MAINTENANCE OF SOCIAL SOLIDARITY
ART GALLERY OF NEW SOUTH WALES JUNE 2009
et al. is the name of an elusive collaborative group of artists from New Zealand. They keep their individual identities discretely to themselves and issue limited interpretive material to explain their public art works. The works themselves arguably require no such interpretation as they constitute powerful ambient contexts for presenting rich historical and current geopolitical content. No clear ideological position is imposed even though the content of individual works is potentially chilling. The Group tends to respond to enquiries about the work by directing the curious to existing informational websites where relevant data is on public display rather than expressing their own views. Perhaps their anonymous g.oup dynamic subverts any such singular position. The group has had many members. over the years and has collaborated with musicians, scientists and others. Their work explores complex aspect^ of human behaviour, including philosophy, religion, technology and politics.
In this case the installation includes access to Google earth where you can track the locations of infamous military intelligence facilities around the world that are known to have been used by the CIA in their grotesque policy of ‘rendition’. In secret locations prisoners were interrogated off the record and beyond the recourse of international law. In this way the previous I- 3 administration managed to circumvent the Geneva Convention. Under the rule of Ronald Rumsfeld barbaric practices such as water boarding and violently applied forced feeding, sexual humiliation and beating were routinely used to collect intelligence. The juxtaposition of such methods with intelligence sounds like an oxymoron and yet the practice was staunchly defended by members of the administration. This is one in a series of projects where et al. looks at mind central in its various manifestations; social, medical, industrial and cultural.
This network of secret intelligence facilities has been widely denounced and will hopefully be demolished by the new administration in Washington. Sadly ho v ever once created such secret and illegal networks can survive and adapt to new and possibly even more dangerous purposes. By definition there is no clear trail or the public record, movements were elaborately concealed even flight control in host nations connived at falsifying flight paths, a dangerous and extraordinary contravention of international convention. Many of these pathways and facilities are probably still for sale.
The ambiguous and uncomfortable ambience of the space none the less helps us identify personally with the raw data they display on locations and covert practices. We are ^given a faint glimpse of the terror that may trigger our empathy with the victims and prompt our disgust that the richest nation on earth could defy civilised conventions in the name of international safety. Clearly this was not the way to make the world safer the only way to do that is to support international conventions and to lead civilised behaviour by example. A safe world will not be a secret and illegal one run by the biggest bully on the block but on: where the clear light of day is allowed to shine on rational, humane and just policies.
The anonymity of the artists is clearly both in ethical position taken against the market exploitation of individual authorship, the cult of the individual, and a group preference. However anonymity also feeds into the holistic quality of the art work as we experience it. Is their secrecy suggestive that they could be prosecuted as social or cultural terrorists? In reality they are acting as conduits for information that is already in the public domain but the affective quality of the installation is another thing. It might recall the feelings engendered by the claustrophobic installations of the ex-Soviet artist Ilya Kabakov who in his work; re-created the stultifying and often frightening atmosphere of soviet institution; In Soviet controlled society and in the web of homeland security whispers surround us and can randomly condemn us. In any case the secrecy of the collaborative et al seems to potentially be another signifier in the elaborate field of effects assembled here. In the end though we can only assume that their rejection of identifiable authorship is principally a strategy to open the issues for individual audience response.
Anthony Bond, Director Curatorial AGNSW (1983-2013).