Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Giant Flying Banana Art Cost $130 000 of Canadian/Quebec Tax Money-- and it was never even built!

This is a link to two French radio interviews between Dominic Maurais and two separate arts bureaucrats regarding a Flying Banana Art project. The first bureaucrat is Michel Gaboury from the Canada Arts Council.[SEE BELOW FOR TRANSLATED TRANSCRIPT]

I wish I had the time to translate it all into English. But I will summarize the details.

An Argentinian artist name Caesar Saëz who lived in Quebec applied to the Canada Arts Council and to the Quebec counterpart (le Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec) to create a 300-metre long flying banana made of bamboo and a type of synthetic paper (resembling Tyvex?) in order to denounce George Bush. The banana was to fly over the state of Texas.

Saëz left the country. And no one knows of the whereabouts of this work of art.


Michel Gaboury of the Canada Arts Council said that the artist in question got about $80 000 over a two-year period. He said that the project involved more than the creation of the actual work of art. The artist conducted "research" that went into creating the piece. Gaboury could not tell the interviewer where the banana was. He also said that the artist in question did not have to live in Canada.

Carl Allen of the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec revealed that his organization gave the artist 2 bursaries totaling almost $50 000. (Actually he said 48 000, but he got his math wrong).

He could answer for the whereabouts of this flying banana, either.

He said that since the artist never promised to create the banana, its existence was never verified. However, the artist fulfilled all the governmental criteria.

It's actually pretty humourous to listen to the bureaucrats trying to weasel their way out of this interview.

I got all the main details. Maybe I'll translate it if there's a demand. If you understand French, listen to it. It's good for a laugh.

UPDATE: Feb. 4 at 9:36 am

I wrote Kevin Gaudet of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He told me that this project was on the Teddies list two years in a row for government wastage.


Translated it myself.

HOST: You surely remember the story of the giant banana over Texas. At some point an artist submitted a project-- it was an Argentinean artist living in Quebec-- he is of Argentinean descent-- established in Montreal by the name of Caesar Saez (SAH-ays). At some point the guy said “Whoa-- this would be fun-- a 300-metre long banana made of a bamboo structure covered in a synthetic paper similar to paper that covers houses under construction…Tyvex (sp?), is that right? Seems to me a big banana in Tyvex would be funny, over Texas, that would be amusing…

CO-HOST: It was to talk about Bush, too. It was to denounce Bush.

HOST: The government said “okay, perfect we’ll fund you, that’s fine.”

Where is the banana? The banana is not there. And Caesar is gone. So what happens with that now? How do we verify--what is the method, what is the (sarcastic voice) process when we give a subsidy? Who receives it? And who verifies afterwards?

We are speaking now to Michel Gaboury, spokesperson for the Canada Arts Council-- The Canada Arts Council, it’s rather relevant because it gave $49 800...Hello Mr. Gaboury. How are you?

GABOURY: Hi Mr. Maurais, it’s going very well. And you?

HOST: Very good. Am I mistaken or did you give $49 800?

GABOURY: No, not $49 800, we gave. We gave $80 000 over two years.

HOST: It’s rare that I get corrected and it’s worse.

GABOURY: I wouldn’t say that it’s worse.

HOST: Why?

GABOURY: Why do you say it’s worse?

HOST: Eighty thousand for a work of art that was never created…

GABOURY: But wait, it’s more complicated than the work of art…there was all the research that it implied. It was all those things. And it was a two-year subsidy. Every year we ask for a report.

HOST: Okay. What is the report that you have received? What do we know about the evolution of that file?

GABOURY: He kept us up to date with his research after a year. But you know, the banana wasn’t supposed to fly in the beginning. It was supposed to fly in the second year [I.e. the artist only decided in the second year that it was going to fly.]

HOST: Oh really?

GABOURY: (Nervous laughter at host’s reaction) And as you told your audience he was not able to produce that part of his project. But you know, it was a much more complicated project that constructing a banana.

HOST: The banana project…the most intelligent and relevant (project) was useless…YOOSE-LESS-- That I and my taxes, and my listeners and their taxes funded (to the tune of) eighty thousand bucks-- and let’s be frank with each other-- that project never flew. That banana never flew. Where is the banana?

GABOURY: Listen, I don’t know where it is.

HOST: He’s not in our country according to his art gallery.

GABOURY: But that artist is allowed to live where he wants. He doesn’t necessarily have to live in Canada.

HOST: I’d like to ask for a report on my taxes. What did he do with my money?

GABOURY: Who are you talking about?

HOST: Caesar Saez.

GABOURY: That you can ask…

HOST: I can’t ask you?

GABOURY: You can certainly ask me. I told you just now what he did.

HOST: What did he do?

GABOURY: He did research. He met people.

HOST: Where’s his research?

GABOURY: I don’t have any details with me.

HOST: Let’s hold a referendum on the relevance of a subsidized banana…between you and me, you’re in for some surprises…

GABOURY: Once they (the artists) make a request, it’s reviewed by an evaluation committee composed of professional artists, in general there are five professional artists on our committees--

HOST: Friends--

GABOURY: No, not friends, it was people who didn’t know him (Saez). I don’t have all the names but in Quebec-- the guy who represented Quebec-- because this is federal, and there are five big Canadian regions--there were four there who didn’t necessarily know him…

HOST: $80 000 that’s a lot of tax money from individuals. You took $80 000 of my tax money--

GABOURY: No no no

HOST: And you gave it to a guy who did “research” and YOU BELIEVED HIM, you didn’t even laugh when you looked at the report for the project. You didn’t even find it ridiculous. You said “oh, that seems reasonable.” And in the end the guy didn’t do anything-- he did research-- research that is completely inaccessible, by the way--can I have access to that research report?

GABOURY: Sure you can.

HOST: Oh really?

GABOURY: Yes, by virtue of the Access to Information Act.

HOST: Yeah I’ll ask and it’ll take me four months to get it and I’ll get a pile of white paper blacked out because it’s (nominative?) information…Are you able to give me to give me the research reports?

GABOURY: Surely. But you have to submit a request. So submit a request--

HOST: You’re hiding behind the law.

GABOURY: I’m not hiding behind the law--

(Cut to second interview)

HOST: Now we join from the government of Quebec the spokesperson for the Quebec Council on Arts and Letters (le Conseil des Arts et Lettres du Quebec) Mr. Carl (?) Allen. Mr. Allen, good morning.

ALLEN: Hello Mr. Maurais.

HOST: Do you have an answer to my question: [in English] Where is (Parisian accent) zuh banana?

ALLEN: I will do like my colleague [Mr. Gaboury] I will correct you. The Council had given two grants to Mr. Saez--

HOST: Why not ?[I.e. why don’t you have an answer to my question?]

ALLEN: The first was for $25 000--

HOST: (Shocked) What???

ALLEN: And a second grant for $24 820.

HOST: (Disbelief) Stop!

ALLEN: For a total of 48 820 (Note mathematical error).

HOST: You’ve got to be kidding.

ALLEN: These grants were administered. We followed the process…

HOST: That’s $128 000! (Actually, closer to $130 000, but who’s really counting!) for the final total. $128 000 for a man who had to produce a pretty banana and never did.

ALLEN: It is an idea that we’d like to make, to produce, sometimes with what already exists, (incomprehensible) That’s where we are, that’s contemporary art.

HOST: Am I uncultivated if I find this dumb, this banana over Texas that never flew? (Incomprehensible)

ALLEN: (Nervous laughter) Listen, far from me to tell you what to think--

HOST: I am completely incapable of appreciating that. I find it stupid, it’s a waste, I think it’s lame, I think it’s a waste of time-- I’m not against art in general--but this is stupid--

ALLEN: We’re dealing with the field of art, so let’s remain calm…but, the bottom line is there has been progress at the artistic level--

HOST: Such as?

ALLEN: For some artists it was an occasion to renew themselves, to propose…

HOST: A pioneer, a real pioneer (I.e. Saez) (Garbled conversation.) What did this guy do?

ALLEN: I’m not a specialist on this artist.

HOST: Me neither, that’s why I’m asking.

ALLEN: I therefore invite you to contact with Mr. Saez or a commissaire (bureaucrat)

HOST: (Laughter) So there’s no way to recuperate not even ten bucks from this guy? Not even five bucks. Please, make me happy…

ALLEN: Well uh…

HOST: We lost all that money! (In English) Where is the banana?

ALLEN: Well the money went towards research, towards the report, that uh, how do I say this, that he identified, that uh, he defined…and for us that satisfies the requirements of the process. And if Mr. Saez makes a new request, all this will be taken under consideration by the other artists.

HOST: Therefore, on the scientific research on "blown up" works, we’ve made progress…

CO-HOST: It’s moved forward…

ALLEN: Pardon, "blown up" works?

HOST: They’re inflatable works like the banana. (Sarcastic) There were at least some very nice developments that have been started…He at least developed some interesting theories…

ALLEN: Well of course the goal is artistic, we both agree on that...he got the grant but it wasn’t to create a technological development, but to make use of that technology, particular applications of that technology.

HOST: Is there anyone at the Government of Quebec that attempted to see the banana? (Silence…in English) Where is the banana? Has anyone tried to see it? Not even for 5 seconds? (Imitating artist) I’ll show it, now I’ll hide it. Is there anyone who has seen it? That damned banana never existed! It’s true! Nobody’s seen it!

ALLEN: We could have made that reproach to the artist had he promised in his application to produce--

HOST: No, he didn’t promise, he just said that he would make it.

ALLEN: Well in his project, there were various stages.

HOST: At any time, will there be someone around the table who will say “Sorry!”-- He calls up the artist and says “I’m sorry Mr. Artist but your project is pure ***. It’s no good. It’s doesn’t amount to anything. You’re not moving anything forward.” Everything is art! Everything is art in the mind of an artist. Everything is art, and art is not debatable.

ALLEN: We could go on about this all day, but just as a point as a point of information, what must be understood is that these projects are evaluated by professional artists--

HOST: Friends!

ALLEN: Absolutely not. These are the head of programs of the Council, who create a jury from a bank of resource people who are pre-validated by another process and by several professionals from several disciplines precisely to avoid that kind of remark--

HOST: (disgusted, repeats) that kind of remark…

ALLEN: Well you can make that remark:

HOST: It’s junk. The banana was good for nothing. It was stupid.

ALLEN: I don’t know, I never saw it.

HOST: Of course not, it doesn’t exist!

ALLEN: But when we look at the reports, the artist satisfied the requirements.

HOST: Where is the banana? The question remains unanswered.

ALLEN: Well--

HOST: Thank you Mr. Allen.

ALLEN: My pleasure.


(Editorial by host about how stupid this is…cut away)

UPDATE #3 at 5:54 PM

This flying banana story keeps getting better and better.

It looks like the total liability for the taxpayer may have been closer to $147 000.

This flying banana was supposed to be a Space Banana, according to Wikipedia.

If anyone wants to email him, his email address can be found here.

I wonder what he's up to, now.