Ordinary magic of everyday objects

ACCESSIBLE: Tao Wells at designroom ntsGcrt-lower casentein Nile St, where he has installed a set of works made from op-shop bed sheets and used socks.
ACCESSIBLE: Tao Wells at designroom ntsGcrt-lower casentein Nile St, where he has installed a set of works made from op-shop bed sheets and used socks.

Dirty-looking socks and op-shop finds are given a new lease of life in Tao Wells' show at designroom in Nile St.

Sheets, a pillowcase and socks – "mostly sports socks and corporate casuals" – have been stretched over handmade frames and mounted on the walls. "They really are what they are," says Wells. "They're really truthful."

Wells, a conceptual artist who critiques established systems of power and value, says he's evoking "that transformational quality" in taking something everyday and turning it into something else.

"It's a sheet, it's a sock, but when you look at it on the wall, it becomes something else – it becomes a beautiful object.

"There's a kind of humble gloriousness that something so everyday can become so beautiful," he says.

The sheets have stains and creases on them, one of the "corporate casuals" has grass in it from when Wells mowed the lawns and the white sports sock on the wall looks scummy and soiled.

"It's quite well used, but it's clean – believe it or not," says Wells.

But beautiful?

"It's truthful. It's honest. It's true and it's good. It's humble.

"Anyone could do this. Anyone could make it and it's not trying to rain down on you from above," he says.

Wells says we're ruled by the principle of capitalism – minimum investment and maximum profit – but he has found the antidote.

"I'm mocking the way it oppressed us. I'm inviting people to take up arms. Everyone's got sheets. Everyone's got dirty socks. I'm encouraging everyone to do it.

"I'm putting in the minimum investment – they are op-shop sheets and my old socks – but I'm selling them for the maximum profit that I can."

Yes, he's selling them: $900 for the stretched sheets, $650 for the flowery pillowcase and $100 for the sock canvases.

In fact, he sold two socks – the well-loved sports sock and a business sock – at the exhibition's opening last Friday.

Wells says the works in his show, Effortless, are funny, thoughtful, intelligent and accessible – after all, people could make them themselves – and bound to spark discussion if mounted on someone's wall at home.

"It took a lot of effort to do this, but it's a different type of effort than what you get paid for. This is ordinary magic," he says.

  • Tao Wells, Effortless, designroom, 14 Nile St, until August 4.


Tasman potter Steve Fullmer is the proud new owner of a $100 artwork called Pin Stripe Sock.

Fullmer went to the opening of Tao Wells' exhibition, Effortless, at designroom in Nile St last Friday, where he was confronted by Wells' works. "I was looking around and I noticed that the two large paintings didn't have much on them and I was thinking to myself, `Oh no, not this again. We're supposed to look into our past or our future.' It didn't look like canvas to me. It was even cheaper than canvas.

"Then I overheard Tao say something about sheets. Once I found out they were sheets, I thought, `Brilliant'. And if you looked closely at them, they didn't even appear to be clean. They were just put up as sheets. It is kind of clever. It just slaps you around a little bit."

Fullmer wasn't going to spend $900 on an op-shop sheet, but something else caught his eye – a business sock torn up and stretched "beyond all belief" over a handmade wooden frame. "It had a real intriguing pattern to it – the reinforced heel is exposed. I thought it was really cool. I just like the temperament of it," he says.

So, with some finger food and a couple of glasses of wine under his belt, he bought it for $100. "It just caught my eye. I think it's clever. I can remember exactly where and when I got it and in time to come, it will be a bit of a hilarious story – I bought a stretched sock."