The Estate of L.Budd_et al.
11 – 22 December 2018 and 2 –12 January 2019
Upstairs at Starkwhite a curious exhibition fills one large room. Although there is a visual aesthetic linking the art works it is not a solo show, but the work of multiple creators: The Estate of L. Budd and the collective known as et al. Downstairs a short black and white film plays, it too shares a connection, but is a 1973 work by Popular Productions1. Working under all these titles is an artist whose anonymous collective framework allows a disruption to the conventional understanding of art making, just as much as their practice disrupts a straightforward reading of their work.
Upstairs, two limited edition bronze casts are joined by works on paper, along with tape, paint, and hand writing across post-it notes, on metal shelves and drawers, on domestic blinds and across book covers. There’s more colour than before, a recent addition to et al.’s output, but the work is willfully enigmatic, offering a gritty aesthetic and intriguing content but little to anchor on. The narrative is obscure and non-linear, points of connection are tantalisingly few. The works in the exhibition share the look of archival fragments, or of historical documentation disrupted with a scrawled stream of consciousness. Abstract references to politics, academia, philosophy, and those contributing to the et al. umbrella collective populate the work, more akin to the intellectually engaged slogans of recent French popular uprisings than that of neighbourhood bus stops.
But what of the formal language the art work is presented under? The Estate of L. Budd came into being in 2001 and makes use of the standard attribution for exhibition purposes once an artist has died. At this time the artist working under this signature incorporated all their other artistic entities under ‘et al.’, and the collective shifted to an installation practice focused on found materials, erratic machinery, and unsettling soundscapes. But was stage managing the death of L. Budd emblematic of the contradictory nature of the practice, or a considered move? As art critic Francis Pound once wrote, ‘The museum wants the artist timeless. It is waiting for the death. Only with the closure of death does the oeuvre completely and happily begin.’2 But here’s precisely where things get interesting. The departure of L. Budd didn’t so much signal an artist’s death but the birth of an unprecedented artistic opportunity, that of estate management as a carefully constructed conceptual art project. Intriguingly, and within a practice that is intentionally discordant, in establishing The Estate concern is shown for conventional organisational structures, such as the control of estate executors over existing art works and future editions, and the earlier production of a retrospective exhibition and catalogue raisonné.
The experience of an et al. or Estate of L. Budd exhibition can be something of a conundrum. In much the same way that a cat’s allure draws you but the continuously altering exchange offers little in return beyond the offer to begin establishing a relationship, this shifting group of artistic entities offers no easy rewards. It is an addictive cycle with plenty of intrigue but feels impossible to have a comprehensive understanding or polished ‘take’ on the work.
1 the story of POPULAR PRODUCTIONS_et al. 1973, 16 mm silent b/w film, audio by George Hubbard ’praising god’ 1990 )NZ/Aust), transfer to digital 2010. Filmed at the Marylands Residential School (opening 1955), Halswell, Christchurch, NZ, run by the Romana Catholic Order Brothers Hospitallers of St, John of God, as a residential school for children with learning difficulties. The young boy was in the care of the brothers of St John of God at the time of filming. Maryland’s school, more recently, was the centre of sex abuse cases. A not-for-profit trust the Survivors of Sex Abuse Trust, worked with many of the victims. There is no evidence that the child in the film was a victim of sex abuse.
2 Francis Pound in a catalogue essay for artist Julian Dashper