Et al.’s Challenging Investigations into Society Come to The Hague

The complicated, startling, and occasionally controversial work of the New Zealand artist collective et al. has for some four decades investigated the relationship between human behavior and the systems that control or mutate it. The anonymous artists, who chose the moniker et al. (in Latin, the abbreviated form of “and others”) for its amorphous and neutral connotations, prefer to let others interpret their work rather than speak out themselves. 

  • Installation view of “For the Common Good,” courtesy of West

    Installation view of “For the Common Good,” courtesy of West

That choice has resulted in a flurry of explanations of what et al. does, but if one thing is certain, it’s that its work is challenging. Upon granting et al. the esteemed Walters Prize in 2004, the critic and curator Robert Storr remarked that their work encapsulated one of the more potent dilemmas in art: “The art that does not love the art lover back…it’s not hostile to the art lover; but it basically says, ‘Come to me, but I will not reward you immediately with what you’re looking for.’” This uncompromising nature was apparent in et al.’s installation for the 2005 Venice Biennale, in which recordings taken from the internet, religious texts, and philosophical works were played seemingly at random. It’s also evident in the group’s recent work at West, “For The Common Good,” which focuses the collective’s longstanding interest in the nuances of ideology on the concept of the utopia. 

“For The Common Good” presents territories real and imagined, dystopic and communal; it blends what has been referred to as an “active archive of societal events” with imagined systems of governance and control. Using models and live video streams of Google Earth, altered photographs and video, disembodied voices, and dark, pseudo-domestic furniture placement, et al. takes its audience through a space in which the lines between historical and invented societies are blurred. The installation includes a collaborative score created with the New Zealand composer Samuel Holloway, who the collective has worked with before. He has created a site-specific work addressing the concept of terra nullius, land without an owner, a geographic and sociological investigation at the heart of et al.’s recent work. 

—M. Osberg

For The Common Good” is on view at West Den Haag, Mar. 14–Apr. 24, 2015.

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Installation view of “For the Common Good,” courtesy of West.