Tao Wells is a community conceptualist whose work critiques established systems of power and value.
In 2010 the artist launched Wells Group (www.wellsgroup.org), a "Public" public relations company; "We've self appointed ourselves to rebrand the welfare system because they obviously suffer from a terrible public image" - Tao Wells. The re-brand was "Welfare - take a break".
Wells Groups' next project took place on the fourth floor of a vacant office space in downtown Wellington. 'The Beneficiary's Office' was established to design and manage public discussions on issues surrounding labour, unemployment and the structure of the present economy. Following media attention for The Beneficiary's Office both the artist and his collaborator Laura Shepard had their unemployment benefits suspended. Wells says; "Both myself and my collaborator Laura Shepard were persecuted by the Ministry of Welfare, slandered on national television by the acting Minister and we were subject to three court trials, lasting a year."
While much of the publicity for The Beneficiary's Office overlooked the key issues the project sought to discuss, several points were made by Wells Group;
"We should never be forced to take a job. If you're forced to take a job it's a punishment. If a job's a punishment then society must be a prison."
"The average carbon footprint of the unemployed person is about half of that of those earning over $100,000… surely, an advanced society would see us work less, and enjoy the benefits of unemployed time. We need to work less, so we consume less".
"6% forced unemployment. Fakes job competition. Stops wages rising. Before 1984 Everyone had a job".
The critic, writer and American Ivy League lecturer Chris Kraus in 2011 puts Tao Wells work "The Beneficiary's Office" into context via the work of philosopher and activist Simone Weil and the Italian "Movement of 77". (see Art Aristocracy video link below)
Outside of the Wells Group project Tao Wells is a prolific painter, sculptor, performer and video artist who has exhibited in spaces nationally and internationally over the last fifteen years, including the P.P.O.W in New York, Peter McLeavey's in Wellington and Gertude Contemporary Art Gallery, Melbourne. His video work is often marked by humour, absurdism and intervention. He has collaborated extensively with Laura Shepard, Dick Whyte, Terry Urbahn and the magazine White Fungus.
2011 The Beneficiary’s office, Level 3, 50 Manners Street, Wellington
2007 will nature make a man of me yet?, Enjoy Public Art Gallery, Wellington
2006 Super Natural, The Physics Room, Christchurch
New Leisure, Enjoy Public Art Gallery, Wellington
Radio and Television, Ramp Gallery, Hamilton
The Bed You Lie In: New Artists Show 2004, ARTSPACE, Auckland
Ryan Chadfield and Tao Wells, Enjoy Public Art Gallery, Wellington
2003 Enjoy Presents: High Street Project, Enjoy Public Art Gallery, Wellington
2002 Sleepover, Enjoy Public Art Gallery, Wellington