Gallery Installation: The Tax Office

Many years ago, while an undergraduate at the University of Manitoba, I commandeered an art gallery on campus.  Every year the student union would give the art gallery space over to a tax office, which would prepare student taxes in the area. The gallery was located in the student centre and had glass walls, so you would walk by and see all these accountants preparing taxes inside the gallery while the exhibitions were put on hold. One year I decided to declare this tax office itself a “found installation.” I affixed the following statement to the wall beside the door, where it remained for the duration of the “exhibit.” The whole thing was covered by The Manitoban (but in their joke issue, for some reason). Both my artistic statement and the article are below.

The Tax Office: Artistic Statement

The Tax Office challenges traditional demarcations between artistic, commercial, industrial, and personal space through its presentation of an actual tax office (conveniently located in an actual art gallery) as an artistic performance piece even as it asks the audience to consider the extent to which role is performed in a social setting. Also, by declaring the office workers to be a part of the piece without informing them or asking their consent, the artist calls into question the ethics of art in its appropriation and representation of subjects.

Life Imitates Art: A non-taxing exhibition

by Jennifer E. Lopes

The Manitoban 90.27, April 1-8, 2003

To prove that life imitates art, one doesn’t have to look any further than inside University Centre at the University of Manitoba, where one can find a refreshing, innovative and economical art exhibition — The Tax Office.

“When I was walking by the gallery the other day, I heard a whisper — ‘tax office’ — and I turned my head and sure enough, there’s a tax office in the gallery space. And I thought, if that’s not poetry, then what is?” said artist Jonathan Ball, referring to Gallery 138, a space generally reserved for Fine Art students exhibitions.

Blurring the lines between commercialization and art, Ball contends that the artwork is both a found installation and performance piece, as the office workers perform their day-to-day operations without interruption. “I didn’t want to interfere with the art as it was happening. I didn’t want to be an ‘artist’, like I actually went out and did something. I didn’t want to get permission [from the workers]; I didn’t want to even get the gallery’s permission — which I don’t have — I think it would really corrupt the piece.”

Calling into question the position of predetermined roles and perception, Ball extends his artistic vision even further, by declaring the ’employees’ part of the piece without their consent, challenging the ethics of representation in art. “If you’re taking a picture of a bird, would you let the bird know that you’re taking a picture of him?” ask Ball, “Why would I let my subjects know that I’m taking a snapshot of their lives?”

Reception to the piece has been exceptional, with many students entering the installation to receive help filling out their tax forms. “Every time I pass by, there are students talking to workers, and sitting down with the employees going over papers and forms. The performances that take place within the walls of the gallery are exceptional, ” notes Ball.

The Tax Office will be on display until May 1 when tax season finishes.

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