Tax-onomies, is a series of works on paper by Elise Engler addressing choices made by the government in spending our hard-earned tax dollars. Engler’s detailed colored pencil drawings take on-site inventory of thousands of items used by various agencies, from the NYC Department of Public Health virology lab to Materials for the Arts, the Parks Department, and the Department of Education. Other drawn lists show the purchases of the Defense Department, including weaponry with names such as Daisy Cutters, Raptors and Global Predators. Larger works in progress are symbolic depictions, with names and ages, of each of the over 2500 Iraq War coalition casualties and over 13,000 Iraqi civilian casualties, a small fraction of the unknown actual number.
For many years Elise’s drawings have taken inventory of the contents of purses, cars and refrigerators. The rows of items include crumpled receipts, loose change and rotten vegetables along with things that may otherwise be considered more significant, making no value distinction between possessions and personal detritus. In her exploration of tax-funded projects, we see a more detailed side of how government funds are spent: the gloves and headgear of firefighters, parks keepers, lab workers and military personnel, along with their assorted tools and vehicles.
The exhibition also includes a new series of works on paper that portray newspaper clippings, internet flyers and other sources of information, with related drawn and painted elements. Articles from New York Times are meticulously recreated in pencil and gouache, the surrounding painting portraying a more editorial, depiction of stories such as funding for jet fighters, Rudy Giuliani dancing in drag, NYC Emergency Preparedness advice, and arrests made around Times Square during the Republican Convention.
Also included in show is a binder containing artists’ responses to the tax form itself. Engler put out a call to artists to make a tax form-sized piece that relates to the ubiquitous 1040 we are all currently preparing to file.
Related blog post: James Wagner