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The Independent Online

She is one of Britain's pre-eminent artists, a Turner Prize nominee who has reduced male Hollywood stars to tears. Sam Taylor-Wood has constantly pushed the boundaries, but for some her latest work goes too far - it is a pornographic film.

The two-hour movie Destricted, to be premiered at Tate Modern in September, has the lengthiest explicit scenes ever passed for a mainstream audience. Almost the entire duration of the film is devoted to images or discussions of sex acts and it reopens the debate about where the boundary lies between art and porn.

"Well, my brief was porn and I think I made porn so therefore it should be porn," said Ms Taylor-Wood. "But it's so nice and it's so beautiful it feels sort of different to porn. I think if you rented my movie as a porn film you might be a little bit disappointed."

It is the most extreme example of a trend for real sex scenes to be included in 18-rated films, rather than restricted to the hardcore R18 certificate movies that are available only through licensed sex shops. While previous films passed by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) with sex scenes have been relatively brief and integral to the story, Destricted has no plot. And where last year's 9 Songs featured real sex between actors, the new film, a collection of seven short films by different artists and directors, has performances almost exclusively by porn stars.

Ms Taylor-Wood's contribution is an eight-minute segment featuring a male porn star walking into Death Valley, California, and masturbating vigorously. Larry Clark has made a documentary on the impact of the availability of porn in the US, in which he interviews young men for the chance to have sex with a porn star, then shows them doing so.

The BBFC thought the film sufficiently different from porn - which is entirely for the purpose of titillation - to class it 18 for a DVD release. And the distributor of the film, Revolver Entertainment, is now to apply for a theatrical certificate to allow the film to be shown in cinemas around Britain.

Sir Quentin Thomas, the president of the BBFC, said: "In purpose and effect, this work is plainly a serious consideration of sex and pornography as aspects of the human experience. We think there are no grounds in this case for depriving adults of the ability to decide themselves whether they want to see it."

Ms Taylor-Wood said: "I've never been a huge great fan of pornography, not for any other reason than that it's never particularly appealed to me - unless I'm completely drunk and then it's a bit different. But in this instance I felt that having your own control over something which is much more about me being a woman was more interesting.

"And then it made me realise how dominated the porn industry must be by men and their vision, rather than us and our vision.

The Tate saw no problem with showing such explicit material. A spokeswoman said: "The films highlight the representation of sexuality in art and contribute to the debate surrounding the representation of sex and sexuality within contemporary culture."

Others see it as the thin end of the wedge. John Beyer, the director of the clean-up campaigners Mediawatch-UK said: "Clearly what [the BBFC] is doing is trying to bring hardcore material into the 18 certificate. The more they do this the more the porn industry will look at these films and say, if these can go through, why can't they give porn an 18 certificate?"

TATE AND TABOO

Five of the scenes from the 18-rated art/porn film 'Destricted'

Artist: Sam Taylor-Wood

Sequence title: Death Valley

What is on screen: A cowboy masturbates in the desert.

Artist: Gaspar Noé

Sequence title: We Fuck Alone

What is on screen: A man and a woman masturbate while a porn video plays.

Artist: Larry Clark

Sequence title: Impaled

What is on screen: A male wannabe is given the chance to have sex with a porn star.

Artist: Marina Abramovic

Sequence title: Balkan Erotic Epic

What is on screen: Balkan fertility rites and folk tales.

Artist: Richard Prince

Sequence title: House Call

What is on screen: Grainy images of doctor-patient sex.

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