Art Aristocracy : I Am A Logo/Tao Wells. 15 -22 SEPTEMBER 2008


The rubescent masses that hang over Tao Wells’ Art Aristocracy are as formidable as the hype surrounding the artist’s own declarative pseudo-sponsored appearance on the scene. Daunting in their Big Brother-style anonymity, the paintings loom over the space like big red nimbostrata, yet billow subtly in their newsprint delicacy, and that remains – like the artist’s own luminary yet shady presence – one of the show’s many polarities. Wells’ very status as iconoclast is as unstable as his rechristening of High Street Project as the National Gallery, sparkling patriotic at its nominal legislative surface in order to become radically separatist and fractured as an aesthetic undertaking behind the scenes. His own luminary appellation, ‘I Am A Logo’ is a sententious Trojan Horse, impeccable in its logocentric formality, yet self-deprecatingly vacuous, simultaneously seeking a blank vessel for a chameleon array of equally wry artistic tact-ics. An ordered diorama displayed on the floor caches a set of anachronisms that time-stretch the tropes of various ‘identity politics’ in order to resuscitate and reshuffle them under a new generic energetic order, the pixelated ecstasy of live MGMT concert footage beheld in three corner televisual hearths, dappled generational effigies sketchily immortalized by their housing in the cases of original translucent Apple iMacs. MGMT’s managerial text-message-savvy condensation of a history of ostensibly incompatible musical forms seems entirely appropriate here in Wells’ own diaristic outpouring – their anthemic popularity is what Wells’ both aspires to and attempts to crush under the auspices of authentic cultural multivalence. Raymond Williams is wrong when he observes that the only words rhyming with Culture are Vulture and Sepulture. Wells operates under the guise of third possible permutation: Mulcher. Yet the albescent, candle-adorned footwear that sit vigil-like in the centre of the gallery suggests an albeit attired Slacker-athletic Nostalgia for an uncompressed pre-Grunge© terpsichorean joie de vivre. There’s a razor-sharp affinity between their haunting Auschwitz chic and their dressing-up of a receding pre-nineties halcyon, now seemingly preserved in the Converse All-Star Kurt Cobain Series and the reductive eclecticisms of Post–freak folk, –disco, –post punk, –nu no-wave, –post pop, ­–techo, –Modernism. Yet Wells rescinds on the latter, attuned to the fact that Postmodernism’s defining role is as recognizing itself as a movement, as an albeit integral blip on a Janus-faced genealogical seismograph, informed by both the tense vestiges of the past and the leaky remains of the future. As the Maori language locates the future behind us with the noun Muri, Wells is willing to totter back and forth, fucked off, happy, Obsessive, scouring over the debris of this accumulation, this corrosion, while remaining totally submerged in it. Like Monet sitting at the bedside of his moribund wife, Wells sees Beauty on the franchised countenance of a Kate Moss/Calvin Klein advertisement, broadcasted with a telling MTV logo loitering at the corner of the projected black and white image. Usurped as a weapon in the artist’s own equally entrepreneurial arsenal, the perfume/couture Brand becomes a blowback part of his seemingly desultory assault. Hitherto surgically removed from the fickly licentious tastes and distastes of this dilettante market-Moloch, the University also comes under attack for its fallacious advertising of an interdisciplinary panache that is actually an explicit consumption of multifarious scholarly inquiry under the patronage of technocratic pedagogy. If not a Post-mortem, then Wells fabricates a memento mori for the faculties he’s working with here, including his own status as ‘Established Radical New Zealand Artist’. The flimsy position of the HSP label and its incestuous frailties are also fore-grounded as a drip-feed format to be mined by the peripatetic artist, its rigid bureaucratic permissions rigorously performed on a veritable ‘public’ level, appearing – like Work and Income New Zealand and Tao Wells-as-Logo – on a scattered auxiliary front, advancing in a very curvilinear manner. Tao-Wells-as-Artist acts like a sort of comic visionary here, a bipolar catalyst of its eloquently wayward trajectory – Morris Trentham.


Tao Wells is a Logo. Tao Wells is not an angry young man. Tao Wells is a slacker. Tao Wells is a hippy. Tao Wells is a Logo. Tao Wells: Logo TW:L is a logo in need of a brand, and it invites you – consumer, advertiser, revolutionary, bureaucrat – to help it find its feet, plant its seed, within the uncreated conscience of our race against time. TW:L is a UN peacekeeper at the battle-zone in its head. Here plays out the intergenerational struggle over the appropriation of packages – TV, CD, IPOD – that is, for all we know, defining the age in which we live. Here it is, nutshelled: Bebe Boomas; GenXsas; G-Why?s. All living in each other’s shit, feeding off each other’s lies, crying at each other’s lives, holding hands and hoping – against the day; talking in garbled tongues. TW:L, conservative, reactionary, avant-garde, is asking you – that’s you, matey, with your hands down your pants and your arse in your ear – to come forward and tell us something we don’t already know and already know we don’t believe. TW:L is supported by some premier brands: UC, WINZ, HSP, CK. TW:L comes to us with love. And that’s not the sentimental love of the bearded Man of 1969, inadvertently raping 15 year old runaways; and it’s not the ironic love of silly slaves of marketing more clever than their own self-consciousness that killed Kurt Cobain; and it’s not the love of Angelina, multi-coloured, gadget-driven, tourist-town, life’s a dream (you’re not in it), mud shack city’s the only place that things get real. No, this is love in the old sense: TW:L – here’s an anarchist Logo, embracing the city of Christchurch and there’s no qualification, reservation, no asking anything for it – except a small charge, perhaps, but that’s just to cover the advertising. There’s something going on, and we know it’s going on, and we’re quietly quaking in our boots, our chuck tailors, our leather-soled/Italian designed, our retro-eighties garish sneakers. What it is looks like something we can’t imagine, don’t yet have the words for, but it involves the blind, mad mechanics of a positivism that proceeds with the purest, most seductive faith and leads us into the bureaucracies of indignity and inefficiency; the plateaus of cheap relativism and cruel hopes; illiteracies of the imagination; the poverties of unchallenged narcissism; the despair for lessons worth learning. TW:L was once a man, Tao Wells, and that man once became a studious student at the University of Canterbury. A little later he became Tao Wells: Logo, controversial white male and charismatic creature of death. Now he’s all out of Logo; he’s all full of love; and like all love he’s craving to be filled. Love is the politest form of begging: give it to me. The University is strangely taking a centre stage in TW:L’s self-exploration, and it’s strangely taking a centre stage in the coming into being of The World We’re Entering. That surprise? It shouldn’t. It’s the bastions of the old guard, when they finally fall, whose few, crumpled, sick and dirty remains tell us what we might expect of tomorrow: tell us what it is that we’ve decided is important and worth holding onto, worth giving a flying fuck about. Look at them limp out of the rubble, trudge with the determination that only the determined know, and find a little place to hide away their little face and offer up for our perusal something we might possibly pay them for. Talk of Logocentrism was all the rage at university when little Tao Wells came along. Now the talk is ended and we’ve just got left the Logo – central, situated, stimulating, saturating. Let it holler and cry like a banshee in the night.

I’m a logo ‘Work and Income National Tour of Three Ideas for the State’

HSP Reading Room Preview: 16 September 5.30pm, 17 September – 11 October

I’m a logo 'Art Aristocracy'

HSP Main Gallery Preview: 16 September 5.30pm, 17 September – 11 October

Performances by I'm a logo:

18 September, performance one: 'Cut'

25 September, performance two: 'Speech'

2 October, performance three: 'Sound'

25 September, SPEECH. A Performance by Tao Wells. Canterbury University Art School car

park. 11am, sharp (Free). (simultaneously via the web, George Fraser Gallery, Auckland


Let's be clear, no university when push comes to shove will back the basic

premises of the Avant-garde even as they profess to teach them. When school is

a business your job is to stay in business and the pursuit of truth is subject to

a word from our sponsor. (Tao Wells. Unpublished,New Zealand, 2008)

"The victim is obvious: the university. Each infringement on its unwritten

contract with society to avoid secrecy when ever possible and maintain its

independence from government or corporate pressure weakens its integrity"

No Space, No Choice, No Jobs, No Logos. By Naomi Klein. Flamingo publishing,

Great Britain 2000. Chapter: The Branding of Learning, page 99

(Quoting Andrew de Freitas <>)

Every lucid capitalist knows that the myth of 100% organic composition would never work but that doesn’t hold them back from dangling it before us. At least that’s the logic behind Naomi Klein’ millennial pot-boiler, No logo which Wells pillages mercilessly for his show Art and Aristocracy, at the “National Gallery”. No, you didn’t read that wrong, the show is still at HSP, only it falls under the rubric, Art and Aristocracy with which Wells carries out a platform of redress.

The first is the renaming of HSP as the ‘National Gallery” which seems to be necessitated by the touring of his “Three ideas for the state” which were previously shown at Auckland’s Gambia Castle and are reproduced in the latest issue of White Fungus and are currently showing in HSP’s reading room. The second, less obvious renaming is Wells’ appellation as “I’m a logo”. Throw in a couple of performances (which you ought to at least try too see), a slew of websites and youtube clips and the main show itself and it’s pretty obvious that Art and Aristocracy is far from your average gallery exhibition. Whilst “Three ideas for the state”, are, well brilliant (Mark Amery at The Dominion called them inspired, and he’s not half wrong), I’m more intrigued by the show Art and Aristocracy simply because it is more galling.

Its trick is its segueing of two polities, namely the early 90s slacker culture of apathy as abandonment with the hedonistic sample-rife, designer induced culture of the third Christian millennium. The trumping logo performing this, is of course Wells use of the band MGMT whose recent saturation of the airwaves pulsed as the shaman inspired polity of revolution akin to Bruce Sterling’s stinging rebuttal on eco-chic as fashion’s new clothes.But it’s never that simple. Perhaps then, the poignant, peripatetic image of the show are the shoe and candle sculptures which hold vigil within Wells self appointed appendage as “I’m a logo”. Anchoring the surveillance of Well’s multiply portraits which brood upon the gallery’s circumference as cave-identity hybrid, these sculptures tune a folk-hagiography that’s insipid in its self-valorising rhetoric. That’s my idea of redress anyway. The ubiquitous and mundane actions of the walker, standing in via the solace of the iconographic candle as witness, cornering the megalomania of Wells’ miming of early 90s culture tropes, bad painting and identity politics. This is miles removed from the branding exercises of Billy Apple which next to Wells, look drearily sycophantic.Harold Grieves