Criptic Critic Conscience and Known for it

Friday, October 30, 2015

" It’s possible that you are right that the government is only inclined to give the money where they have the possibility to speak with us, or to have a special power in this school, but if this were the fact then we would not have the money from the government." - Joseph Beuys in conversation with William Furlong, 1974

Joseph Beuys in conversation with William Furlong

at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, November 1974

from Audio Arts Issue: Vol. 2, No. 1, 1974

This conversation took place during the exhibition ‘Art into Society. Society into Art’, curated by Christos Joachimides and Norman Rosentbal as part of the German Month interdisciplinary season at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, November 1974. The exhibition presented aspects of German preoccupation with relationships between art, ideology and politics. Far from presenting a passive retrospective exhibition of artworks, the organisers and participants created an active event with the artists present. Against this background Joseph Beuys held lectures and discussions, mainly about his proposed Free International School for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research. (The term School as well as University was used by Beuys at this time.) Audio Arts recorded many hours of tape on that occasion; the following extracts focus on specific themes.

Description of existing world social and economic systems

Joseph Beuys Now we have to speak once more about the new necessity that the things have to be done. And we see that the government cannot make these things and cannot give out this knowledge, and the specialists in faculties too are not able to do it. We must really collect people who are interested to reach these abilities. This must be the first step. We have to care that we find as soon as possible as large a quantity as possible of people who are propagating this idea, this new way to go, because there is no other way to go.

The established systems in the world are well known. There are only two principal ones – the Western private capitalistic system and the Eastern communistic system with a politburo with the principle of a one-party dictatorship. Both sides are special owners of the means of production. In the West there are private owners of the means of production. The politburo as a private owner is in principle the same thing, with the special difference that in the Eastern countries the lack is that there is no individual freedom. The difference in the Western private countries is that there is not enough possibility for brotherhood in economics, because it still exists abreast of freedom. I can speak about a revolutionary model now, but I could not do it in Russia. Here I can do it but that is not as a result of politicians, it is a result of tradition. It stems from the bourgeois revolution, the French Revolution, with ideals of freedom, equality and brotherhood. There is a bit of heritage here. I need now the heritage possibilities not the results of the politicians. The politicians will take care that in the future there will be no more freedom. They will take this freedom from our heritage and they will destroy it too. Then there will come a very worldwide economical fascistic system without freedom, without equal laws and without socialism in economics.

Therefore it is necessary to start with this very intensively. This is the first step in organising these things, and then you can make proposals and you have to collect people who already have a knowledge in this new way – and there are already a lot of people with such, I am not alone. For instance, my Office for Direct Democracy already has followers and has already collected people who research in this field. Yes, we look to and collect from the past and models in the past where this idea appears already, and so it is a systematic research in this field. This must be the inner task and the inner aim of a Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research.

This is the idea of this model, and I try to establish a university like this. Nevertheless, this Information Office for Direct Democracy is a small model for a free and independent school. It must have more effectiveness, and therefore I try now – and this is my next step – I try to establish in Düsseldorf, in Glasgow, in Dublin and in Belfast this type of school.

Restructuring of society by individual creativity and self-management

I speak about the fact that all theories and ideas have to be after the idea of art. The idea of art is the principal means for other things in that the people do it by their own creativity; it is a very simple thing. I find it the rule that everybody is in a special way an artist in different fields. Surely not all people are painters – this is a reduced understanding of art; but in all fields every living being is an artist. Then he has only to create from his ability in the field of the society. First, it is a culture organisation, then the democratic sphere; two, then the result will be a change of behaviour in economics. All this whole field, all this subsocial field is material for the moulding power of everybody. This is the principle, and we have to find more effectiveness in this direction, because the existing political structure is struggling against this idea of freedom, equality and brotherhood. Therefore all the systems are from the devil, and you can really say the systems are anti-human. The actions of the political parties are anti-human.

William Furlong So do you feel that on one hand art and science can determine, or define, an aspect or facet of society, while on the other hand you have political systems, or systems of constraint on human beings that also shape, or provide a facet for them and their existence?

Beuys Exactly. As a result of having history and as a result of this government structure with the so-called parliamentary democracies, as a result from the French Revolution, surely. There was one step in history with a bourgeois revolution and with different results. For instance, technological results, the results in science, the result in the so-called exact nature of science idea. But together with this exact nature of science idea the whole point of creativity came out of discussion. This was a ruling idea, therefore, and a repressive understanding of science, a materialistic understanding of science. Nevertheless it has a special function and there is a special demand for this science, but only a special demand. As a rule, the exact nature of science idea plays only in the whole idea and understanding of science – the role of a special vector in this. You can develop from this, for instance, technology and mechanical things – you can go to the moon with this thing but you cannot develop, for instance, a soul science, a spiritual science, an imagination science. Building up of the whole field of creativity with the power to build up by self-management of the whole body of society – that you cannot develop from this reduced understanding of science, and therefore I say, no, we can make a theory like this and like this. You can make a lot of theories and a lot of structures, we have to do it. Therefore I think the only thing which could work would be a permanent forum in this matter, where all the scientists and artists are discussing together. If they discuss together they will find overlapping insights into the problem. The whole problem is a problem of insight.

Education as a strategy for bringing about change: participation – education – information

Furlong So in this proposed total restructuring of society – given that it’s agreed upon that this is a useful and important thing to take place – where does one go from here? Is it a question of education or of protest?

Beuys Firstly, it’s a question of education, because a question of protest is too early and is a result of education. Only the people with the ability to protest, they protest only when they know the problem and they find reasons to protest. Therefore the protest is already an act of solidarity as a result of education and information – information, education, participation. These are three very important things in culture. But now the culture is exactly organized. There is no possibility for everybody to become educated. Only privileged persons can enter the schools. It is not the ability for the majority to participate in all cultural events and events in the society. And there is no information, because the information we know from the TV is manipulation; it’s a lie from the beginning to the end, a lie or a distortion of the problems. Therefore the most important things are participation, education and information. It is not possible in this structure now. This was a problem when we tried to start this, all other things would be illusions. And there we tried to make directly organisations and institutions. For instance, my model of the direct democratic bureau is a model for free information, free education and free participation, because it is an independent structure in society – an independent school. You could say already it is a type of free school. Therefore you have to cut the dependency to the government, and surely this is only a knowledge. Surely it is difficult to do it but you can do it already better when you have the knowledge that it is necessary. If you understand the problem then it is necessary and it cannot function as another solution, then people in the future will do it. If this is a real clear knowledge and the result of a clear objective science then it will come one day. Therefore firstly you have to do the research as objectively as possible, then the real solutions will follow. Then you could say that the whole problem is a problem of thinking, and in this way is a problem of science.

Furlong How would you define that, because what we term science is largely responsible for some of the problems or difficulties that exist?

Beuys Now we come once more back to this total understanding of science and the reduced understanding of science. Now the manipulating power of the systems works with the reduced understanding of science. They work with the materialistic, atomistic exact nature of science idea, and the system works against the interest of the majority of the people. This is very important – that they have already a theory and a tool with which they can work. Therefore the people need a tool too, they need a theory too – that is necessary to know. Then you have to throw light on this repressive understanding of science. The new interesting theory for humankind is the science of humankind. Now we are on the point. Not the science of material. Surely the science of material conditions in the laboratory is very important to develop technology, but you cannot develop from this reduced understanding of science a science about humanity, and I am speaking about this total aspect. Therefore it is anthropology, but not a restricted anthropology in a positivistic understanding. It is more than this. You could say it is a kind of sophia – like philosophia – it is a sophia of humankind. This is the whole aspect of science. Then you find the special functions of science, the necessity to have materialistic science, because it is surely necessary. Therefore I am not against this reduced understanding of science, but I say what is necessary is to enlarge this understanding of science. You see, science is very important because you have the only possibility to go into research with nature, for instance, with the resources of nature, with iron and with metal, with what physicists do and what chemists do and all these people do. This kind of research is very important, but it is not the only aspect of science.

Evolution from drawings to action art, to environment art and social sculpture; ICA blackboard environment

Furlong What about the artworks or drawings that you make. How do you see them fitting into this wider system?

Beuys This whole project is my artwork, you know. This catalogue says exactly that the period of my drawings ended in principle in I960. After I960 the character of the drawings is going more in this direction, but there is not so much drawing, because I was interested more in action. Therefore the beginning of my activities is drawings. It is a time when I made sculptures, and I made objects, and from I960 to 1970 I was fully involved in action art and environment art. For instance, this is an environment and becomes more and more an environment as a result of this doing. At the end of the exhibition the floor will change more and more to a black floor, because every day I do more black spots as a result from this discussion. I do not make it artificially. It is exactly a result of the discussion with other people, with this kind of action. Therefore it is still action art, only now the content is changed.

Furlong There is no need for these to be preserved after the time that you have used them?

Beuys No, only if the ICA is interested, perhaps. But first this show goes to Edinburgh, and I cannot find time to go personally to Edinburgh and stay the whole time there, so we will give this stuff to Edinburgh.

Structure of school, practical problems; the three levels: the faculty level, open forum, the institutes; ecological problems, evolutionary science

Beuys First you have to see that it is a work in progress, and because it hangs together with money resources and with supporting moneys, perhaps we can start in Düsseldorf with only two or three teachers, because I have not found that all people who are there are active to do it without payment and without money and only for so-called idealism. We have to find money for the teachers and for the equipment, and I will say only as an example how we tried to promote this idea. We already have a free space from the community of Düsseldorf. They gave us an empty hall one hundred metres by one hundred metres. There is nothing inside, therefore we have to care for heating, electric light and for chairs and for a minimum of equipment. For this we need already a lot of money for a very simple kind of administration, a secretariat and three teachers and equipment. These teachers are not established teachers like civil servants. They have only a contract for half a year or a year because we are trying to find interest in all sides of society and we can only make contracts with teachers or informators to work there. This is a dynamic system and will not have the civil servant structure to call for a professor or teacher for longer than one year. After one year the interest in the school and the whole entity is there, then we can make a new contract with the same person.

Now in the beginning there are three teachers. These are three initiators of this movement and cannot for instance realize the whole structure of the school. The whole structure of the school has more levels. For instance, the faculty level where students can come to study officially and they can make a special end with a special bill of study. Not state examined and all these things, but they can study a special faculty. That is the faculty structure. Then there is the common open structure where everybody can come at any age and teach, learn, have information and all these things in relationship to the faculties, a cooperation. The third level will be the institutions. An institute for ecological problems, and an institute for evolutionary science. The idea of evolution directed to the whole body of society for finding solutions for building up the social organism. These are therefore three levels. Two institutions inside a common open forum for everybody and the faculty structure. Because this idea is developed from the idea of art, a student could study painting there, for instance, or sculpture or architecture. This founding group comes together every month to speak about the development of the school. At the moment we are fully engaged with the problem of the money. We want to have some money from the government because this is the only serious formula not to reach a private school structure.

[Audience] In a way these teachers will become civil servants, because you have to make a contract with government.

Beuys No, no, we have nothing to do with the government.

[Audience] If the government gives you money …

Beuys Yes – no, it is a problem, exactly. We will be fully independent but nevertheless we will have money from the national income. That is a new idea, otherwise it would be like a normal new university or another kind of art school. They are all fully independent of the ideology of the government by means of civil servants and dependent teachers. We will have all independent teachers, the school will be self-managed and we will make contracts.

[Audience] But the situation today is that the government will just give you money for influence.

Beuys No, that’s not the matter, that’s not the problem

Furlong Otherwise you would have the money already.

Beuys Then surely we cannot have the money from the government. It’s possible that you are right that the government is only inclined to give the money where they have the possibility to speak with us, or to have a special power in this school, but if this were the fact then we would not have the money from the government. Then we would have to look for other resources for money.

Moving to a more effective position as an artist within society

Furlong I’m interested to know how a sculptor – an artist – becomes involved in this restructuring scheme for society. This is surely traditionally outside the limits, which I imagine has something to do with your attitudes at the moment towards art.

Beuys That is another problem. The artist now existing is a special type developed from the past. He runs the traditional line of the so-called culture without the ability to reach the body of the society. Therefore he stands in an insulated field of action and cannot reach the point where everybody is involved with his life, with his questions. Therefore we would say this type of an artist and this behaviour of the culture is now fully divided from life, is fully divided from the interests of the majority. Therefore from the point of view of the majority of the people with their sores and with their problems, art looks like a special luxury – a luxury for rich people, for privileged people, for people with more advantage in class and all these things, and therefore this is a division from art and society. But because this is exactly the fact, artists do not begin to transform the phenomena in the special fields, the so-called art-historical line. You see, for instance, the possibility to change the style in sculpture, as from Minimal art to body art and from body art to conceptual art. Because this cannot work in this direction, we are speaking about reaching everybody’s point where he has his problems in society, and where the whole body of the society is a problem we have to see it as a form problem.

I transform, therefore, not the discipline, the style in art, like artists who are interested in changing from Minimal art to body art to conceptual art; I try to metamorphose. This is the normal running coming from the past exchanging styles and so-called innovations in all these special fields where artists are acting as sculptors, musicians, poets. Then we become so-called modern art. Surely this is a special possibility in changing things in the world, but as long as they are only possibilities to come to innovation in this insulated field, this insulated field cannot reach the whole body of society. This is a cultural behaviour or activity whose activities in the cultural institutes like museums, art schools, galleries and market problems are fully divided from the interests of the body of society. Therefore I try not to change this stylistic understanding in these special fields. I try to metamorphose the whole understanding of art. If this is the art coming from the past, until now I try not to transform the styling in the special fields, I try to widen and to metamorphose the whole understanding of art. In this moment appears another thing. I enlarge the understanding of art to the point where everybody is a creative being in the different fields of the body of society. Therefore I am no longer only speaking about artists like painters, sculptors, musicians. I am speaking of everybody living in the world as a potential creative ability to come and create, for instance, self-determination and so on.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Expensive art demands gilded justifications for its price tag and packaging in layers of obfuscation. This benefits artists whose work sells for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. But it comes at the cost of alienating the public from the art world.

"Still, the fine art market plays a large role in defining which art is important. And as a result, so too do the heirs and hedge fund managers that supply the money. As the Mona Lisa anecdote suggests, which artworks get singled out as masterpieces may always be partly arbitrary. But the legacy of money doing the picking leads to one of the least attractive aspects of the fine art world: the mysterious aura surrounding renowned artists and artwork that makes museum visitors who don’t like or “get” a masterpiece feel anxious or resent the art world. 

Although it is the opinion of one artist, Webster believes that the public should not blame artists for the cult of personality that surrounds artists. “Famous artists do not create the aura,” Webster says. “It is the gallery, promoter, critic, and buyer, all of whom are more willing to uphold these pillars of pretension so that their investments can maintain power.” When the art world buys and sells paintings for extravagant amounts of money, those paintings can’t be simple. Expensive art demands gilded justifications for its price tag and packaging in layers of obfuscation. This benefits artists whose work sells for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. But it comes at the cost of alienating the public from the art world."

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Five years ago today - Wells Group and Letting Space presented "The Beneficiary's Office". Letting Space's Sophie Jerram and Mark Amery share their recollections

Working as curators with Tao Wells and The Wells Group on The Beneficiary's Office was an incredibly important experience for us as Letting Space. The work had a significant effect in the way it successfully generated discussion through questioning of the way we value work and labour of different kinds, and the limits on expression within the media, public space, and public commons generally (digital and physical). Tao was fearless in putting himself out there in a way that left him vulnerable to the 'personality politics' of the media, but also exposed them ruthlessly. 

What maybe was less apparent for the public however was below that how the project also successfully brought together a collective of people (The Wells Group) and instituted an experiment in creating an office as project. Our work with Tao in this was greatly inspiring in terms of the work we have undertaken since in exploring ways for collectivity and ways of sharing in our projects with artists. The Beneficiary's Office inspired a project with Mark Harvey, Productive Bodies in exploring notions of value with work and usefulness working with a group of people, and this has had further iterations and reflections throughout our work, and those of the artists we commission. 

In sum, we consider this project The Beneficiary's Office to be of great significance both for our work as public artists, but also in testing some important boundaries for the role of the artist in society. It was a hell of a ride. Five years on we are still fed by and continue to find inspiration in.  - Mark Amery

From me Sophie:

Dear Tao, you asked us for a response, or a memory, 5 years on of that most significant of projects that we made together and I’m really grateful for your request.
It is said by psychological researchers that emotional events are often remembered with greater accuracy and vividness than events lacking an emotional component. For me The Beneficiary’s Office was an intensely emotional event as much as a conceptual and artistic one.I know you don’t necessarily remember the same things so here are some of my memories. 

I recall the early wrangling, like kids in a mud pit, with you.  I recall your challenging me and Mark about our intentions with Letting Space and feeling frustrated because I didn’t feel I could ever get ‘level’ with you.  I recall some stress in not having a site for the project until the week before we were due to start (Labour Day having been the focus end point) and considering a huge empty floor on top of a building on The Terrace. I recall rushing in from Paekakariki one evening to see another site before 5pm and the relief at Ian Cassells agreeing to the project for his building in Manners Street. I recall the meetings with the group of volunteers (what great collaborators we met through this project) once we had the office. I recall the quiet opening days, and biking to work in the office as if I was simply commuting to an office job. 

I remember thinking it was like Mark and I were in loco parentis, very reluctantly, and it was hard to be just one of the crew. I recall the press machine begin to wake up and the anxiety as we found ourselves (‘all of us’, suddenly united by external attack) subject to severe scrutiny for using cultural money for political challenge, essentially for not making ‘tame’ enough art.    I recall Minister of Social Welfare Paula Bennett, and ACT’s Roger Douglas weighing-in on national TV and the sense that we had tripped a (nasty nerve) wire.  I remember feeling strong gratitude that Creative NZ came out in public support of Letting Space.  I recall of course the personal attacks that you and Laura suffered, and the nights of angst about the hurt that was coming.  I recall the deep contemplation we went through for months (years?) after and wondering if we could have made the project without such personal damage, without the martyrdom involved.  

The questions (like, what is a useful life?) that were raised by the project have gone on to inform many of the artists we have worked with since. Mark Harvey’s Productive Bodies and Productive Promises were certainly part of this legacy, and Ash Holwell’s imminent Ako Ako for TEZA 2015 (involving role-swapping with members of the Porirua community) has ‘Bene’ traces too. However these are more gentle and possibly more whimsical than your smiling assassin approach, Tao. 

What is wonderful about your practice is your personal immersion and constant vigilance. I recall a conversation with you a few months after The Beneficiary’s Office where you really asked me to name that which enabled me to be doing what I was doing, working in the arts, - because as we know, commissioning and curating contemporary art projects is not on the national register of essential well paid tasks for the NZ economy- …. As uncomfortable as it was at the time I realised that the capital raised by my husband in his architectural practice has plugged our income holes. Your scrutiny has helped me to be proud of that, rather than hide it.  You have always been a warm and friendly assailant, if a mercurial art-partner.  It’s hard to be a conscience for the whole country but your prodding has certainly made us sit up straighter.  
With warm regard for you and the growing family

Tame Iti - Commemoration of the terrorism raids of October 15 2007

Tame Iti artwork stirs concern among locals

By Mere McLean
  • Waikato/Bay of Plenty
Is it art or vandalism? That's the question from some locals in the Eastern BOP township of Taneātua regarding Tame Iti's new work of art.
Nikapuru Takuta (Ngāi Tūhoe) says, “I don't think it should come off, it's part of the look, it gives Taneatua a new direction in art shows everybody that there is art here and it's there for everyone.”
Tame Iti began his painting after obtaining permission from the owners of the building, Ram Lubhaia.  Ram's nephew Gagan says there were no problems until the local post lady complained.
Police say no complaints have been received. However, they have spoken to Tame Iti and the owner of the building to rectify the situation with NZ Post.  The artwork is a commemoration of the terrorism raids of 2007.
“It stands out, you can tell Tame's work, like I say it's about the ngahere, the people the colours represent the whenua you know the blood,” said Takuta.
NZ Post is currently investigating the issue. Tame Iti says he's happy to debate the matter with them.

Rise Up from Whaea Productions on Vimeo.

OPERATION 8 - Seriously good documentary about the so called "Terrorist raids" on Activists and Tuhoe in New Zealand.  

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

In 1998, on Wall Street, New York I saw a large Rauschenburg....

In 1998, on Wall Street, New York I saw a large Rauschenburg sitting in a building lobby. When I went to take a picture through the window standing on the pavement, I was threatened with arrest by what looked like a cop but was a private security guard carrying a gun. Something about art was then clarified for me. The work I make structurally, economically and systematically undermines the commodity / consumer qualities that attract and reinforce capitalist values. My work's strategic lack means that if any of my 'enemies' do buy my work they would do so only in a way that would would broadcast values that threaten and undermine every value they generally proclaim. This is an advertisement. Good morning.
Wells Tao
Tao Wells internet marketing, art works, writing, logos, models, prototypes, photography.|By so you tell me
Vita Black
Vita Black Good morning Mr. Tao. Your mission should you decide to accept it.....
Wells Tao
Wells Tao Created and accepted
Vita Black
Vita Black Love it.
Vita Black
Vita Black You're good value. I am glad I came across you.
Wells Tao
Write a reply...

Live alone in a paradise That makes me think of two. Like a coin that won't get tossed Rolling home to you.

Old man look at my life,
Twenty four
and there's so much more
Live alone in a paradise
That makes me think of two.

Love lost, such a cost,
Give me things
that don't get lost.
Like a coin that won't get tossed
Rolling home to you.

Old man take a look at my life
I'm a lot like you
I need someone to love me
the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes
and you can tell that's true.

Lullabies, look in your eyes,
Run around the same old town.
Doesn't mean that much to me
To mean that much to you.

I've been first and last
Look at how the time goes past.
But I'm all alone at last.
Rolling home to you.

Tao Wells – Sold Out by NZ Academic Artist Fraud - Guest on The Daily Blog

GUEST BLOG: Tao Wells – Sold Out by NZ Academic Artist Fraud

By   /   October 14, 2015  /   5 Comments
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TDB recommends Voyager - Unlimited internet @home as fast as you can get

Artists are the role models for so much of society, as we continue down the plug hole of self interest what is left of a university if our artists are allowed to continue to not publicly “accept a role as critic and conscience of society”?
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Collage, Tao Wells, 2005. 
It seems to me that the real political task in a society such as ours is to criticise the workings of institutions, which appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticise and attack them in such a manner that the political violence which has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.
– Michel Foucault, Chomsky-Foucault Debate, 1971

Did you hear about this department, an infrastructure, institution, some organisation that has eight different branches in NZ alone. Hundreds of employees and is given hundreds of millions of dollars by the NZ Government to care? Care about the issues you and I are too exhausted to care about. Care about the details of complicated arguments like democratic economic transparency, free speech and what not. Isn’t this fantastic news, that they exist! Universities.

You are humbly being asked, University Fine Arts Staff, to do the job to which you are legally bound. Overtly promote the academic sponsorship of your work where it is reasonable to assume that there is a mutual benefit going on. Be the standard you are meant to uphold. Stop with the funeral music spin and join the rest of us in the real biz. Don’t leave Jane Kelsey and Mike Joy as the radical margins, when they are the central standard a university employee must demonstrate so that their place of employment can enjoy the stature and responsibility of being called a university. This standard you have simply dropped, pick it up. Across the board raise the bar, this you are asked to do. It’s a job.

In contrast, five years ago today, my partner, a brave group of volunteers and I launched “The Beneficiary’s Office”, a full frontal attack on the self interest vacuums in our community, that a very lack of visibility on issues like democratic economic transparency have created. Instead of departments working for the betterment of NZers, we saw that they had instead become a hierarchical tool for inflicting pain, misinformation and hate. I wanted to see what a Public Relations office might look like if it actually worked on behalf of its clients – the public. For three weeks we kept ourselves and our stories in the mainstream media, with little more than being prepared and having a plan. And despite the numerous threats, two involving death, not one thug had the courage to turn up and see us.

But why should a beneficiary getting more public money to make art be such a turn on? (and why would people want to turn on him?) It’s not like we don’t see this everyday, right? (Oh we don’t, that’s your point, maybe just the, “so rich I can afford to take a hit” crew, but not the ordinary civil service types, paid to deliver a job. No they are not allowed to be political unless its economic capitalistic hegemony, then you’re guaranteed to keep your job right?).

When the camera’s left then their nuttiness got murky. I spent a year sitting on edge, with a psyche prepared to face a trial at the drop of a day’s notice. There were two internal WINZ court cases, and one that seemed higher up. Without any notes I was expected to perform the intricate details of my case, rendered in the perfect authentic emotional indignation. To defend myself I was worn deliberately out. Without paid for legal support, against professional lawyers in an all pervasive negative context endorsed by mainstream media, where it was considered fine to punish me for being on the dole and having a part time job, which the “Beneficiary’s Office” was.

And when being offered yet another job, caused WINZ to administer further sanctions against me for what they considered an “interview fail”! I couldn’t help wonder about the other end of the social pyramid. Those culturally esteemed artists, people working on the Govt. rag who appeared to have no laws governing their behaviour, and certainly no one breaking laws to appear as if they are enforcing them. Who are these people? I was, for a short while, amongst the ranks of the University Fine Arts employees.  I had a casual part time gig, that barred me from any funding perks for research projects, commodity production, publishing and the like of the permanently staffed, But I could hear them complain about it.

Turns out we do have laws that govern their behaviour * and it couldn’t be more important as the law defends their right to a whole range of niceties : free speech and choice. The right to say and choose what you want while keeping your boss happy is of national interest needing a national level discussion that all of us get to see. And that could happen if art sponsored by the taxpayer was promoted transparently and not just to the art crowd. This is what we did with the “Beneficiary’s Office” made our public funding transparent.  In the front lines of Democracy that we the general public have paid for, we have not had our most talented voices with their shoulders to the wheel. Individual works may be critical, but without the picture being painted of a collective group existing, these critical conversations don’t happen. And a vacuum is formed where leadership should be. The needless suffering inflicted at WINZ, that welfare for the poor, is what the rich on welfare, the University employee, should care about.

* New Zealand Legislation, Education Act 1989 No 80 (as at 01 January 2012), Public Act, Part 14 Establishment and disestablishment of tertiary institutions, 162,(4)a(5)
Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 8.10.43 am 
Blog Poster, Tao Wells, 2003.

The Role of the Arts in Universities

We have a standing army of symbol makers, image hackers and knowledge cranks who are paid by a system that for the last 26 years has required that staff “accept a role, as critic and conscience of society”. Now when people have heard this phrase (in the last four years of my discussing it), emphasis has fallen on the “critic and conscience” part. Which I have contended is possibly a default position or at least of little relevance as it can not really be measured. The guts of the matter is in the ‘acceptance of a role”. If this is not a public role, like in the one we made in the “Beneficiary’s Office”,  then what is it? If this is not a public role that we the public have indeed a great deal invested in both financially and socially, then what is it?

That our democratic institutions may be accused of pro-democratic propaganda by admitting that they are paid to stand publicly about the TPPA, hungry kids, state housing, and even education itself, is no reason that this should not still be done. Is an artists embarrassment that s/he has a day job really worth our collective theft of community leadership? And what of the standards of transparency that ought to guarantee participation? An authority based on scholarships reasoned routine and public debate? Why can’t we just ask them to do the job, emotionally inflated or deflated? Do we employ those who can?

The best defense is a strong offense. Why are our Arts struggling to survive? No sense in that! Art Market proves to be beyond any global recession, book sales have never been higher. Yet looking, listening to our departments you’d think there was a permanent funeral going on. And just what has died? Cause something has, there’s a massive stink. Let’s take for example;

The University of Auckland Fine Arts academic staff. Professor Michael Parekowhai, and Associate Professors Nuala Gregory, Gavin Hipkins, Megan Jenkinson, Peter Robinson. Senior Lecturers Jon Bywater, Joyce Campbell, James Cousins, Lisa Crowley, Lucille Holmes, Simon Ingram, Fiona Jack, Sean Kerr, Alexandra Monteith, p. mule, Allan Smith, Jim Speers, Ruth Watson, Tara Winters.

Now some of these people make commodities traded in an exclusive market where access and commercial legitimacy are closely guarded secrets. But basically to enter you need money, money to invest in time or materials to get you a commodity that will be accepted. It’s near impossible for contemporary artists to sell enough to live on in NZ, given our small population, so it’s no surprise that a great deal of our most successful artists are those that work for our Universities. That these people enjoy a level of investment (as in very-respectable salaries) that separates them from the herd is their privilege.

But what I have been trying for the last four years to catch fire to, is that while we are paying postcolonial colonialists and University faculty member Prof. Michael Parekowhai, who the liberal left love;  a million odd dollars, for himself and his dealer. Surely our investment has some serious strings attached. Think of the way inventor’s work for companies like 3M: they get salaries to perform a task. If they were to uniquely profit from doing their job you would need to distinguish such an event, from their employment. The importance of the public visibility of that sponsorship, ownership, and responsibility; behind the Academic artists’ commodity, is staggering.
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Facebook Poster, Tao Wells.  2015


Out here on the edge it’s amazing how quickly a shrill voice in distress loses interest. The squeaky wheel gets the grease? Not recently. Instead of being the centre of a bread and butter democracy if feels  that a better society no longer seems the point when criticism, the fuel of democracy, is dominated and defined by market capitalism and demoted to merely complaining. The hypnotic chanting of the resource war and all the others going on, legitimise the ‘get for yourself before the getting’s all gone’ backdrop of tragedy used to steer criticism into an irrelevant pile. Not as important as the war at hand. What keeps me going are pictures of people in openly declared war zones, that continue to stand up for their principles. If they can, so can we.

If our artists are allowed to continue to not publicly “accept a role as critic and conscience of society, if this vulnerability is not supported visibly in our communities –  what are we left exposed to? What are we over run with? What is really being taught?  Where is the strength that we are paying for?

Tao Wells is a New Zealand artist and community conceptualist, whose work is known for its critiques of established systems of power and value. His 2010 work “The Beneficiary’s Office” was managed by his creation of a ‘Public Public Relations’ organization called “Wells Group”. The performance was part of a larger series of temporary projects curated by Letting Space in Wellington. “The Beneficiary’s Office” was controversial in its promotion of the opportunities and benefits of unemployment in an effort to criticize contemporary ideas of work.