Urban myths and the et al legend

2234
National Business Review 20-08.04 by John Daly-Peoples The controversy surrounding the decision to send the artist known as et al to the Venice Biennale has resulted in a great deal of…

Share

National Business Review 20-08.04

by John Daly-Peoples

The controversy surrounding the decision to send the artist known as et al to the Venice Biennale has resulted in a great deal of misinformation, spurious claims and dubious opinions. Some of the myths about the artist and her participation in the event deserve to be debunked.

MYTH 1: The artist is exhibiting a work of a donkey braying or farting in a portable toilet.

Urban myths and the et al legend

Image: The donkey as sensitive sound artistNational Business Review 20-08.04

by John Daly-Peoples

The controversy surrounding the decision to send the artist known as et al to the Venice Biennale has resulted in a great deal of misinformation, spurious claims and dubious opinions. Some of the myths about the artist and her participation in the event deserve to be debunked.

MYTH 1: The artist is exhibiting a work of a donkey braying or farting in a portable toilet.

Urban myths and the et al legend

Image: The donkey as sensitive sound artistThe work, Rapture, being exhibited at the Wellington City Gallery, does make use of an old-fashioned portable toilet, but just as Dr Who's tardis is no longer a telephone box, the portable toilet has been changed and adapted. It is now a machine that records and transmits the turbulent social and political matters of the day.

The explosive noises that can be heard are actually recordings of the French underground nuclear tests held at Mururoa.

Much of et al's work is political, looking at bureaucracy, surveillance and the dangers inherent in a high-tech society. Et al also provides a mixture of the serious and the frivolous when looking at the real and perceived issues confronting contemporary society.

MYTH 2: The artist has received $300,000 from Creative New Zealand over the past 10 years.

The information from the records of Creative New Zealand reveals that the artist has received no direct grants from Creative New Zealand in recent years.

The figure of $300,000 relates to grants from Creative NZ to a selection of New Zealand galleries that have featured et al work in group shows or have put on et al exhibitions since 1995.

Only a small proportion of the grant, and in many cases none of these grants, went directly to the artist. The grants were frequently for the gallery to produce a catalogue or went toward the general costs of a group exhibition.

The artist probably received about $25,000 from these various galleries over the past 10 years.

MYTH 3: The artist is receiving $500,000 to go to Venice.

The budgeted $500,000 is to support an Arts Council project to manage New Zealand's participation in the Venice Biennale 2005. This will meet costs including:

* the hire of a venue for six months. The exhibition requires a relatively large space and exhibition space does not come cheap in Venice;

* project management and technical support for the exhibition. This involves several people over the period of the exhibition as well as many more preparing for the show in New Zealand;

* the development of the art project itself;

* the opening of the show. This involves a number of individuals attending and this covers their flight accommodation and expenses;

* freight to and from Venice of components for the exhibition;

* curator's and commissioner's fees;

* opening events and other entertainment expenses;

* production of a catalogue. This is normally a 60- to 80-page glossy work, many of which are distributed free;

* promotion and publicity of the event;

* an artist's fee the artist will probably end up with $25,000-50,000.

The level of support given to the event is much smaller than the sums put up by other countries for similar-sized exhibitions. Many countries have budgets of over $1 million.

Most of the countries have numerous openings aimed at wooing the media, gallery curators and directors, major buyers and style makers. They also produce lavish catalogues and go to great lengths to create a high profile during the show.

Some countries have huge advertising campaigns, such as Singapore which had Venice ferries plastered with adverting posters in 2001.

MYTH 4: Creative New Zealand rejected major New Zealand artists such as Ralph Hotere in favour of et al.

Several artists submitted proposals for going to Venice, a short list was drawn up and then the final selection made. The Creative NZ process involves a selection panel of seven who make the decision. This is then approved by the Creative NZ board. The decision to send et al was made with the involvement of more than a dozen people.

In selecting an artist for Venice, Creative NZ considers it important that the artist fit within the context of the work presented by other countries. Over the past few years Venice has been the venue for cutting-edge art, which has tended to be installation, conceptual and multi-media. Artists working in more traditional forms are best sent to other biennales and art fairs.

MYTH 5: The artist does not speak about her work.

Et al has spoken about her work on several occasions and will do so in the future. She has not made a statement saying she refuses to speak about it.

She is aware of the media's ability to distort what artists say and present the work out of context.

Venice Biennale New Zealand commissioner Greg Burke and curator Natasha Conland, both familiar with the artist's practice and work to date, have been nominated as spokespeople and will be available for comment.

MYTH 6: The work should be representative of New Zealand.

Very little of the work exhibited at Venice has a strong nationalist subject matter and those that do often appear naïve and merely a government-funded tourist promotion.

The biennale is concerned with the encouragement of cutting-edge art and is about new ideas in the cultural, social and political arena.

New Zealand will be noticed if the ideas being promoted are new and different. There is no reason for ideas coming from New Zealand to be a pale version of those in Europe or the Americas.

As Auckland Art Gallery director Chris Saines noted recently, "In terms of forming and representing a culture, New Zealand ideas are just as vital as things New Zealand. Art can reflect and speculate on the human condition, propose new ideas and enlarge experience. It can also deal with universal truths and poetics without invoking any place in particular."

Et al is skilled at using a range of media to look at relevant and important ideas and concepts that have an international significance.

MYTH 7: The New Zealand exhibit in Venice will be the Rapture portable toilet.

Et al will produce a site-specific, layered and immersive installation called The Fundamental Practice, which builds on earlier work and further explores the cult and culture of identity in art, religion and science.

Et al's installations are highly charged environments packed with outdated and junked computer hardware and scrawled messages on instruction cards and wall charts. Rows of chairs, examination tables, computer stations and flickering screens in grey rooms activated with electronic noise suggest a kind of pseudo-science as well as a disturbing view of invasive bureaucracy and religious fanaticism.

The new work will be made for the locality of Venice and the physical environment of the pavilion that will house the New Zealand exhibition.

MYTH 8: Nobody knows who the artist is.

The artist's identity is well known. Her shift from Merylyn Tweedie has been progressive and she has worked under the name of the collective et al for over 10 years.

The title et al means quite literally "and others" and it is an artist's concept. It alludes to the collaborative way an artist works with other artists and practitioners.

In choosing to work in this way she is not unlike New Zealand international artist Billy Apple, who changed his name from Billy Bates many years ago.

Tweedie chooses anonymity for personal, political and conceptual reasons that allow her to keep her private person out of the arena of her work and provide a strategy for avoiding an identity-based reading of the work.

The more important aspect is that her role is part of the concepts she develops. When using found objects, in particular, it is difficult to say you are the originator.

20-Aug-2004

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

21 Aug 2004

The Big Idea Editor

Melissa Laing, Controlled Environment Laboratory, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.
Story
Intellectual property is a hotly debated topic among artists and creatives. Melissa Laing shares her opinion here with a passionate polemic for generosity.
Angus Martin_World Spins Madly On
Story
Do you prefer to listen more than you talk, deep conversation over small talk, solitude over parties – Madeleine Dore has advice on how being an introvert can help you thrive.
Rhana Devenport, courtesy Art Gallery of South Australia. Image by Saul Steed.
Story
On her fifth day in the job, Director Rhana Devenport shares her plans for her new art gallery.
Tracey Tawhiao_Works on Paper_2018
Story
Findlay Buchanan talks to Jeremy Hansen about Britomart's vibrant public art project.