Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Trust that 'trust'

et al.: no free gift
20 April - 23 May 2009

For et al. the current installation at Starkwhite is a minimal, airy, even ‘light’ (low on mass, high on illumination) affair. Very little grey paint, but some green wires and pink pages. Mainly white tape on the floor to delineate nine room floor plans, in a manner reminiscent of Lars von Trier's Dogville film set - but arranged in a grid of nine (3 x 3) spaces, a noughts and crosses formation - within the big downstairs gallery.

Screened off from the big street-front window and back office by blackboards on stands, two sets of parallel high mesh fences also separate the central strip from its two neighbours. Lying in each of the ‘rooms’ drawn on the floor are up to five ‘tithing trays’, white or brown shallow boxes, on top of which are glued small money boxes for taking coins. These trays represent various assorted charities operating around the world.

If you look at this list on et al.’s website you will count 78 different charitable trusts of mixed and opposing political persuasions. et al.’s presentation has taken a third of them (the most ‘notorious’ or intriguingly worded, of ‘explainable variance’) to receive monies through the various donation trays. These flat boxes will collect contributions for the 26 organisations, and if direct means is not legally possible for transferring the funds et al will suggest an alternative. There will be a fund raising event run by Starkwhite at the end of this exhibition where individual ‘et al.’ trays can be purchased in return for donations of $750, and for which Starkwhite will not receive any commission.

Within the installation itself is a skeletal watchtower bearing clipboards holding pink lists of charities; a speaker over which one hears actors (not computer voices for a change) reading texts by Marx, Lenin, Mao and others, analysing topics such as the commodity and the market, or the competition between buyers and sellers – mixed in with choral music or some ethereal piano. There is also a grey trolley holding up a tank containing a small cardboard model of a solitary room; and a poster with a drawn grid where an individual can categorize different varieties of egoistic, altruistic or fatalistic behaviour.

Not surprisingly, the show has some similarities with altruistic studies, a major installation shown in Basel in June last year - in part an examination of the processes of democracy, and which featured a mock voting booth. This current exhibition references that system of participation with the coin-slotted money boxes for donations to endorsable organisations, and the blackboard screens positioned against the K’ Rd windows for privacy. Put succinctly, the show is about the selling of political and social causes (many of them not well known) and getting audiences to back them by reaching into their wallets to help ensure their survival. And they acquire some great art.

What really interests me is if the show is sincere in getting monies through to all political or social persuasions, with in some cases right-wing extremists and left ones both hiding behind innocent fronts, will an ‘art institution’ like et al. help organisations that are currently seen as ‘bad guys’ - if that is what the donor requests? Are there genuine philosophical principles to be upheld here or is it only ‘art’, and as such only a superficial game where freedom of speech or action is of no genuine concern?

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