Tao Wells / Dick Whyte

The Happy Bene (2011)

57 min 38 secSingle channel / Digital Video / Colour / Sound

A video by Dick Whyte and Tao Wells documenting the installation/performance The Beneficiary's Office (2010), (presented in association with Letting Space and Creative New Zealand).

"The project really struck a nerve with me… What you did Tao, I thought, was incredibly courageous and profound... To be both dependent on that system and to so publicly expose the issues around that system was very brave." Chris Kraus

"You actually have to ask the question frankly should Creative New Zealand actually exist if this is what they do." Roger Douglas, New Zealand MP

A vacant commercial space is a site of anxiety, more so than a vacant dwelling. If it happens to include a shop front, its emptiness becomes a concrete representation of crisis. An empty shop on the corner can bring down the whole neighbourhood. We use phrases like that: to bring down, to depress, as if to reify the mood.

The Letting Space projects are partly a response to the anxiety, a way of replacing those conspicuous absences with another sort of activity, another kind of trade. But what of the empty office on the sixth floor of an otherwise bustling building? What of the emptiness of the spaces that we cannot see? That Tao Wells' Beneficiary's Office occupied such a space is one of the least commented on aspects of this intensely debated project, yet it fitted in perfectly with the subject matter. Being unemployed means being less visible, having less of a voice, keeping or being made to keep a lower profile.

And so Wells and the curators chose an empty office on the sixth floor of a downtown Wellington building, upstairs from a branch of the Bank of New Zealand. Below, the engine room of commerce; above, an interrogation of the nature and the value of work. Choosing for the first time in the series not to occupy a shop also meant a shift in the terms of implicit comparison, for business has a far broader set of meanings than retail, and these would quickly come into play. Giovanni Tiso

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