Performance art

Listening to Tao Wells’ stone-cold crazy performance on Radio New Zealand’s The Panel this afternoon (audio, starts at about 19:30) it’s pretty clear that the whole thing is simply a continuation of The Beneficiary’s Office, his performance art project.

I’m not sure what the endgame is, beyond driving publicity for Wells and ‘The Wells Group’, the self-styled PR agency running The Beneficiary’s Office. But fundamentally this is the only explanation for the character who fronted The Panel. The studied eccentricity of his characterisation and rhetoric — the Leninesque styling and cheap, ill-fitting suit; the suggestion that he might replace Paul Henry on Breakfast, using the scandal du jour as a springboard for publicity; the incoherent, aggressive, entitled, self-indulgent indignant victimhood of his media presence — he is exploiting the fourth wall illusion, the audience’s naïve impression that they’re separate from the performance; that the show stops at the proscenium arch. To do so Wells is reading from the big book of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. His project is a little bit of inchoate Tea Party wingnuttery turned back on an issue so close to the wingnuts’ hearts that they can’t see the mockery in it. No matter that his actual argument doesn’t bear the slightest bit of rational scrutiny and is all but completely obscured by his outrageous delivery — this isn’t the point. The point is to suck people in and involve them in the performance by lighting the flame of their hatred. To make them attack the tar-baby. As Palin’s own idol Ann Coulter said, paraphrasing Joseph Göbbels and George Orwell in her diatribe Slander: “Any statement whatever, no matter how stupid, any ‘tall tale’ will be believed once it enters into the passionate current of hatred.”

So to everyone who’s found themselves incandescent with righteous fury, uttered slogans like “the world doesn’t owe you a living!” or called for the disestablishment of Creative NZ or defended Wells and his absurdist position — this includes the media who’ve covered it from the ‘benefit scandal’ angle; obviously WINZ, who’ve cut his benefit; and most notably David Farrar and the KBR, whose response has been nothing short of magnificent — you’re part of the show. You have been trolled.

So as far as that goes, well done, Tao Wells.

L

Author: Lew

I call myself a sensible moderate, but not in the same way Peter Dunne does.

15 thoughts on “Performance art”

  1. So, you don’t think its worth taking WINZ to task for political persecution then?

    If he jumps through their hoops, what business is it of theirs what views about work he expresses?

  2. Love it. He just talks in circles! I’ve met Tao a few times and the impression I got is he’s a dedicated, talented stirrer. Front page news all over the country, talkbacks running wild – that’d be a win, then!

  3. This reminds me strongly of the McGillicuddies at their peak.

    He’s espousing pretty obvious anarchist ideas. Why is work necessary? Manual labour is made obsolete by all our lovely machines, what happened to our goddamned leisure? And so on.

  4. Web forum trolling turned into a performance art piece?
    I love it, he’s done spectacularly well. :-)

  5. I/S, not really.

    For one thing, I don’t believe that the system should be required to function for egregious piss-takers, no matter how many hoops they jump through — an absence of good faith is a legitimate reason for review in my opinion (not knowing the policy in this area, I make no comment on the legalities).

    For another thing, you might have a point (and I’d be inclined to be sympathetic) if there were any meaningful or meritorious political objections being espoused here — but I simply can’t see any. I’m sure it’s possible to construct something from it, but the whole discourse is simply incoherent. This is the project’s only real failing, as far as I can see.

    For a third, getting riled about WINZ’ behaviour (as you have) is buying into the performance. I don’t intend to engage with it as a participant; I’d much rather observe it.* So from this perspective whatever the players do is part of the show, and its outcome is its outcome. Plenty of people other than me involved; I’ll leave it to them.

    L

    * Yeah, I get that there’s ironic reflexive recursion here, that critiquing and saying I don’t want to engage with it is in fact a form of engagement, &c.

  6. morgue, interesting. I don’t know the guy or anything about him, but if what you say is so then it seems to fit.

    L

  7. I should also add that he appeared to have the respect of his artistic peers, at least the ones I spoke to – i.e. he wasn’t just a random troublemaker but someone perceived to have artistic chops. Just impressions from brief encounters, of course, but they do fit with the picture you draw in your post.

  8. Lew – Excellent analysis. The best form of defence is not to point out he is an outrageous fool but to appreciate the joke and the success of his our “performance”.

    Then quietly can all arts funding as a message to the others. The success of his performance does not get around the fact that taxpayers fund it. It is certainly a valid theme for privately funded art. But my guess is that he is about to encounter the law of unintended consequences. And there will be a mighty number of mostly struggling artists who will unlikely be happy with him.

  9. For another thing, you might have a point (and I’d be inclined to be sympathetic) if there were any meaningful or meritorious political objections being espoused here — but I simply can’t see any. I’m sure it’s possible to construct something from it, but the whole discourse is simply incoherent. This is the project’s only real failing, as far as I can see.

    I think that the notion of meaningful/meritorious political speech as needful in an artistic context is really unhelpful. Aesthetic acts aren’t reducible to the political. The incoherence is important.

    See Claire Bishop’s The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents.

  10. Phil, why should this (as opposed to anything else) result in arts funding reform? The government funds CNZ to fund art. They sure got some here.

    Keir, I accept that the incoherence is important — it’s hard to bring the crazy without it — but by the same token, so is the fact that his benefit has been cut. Unlike Phil, I don’t think this was an unintended consequence — given the fact that Wells was upfront about his own benefit, and the nature of his work, and the present political climate arouns such matters, he’d have needed to be utterly oblivious to not realise the likely effects. That doesn’t fit.

    L

  11. Lew – It would merely be appreciating the majesty of his performance and carrying it to the logical extreme.

    We are supposed to be outraged. Well lets have a grand finale and a bonfire of the funding applications. Now that would be truly a great performance!

    I accept that the incoherence is important — .., so is the fact that his benefit has been cut. .., he’d have needed to be utterly oblivious to not realise the likely effects. That doesn’t fit.

    Lew – I disagree, he seems utterly oblivious to any kind of consequence or reality.

  12. Phil, talk about a pyrrhic victory.

    But no. I think this event shows that CNZ works — it funds successful and innovative and controversial art projects. That’s its mandate. Long may it continue to do so.

    L

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *