Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Behind closed doors

Back in the mid seventies the Auckland Art Gallery allowed David Mealing to conduct a free-for-all jumble sale in its galleries and went along with Gray Nicol's project which involved lying for 24 hours under a very, very heavy block of stone suspended only inches from his face. Ok, they insisted he sign a release form, but they didn’t walk away from the project. Hard to imagine support like that today with our art institutions being so risk adverse and concerned to promote only positive attention. So what’s an artist to do who wants to stir stuff up?

Tao Wells was able to realise his stroppy project, The Beneficiary’s Office, thanks to some well-placed CNZ funding and the opportunistic quick-footedness of  Letting Space. To set the scene Wells informed the local newspaper, "We should never be forced to take a job. If you're forced to take a job it's a punishment. If a job's a punishment then society must be a prison." This well targeted declaration sure got people talking. After all everyone has an opinion on the ethics of work, payment and contribution. 

On the dark side Wells has had his own unemployment benefit suspended and probably his future chances of getting it back. As a rule the state does not like to be poked in the eye. So this is definitely a project where the artist has some skin in the game. And if the welfare bureaucracy hoped that Wells was a one-column-wonder it will be disappointed. When we went to visit the office of the Wells Group (TW’s own brand) we were not admitted because the artist was deep into an interview with TV3. One thing Tao Wells clearly understands is the power of television exposure. As one of the Wells Group said, as he escorted us to the lift, “He’s doing PR, the core business.”
Images: The entrance to the Wells Group offices on level 3 of the BNZ building at 50 Manners Street in Wellington