5 ½ PROPOSALS TO WORK AND LIVE IN THE CURRENT MILLENNIUM
26 March 2014
Future State is delighted to be a part of Oblique International’s project: 5 ½ PROPOSALS TO WORK AND LIVE IN THE CURRENT MILLENNIUM. This genesis of inspiration for the project is in reflections on labour and productivity.
Programme #1 March 28-29 in Rotterdam
I PREFER (NOT)… TO CONTINUE
presents two days of screenings, lectures and group activities, organized with the aim to open the discussion to ‘unproductive’ work forms, and how they can be used as a response to the current demand for productivity within the labour sphere, and outside of it. This program counts with the participation and works by: Maja Bekan, Ronald Bos, Doris Denekamp, Harun Farocki, Stephanie Feeney (Future State), Sarah Forrest and Sven Lütticken.
In the inaugural issue of PRODUCTION Future State bring together image, text, voice and gesture to investigate the cultural practices that appropriate ‘economised’ concepts and offer alternative interpretations to challenge dominate narratives.
At the beginning of Issue 1 a utopian cybernetics theorist and a faceless protester meet, both suggesting new paradigms in fragile moments of hope. Look closer and in the gestures of the ink we find both hopeful foreshadowing and a defiant rejection of neoliberalism and its mechanisms, bookending a moment in time. Later a city struggles to redefine itself by exploiting the redemptive hope of the arts, while a few pages later, art and city meet again; different time, different reality. Towards the end, as the pages thin out, we find depicted a media obsessed with an economic picture of their own creation, obscuring an economy of another kind, hidden and precarious.
In each of these connections, and in the individual contributions themselves, we are brought to the subject of economy on very different paths; from different places, times, media and disciplines. Yet what we present to you in these pages is not the paths themselves but a series of meeting places, collision zones and arenas of choice. Crossroads by any other name.
PRODUCTION is a collection of voices, not a collective voice. It is conceived as a confluence, bringing together practitioners and academics to stimulate connections and creative tensions. As such you will find none of the usual academic etiquette, demarcating where one voice ends and another begins. Instead we hope that the voices and ideas will bleed together, finding parallels and causing conflicts. There are no answers in these pages, nor where answers ever intended, but we hope that you will find questions, find yourself standing a crossroads and wondering where do we go from here.
To request a free copy of PRODUCTION please send an email, including your postal address, to firstname.lastname@example.org
Spatial politics was on the programme long before a panel of speakers was drawn together under the same title. To not talk about spatial politics would have been to ignore the peripatetic nature of LAND │LABOUR │CAPITAL as it, and its participants, crossed over and back between the host gallery, Limerick City Gallery of Art (LCGA), and two contested spaces: 69 O’Connell Street; Occupy Space. Financial uncertainty means that 69 O’ Connell Street, formerly the Belltable Arts Centre, no longer runs as the city’s multi-functional space for dance, theatre, visual arts and music that it was intended to be, despite the high spec. interior and impressive technical facilities. Occupy Space (no relation to the Occupy movement), an artist run space, had itself existed as an itinerant organisation for a considerable time due to irregular support from funding partners. Indeed LAND │LABOUR │CAPITAL was one of the first events in Occupy Space’s new, permanent, home on Cecil Street. In fact the entire Georgian Quarter of Limerick is contested, punctuated by empty buildings, like the ironically title The Bank public house, and multi-coloured ‘To Let’ signs. It felt appropriate that LAND │LABOUR │CAPITAL was part of the politics too.
Spatial politics and contested spaces exist everywhere, not just in Limerick. Lukáš Matoška, a philosophy student at FFUK Charles University in Prague, reflected on the many appropriations of Hotel Praha in Prague, a monument of the Czechoslovakian era and a state socialist regime. Hotel Praha has had a varied past: used for accommodating state VIPs during the socialist era; privatised and operated as a private hotel after the fall of the Iron Curtain; more recently, purchased by a private financial group that intends to demolish it and build a private school. Matoška likened the planned demolition to a tool for the ruling classes to erase traces of a former regime, one which it supposes has already been erased from the collective memory. Public protests and demonstrations in Prague show that this is not true. The demolition of Hotel Praha is a violent, neo-liberalist, re-mapping of psychogeographical space.
So when the question of whether the artist is the embodiment of the neoliberal worker was asked by Dr Judith Stewart, herself an artist and Independent Researcher, there was a moment of rupture. Stewart questioned whether socially engaged art, a form of art production that seemed particularly pervasive in Limerick, is an ethical process of art production and the complicity of artists in maintaining a flawed and unfair system. Stewart cited examples of artists engaged to work on social projects who are expected to bring about change within unrealistic time frames and little or no budget. By continuing to accept conditions of low pay, long hours and unrealistic outcomes, precarious working conditions for artists become performative and iterative.
Keynote speaker Dr Angela Dimitrakaki, Curator and Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Art History and Theory at University of Edinburgh, echoed Stewart’s words. In her paper she pointed out the irony and contradictions in being repeatedly told that cultural work is valuable and important yet there is no funding to support it. The cultural worker goes unpaid and works late into the night. This is why, Dimitrakaki argued, that the art work as object or output must be separated from the process of the production of art. It is important to realise, she argued, the more successful the artist, the more access the artist has to autonomy. The successful artist establishes a studio, employs artist assistants to support production of the art, has access to a superior infrastructure and is in a better position to produce better work.
From artist as labourer to an artist whose research engages closely with themes of labour and land, Dr Deirdre O’Mahony described her art practice as a ‘right to speak’. O’Mahony, who teaches at the Centre for Creative Practice at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, was one of the contributing artists to Labour and Lockout, a group exhibition running at the LCGA simultaneous to the conference. O’Mahony’s installation, titled T.U.R.F. (Transitional Undertandings of Rural Features) featured archival material and art objects that drew attention to the conflict between the social and the natural landscape or, more specifically, the conflict between the use of rural landscape for leisure and livelihood. The ‘right to speak’ that her practice affords her is necessary, O’Mahony states, in the face of DAD (Decide, Announce, Defend) tactics employed by top down power structures against rural communities. She cites examples of the closure of rural post offices without due attention to the social impact on the rural community and unfair, if not illegal, processes for implementing EU Directives against farmers that impact livelihoods and long standing cultural traditions. The appropriation of cultural activities to re-present (alternative) narratives makes a difference, she urged, not least because one European policy maker described it as ‘qualitative research’ and something of which policy makers need much more.
O’Mahony went on to facilitate a T.U. R. F. Mind Meitheal, a part of her practice which creates a cultural space to examine, in this case, the effect of the implementation of the EU Habitats Directive on domestic turf cutters and their families. Mind Meitheal was something that Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff had in mind when he urged us create a ‘commons’. Mirzoeff, Professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University Steinhardt and cultural theorist, has been closely involved in the global social movements that have arisen since 2011, in particular what we now know as the Occupy movement associated with the “We are the 99%” slogan, writing a daily observation of the movement’s development in 2012. Resonance, Mirzoeff urged, is the means by which social change spreads and resonance can come about when a commons is created. O’Mahony spoke of the ‘right to speak’, Mirzoeff talked of ‘the right to look’. A commons is created when we look at one another, acknowledge one another, show love. Commons, followed by resonance, comes into being at interstitial points: collaborate; network globally; visualise (he cites Visualizing Palestine as a strong example). Mirzoeff describes himself as a militant researcher, an activist academic, an academic who not only comments on activism but engages in it directly. The research he engages with is not simply about the activist causes, but designed to strengthen the cause further. The recently available Militant Research Handbook that Mirzoeff co-produced is an invitation to its readers to engage in militant research in a way that fits. It urges vision, re-imagining new spaces, changes from the ground up and optimism.
In recent weeks The Occupy Card was launched by the Occupy Money Cooperative, a banking co-operative that offers ‘low-cost, transparent, high quality financial services to the 99%’ and whose aim is to ‘revolutionize the current financial system by offering alternative products and services based on the principles of democracy, inclusion, and fairness’. But what are we really talking about when we say ‘the current financial system’? Do we really understand how the financial markets (dys)function? These and other questions are at the root of Dr Mark Curran’s current art research project THE MARKET, which, alongside O’Mahony’s work, was installed as part of Labour and Lockout. A quote transcribed from a telephone conversation between Curran and a London based investment bank trader in February 2013, which features in the installation, succinctly captures the point that Curran makes in THE MARKET, that the global financial system is central to our lives yet our understanding of market mechanism is scant or misinformed: …what people don’t understand… is that what happens in the market is pivotal to their lives… not on the periphery…but slap, bang, in the middle…
Curran claims that the market is constructed and there is widespread complicity in creating and maintaining the construct. He pointed to more than one image of members of the Irish government photographed in global stock exchanges ringing the exchange bell to signify the opening of that day’s trading, even at a time when Ireland was itself out of the market because of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and EU bailout, but still desperate, it seemed, to create the impression of normality. In his research and art objects he makes visible and audible the hidden functionality of the global markets so that it can be observed and explored. One hidden functionality is algorithms, employed in algorithmic/high frequency/black-box trading practices that replace human decision making and risk taking in market trading. The algorithms are capable of experiencing and self-evolving, which, it has already been warned could, over time, give rise to ‘normalisation of deviance’. Curran reported alarming statistics in the growth of algorithmic trading that now account for as much as 80% of market trading in the US. Curran, along with Ken Curran, designed an algorithm to identify how often the Irish Minister of Finance used the words ’market’ or ’markets‘ in public speeches since taking office in March 2011. The algorithm’s output is manipulated into visual and aural forms and makes up part of THE MARKET installation. The extent and depth of Curran’s knowledge was impressive and he confirmed that he continues to work on THE MARKET, buoyed by what he senses is a thirst from the general public to understand more.
There was more, much more than what has been mentioned here. Justice cannot be done to all of the rich discourse that evolved over three days, framed in the issues raised by Allan Sekula and Noel Burch’s The Forgotten Space (2010), which was screened on the opening night: precarious labour, capital and information flows, global resources, global citizenship, exploitation, borders, art and visuality, activism. LAND │LABOUR │CAPITAL was rich, stimulating, invigorating, profoundly affecting, optimistic and collaborative and, without doubt, a formative milestone in Future State’s existence.
Recordings of the event will be added to this website soon.
Dennis Cosgrave argues that we ‘cannot know nature outside the historical circumstances in which we find ourselves. Nature has a history.’(1) That history; the culture of agriculture, has been shaped by agricultural practices that were informed by local, tacit knowledge. Called dinnseanchas in Gaelic, this specific local knowledge of geneology and agricultural practice, was a way of holding onto the practiced knowledge of place developed over generations. ‘Tacit’ knowledge could not be explained through words alone but had to be demonstrated in practice. It applied only to the specific place where it had been developed, and it made sense as part of a wider understanding of one’s relationship to one’s holdings.’(2) Over the past fifty years official agricultural policies have devalued that knowledge in favor of codified, scientific knowledge that was more efficient and ‘rendered methods developed for specific locations redundant.’(3)
The decline in the numbers of small farms in the west of Ireland slowed when Ireland joined the European Economic Community, the EEC in 1973, however that also marked the moment when farming practice diverged from tradition and became linked to subsidy. A resentment towards agricultural “experts” and decades of official disregard of local knowledge, has led to sceptical and often cynical attitudes amongst small farmers towards “official” rural policies. The emphasis has further shifted to the promotion of the farmer as custodian of the landscape and environment, prioritising the history, meaning and appearance of the land over its arable utility. In this light of previous experience, it is no surprise that farmers are slow to become involved with the contemporary rural development agenda further exacerbating the social and cultural isolation of many small farmers.
The psycho-dynamics of competing subjectivities being played out in rural public space today continues to engender tensions and conflict within rural communities when interests collide and particularly noticeable in relation to planning, tourism and heritage developments. The effect of globalisation on local agricultural practices is most evident in contemporary rural Ireland by the shift from food production to high-value cultural production. Responsibilities that were once the landowners are now a matter for National and European regulatory agencies. Visual decisions were once a part of the commonsense, commonplace knowledge of everyday rural life; field management, wall construction, ploughing, planting, or inventing ways of ‘making do’ in order to make tasks easier. They have a social and aesthetic value which is of enormous relevance in contemporary culture, particularly in relation to sustainable development.
My research has been focused on examining and unpacking the power relations playing out in conflicts between competing perspectives on landscape and identifying new methodologies that use cultural space to re-examine and re-present complex questions, perspectives and voices that are unheard or cannot yet be heard. Sustaining rural culture is a problem across Europe as food production moves to cheaper supply bases and EU policy, and subsidy, changed so that the farmer is now the custodian of the landscape and environment and prioritising the history, meaning and appearance of the land over its arable utility.(4) This move away from traditional farming has prioritised a post-productivist agenda; areas such as “alternative” food production, local tourism development and through LEADER, a focus on activating participatory, “bottom-up”, governance models where the design and implementation of development action is handed over to local stakeholders. (5)
Áine Macken-Walshe recently published a report for Teagasc, the Irish agriculture and food development authority, that examines the socio-cultural factors governing the “poor engagement” of farmers and fishers in adapting to recent changes in rural development polocies. A signifigant number of traditional farmers continue to follow “non-viable” small–scale farming and are slow to become involved in economic activities – the ‘cultural turn’, in line with the contemporary rural development agenda, maintaining a sceptical distance from “official” rural policy development. Macken-Walshe notes that many farmers experience occupational and cultural estrangement from new policy driven agricultural practices such as organic food production, farmer’s markets, cultural tourism initiatives etc. (6)
What immediate thoughts come to mind when you read the words Land│Labour│Capitaland, going further, in what way do they resonate with your research interests and curatorial practice?
My immediate thought on ‘land labour capital’ is one word: reality. It may sound strange to say ‘reality’ rather than ‘production’, as land, labour and capital, drawn from an economics discourse, are seen as the fundamentals of modern production, but there is a reason why I prioritise ‘reality’. We live in an extraordinary time in the history of capitalism: the way production is being re-configured today is transforming the very consistency of reality. Production is changing – this is what we are experiencing in terms of an economic ‘crisis’. An entire way of life is being undone: the welfare state, pensions and time to get old, the link between capitalism and democracy, the consumer society as a Western society, the idea of the middle class, and so on. All this, and a lot more, is changing because capitalism is re-organising production. And in this context, certain questions become urgent: what is the role of labour in its struggle against the appropriations of capital? Is there an oppositional working class? What is its current composition?
My research , I suppose, tries to make art history (the art history of the contemporary) contribute to a broader effort, across disciplines in the humanities and social science, to answer the above questions. For example, I am very interested in how the institutions of art become productive spaces. Or how globalisation on the ground (the materiality of globalised space) becomes a production site for the contemporary artist. And I think it is now impossible to understand the deeper transformation of ‘contemporary art’ if we don’t consider the fact that in postmodernism (late 1960s to early 1990s) everyone talked about consumption, consumerism and the like. Now, in globalisation proper, suddenly everyone talks about production. The discourse changed because the material conditions we address as ‘capitalism’ changed. This is pretty much what Kirsten Lloyd and I tried to suggest in ECONOMY, a curatorial project we initiated in Scotland earlier this year.
You mention the ECONOMY exhibition that you curated along with Kirsten Lloyd of the Stills Gallery in Edinburgh. Could you say a little more about the curatorial concept behind this ambitious group exhibition?
ECONOMY was an art historical show, based on research in the field of contemporary art. This means that it did not seek to just showcase new art attending to economy or art that responds to the so called ‘crisis’. Rather, its starting point was a reflection on the periodisation of contemporary art, a periodisation deemed necessary because of the changes brought about by capitalist globalisation. So, the curatorial project sought to identify and interpret an important shift within contemporary art overall, and this was realised in the two parallel exhibitions, the residencies, the events where specific issues were discussed with the public and also the website which, for example, includes a Reading Room and a public image archive documenting the many faces and meanings of ‘economy’.
The exhibitions brought together work from the past two decades, attempting a re-contextualisation of this work in hindsight. For instance, a well-known piece by Tracey Emin from 2000 received a different interpretation in the show. We paid a lot of attention to the captions accompanying each piece and to the information available in the exhibitions guide, because ECONOMY was a genuinely collaborative project among its two curators and it arose from extensive discussions, which led us to work together and develop a specific political position, which is what we openly presented. In ECONOMY, we explicitly identified Phase 2 of contemporary art (from the 1990s to date) with an economic turn witnesssed across the making of art, writing about it and in the curatorial field as well. The website Reading Room shows a notable increase in exhibitions and writings on questions of production, labour, class – subjects that were marginalised in Phase 1 of contemporary art known as ‘postmodernism’. And we wished to explore what this new economic subject was about, to the extent possible. I say this because we could have included many more artworks but in the current climate of funding cuts this was impossible. We had to be selective and opt for artworks that represented entire sub-paradigms – for example, artwork about ecology, or childhood or sex or work or love or migration or finance and so on. Our key question was: If economy was no longer just the economy, how did this become manifest in art?
But this ‘how’ did not just address thematic units but also the very transformation of artistic production, artists’ ways of working. For example, we looked at the fact that some art at least was no longer about display and representation but attempeted direct intervention beyond the art institution, to which it only returned as a social document. Or we ended up with many women artists, regrettably still an unusual feature of a mixed group show – and this despite decades of feminist critique in the art world. Funnily enough, we did not deliberately select more female than male artists but the importance of the gender divide for a globalised capitalist economy meant that much radical art recently was made by women – often women conversant with feminist politics. A telling example is Tanja Ostojic’s investigation of the sexualisation of the migrant in her Looking for a husband with EU Passport (2000-2005). And of course Eastern Europe was central to our argument as the region became the test ground of an accelerated implementation of ‘global capitalism’.
Of all the art works and films in ECONOMY, including Tanja Ostojic’s Looking for a husband with EU Passport (2000-2005) and Tracey Emin’s work, which you cite above, what piece or pieces divided opinion among the audience the most and why?
I wouldn’t say that a specific work truly divided the audience. But to the extent that I was able to discuss things with members of the audience, a lot of people were shocked by the situation presented in Jenny Marketou‘s video of children art collectors in New York. The video shows in unambiguous terms what ‘privilege’ means, and how it shapes the art world. Privilege shapes subjectivity, including the subjectivity of children. We were keen to show this video in the same space where a video by two Swedish artists portrayed the lives of other children as slaves. The two social groups, the offspring of New York financiers and the ‘other’ fiercely deprived children, exist in the same world and they are both ‘the future’. The fact that they are children, and so formally unaccountable, raises myriad questions precisely because the subjectivity of children is not associated with ethical responsibility. The subjectivity of children is where you can observe the true power of the economy, of an organised form of production and consumption and the abysmal divisions it relies on and perpetuates.
To the extent that we, as curators, invited a more concrete response by the audience, this had to do with the WochenKlausur residency and the paradigm of ‘socially engaged’ art. As is known, WochenKlausur have since the early 1990s pioneered this type of work as action, leaving behind ‘art as representation’ of social ills and moving on to art as a pragmatic, focused intervention in a given social context. In our case, the context was a deprived community in Glasgow. We organised a public forum to discuss the contradictions this situation entailed, and the artists were present. These contradictions have certainly divided contemporary art criticism, for example Claire Bishop and Grant Kester a few years back. We did not wish to bury these persistent contradictions under the carpet but rather confront them. For example, is this art a license for the welfare state’s withdrawal or a pioneering avant-garde practising citizen solidarity? It is very hard for me to summarise the different responses of the public to this work, but what I learned is that ‘the public’ is in itself a group divided by class, gender, political beliefs and so on, and this is as important in understanding a response as the work done, which is measured by conventional or not criteria of ‘success’. I also admired the resilience of the artists and their collaborators. My understanding of artistic labour changed completely after I had the opportunity to encounter this process of work. I hope the same holds for some members of the audience at least.
Turning now to your university research and writing, what academic text/s are you reading right now and why?
I recently read Peter Osborne’s Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art as I remain interested in the question of periodisation of contemporary art and in the criteria or terms deployed today to explicate what we mean by ‘contemporary art’ in the first place – or even just ‘contemporary’. Anyone who teaches ‘contemporary art’ as a subject at university level is perplexed by the fact that the contemporary is linked to duration and not to a soon-to-disappear moment. The constitution of the contemporary has become a theoretical problem in its own right – and a political problem as well. Suffice to think of how (hastily, and even mistakenly, in my view) some anti-capitalist theorists eagerly recognise post-capitalist practices at the heart of the capitalist enterprise today to understand how critical the imperative for a history of the contemporary has become.
I am now reading Nancy Fraser’s Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neo-liberal Crisis, a collection of her essays over many years. Reading them makes easy to grasp the fallacy that occurs when theories of capitalist globalisation, including those on its so-called crisis, disregard gender and its role in the extremely complex production process that global capitalism has become. I am interested in an anti-separatist feminism and Fraser’s writings help me see why.
And I am also reading an older book,from the 1930s, Curzio Malaparte’s Tecnica del Colpo di Stato, about the seizure of state power. I have been shocked by the anti-democratic tendencies of the current mode of production, the massive loss of confidence in representative democracy and the increasing erosion of the link between capitalism and democracy – a link that was very crucial, for example, in capitalist hegemony as served by Cold-War America. The production model promoted by contemporary capital where all time becomes work time leaves no time for being a citizen. And the massive poverty it generates turns people to religion, which is associated with a supreme authority in all its expressions. China’s success in the capitalist markets is demonstrating that contemporary capitalism does not need democracy, and this is a fundamental aspect of it. Yet the rejection of democracy seems to inspire at present both neo-fascist and progressive forces – although I despise any short-sighted and ideologically spurious attempt to establish any conceivable links between them. Yet I’m reading anything that has something to say about the rejection of democracy, as I am trying to understand where and when such a rejection emerges. And I am of course interested in contemporary art’s nods towards an anti-democracy impulse, although art remains too polite mostly and is disinclined from crossing health & safety lines – which, yes, does reveal something about its potential and limitations as praxis, as doing.
Aside from academic publications you have also sucessfully published a number of works of contemporary fiction in your native Greek language. What sort of fiction do you write and can we look forward to one of your works of fiction in English one day?
I published my first novel at 28, in the course of doing my PhD in England. I suppose this says immediately three things: that I found reading all this new (for me) theory inspiring, that writing fiction in Greek while abroad was a way for me to remain connected to my language, and – crucially- that I had time to do so in a broader context of intellectual stimulation. I stress this last factor because although I used to think that writing fiction and being an academic were compatible activities, the UK academia’s total control by a neo-capitalist ethos of ‘production for production’s sake’ and draining administrative hell leaves no room for anything else. I think a lot of us did not realise what we were walking into, and what our passive acceptance of a status quo has engendered. I sometimes want to point my doctoral students to an escape route.
I have written four novels, a collection of stories and various shorter works. I can’t possibly summarise here the themes (especially as I write stuff with a plot) but everything is written with Europe as its background, or even the world. There is a lot of movement, that’s for sure. And a lot of parody. And harsh language. I am interested in parents who abandon their children, in the opportunism that mediates human relations, and so on. One novel, The Manifesto of Defeat (2006), is a re-writing of The Magus by John Fowles but in a way that addresses the devastating impact on Southern Europe of its stereotypical rendering as a holiday land and as a land that belongs to an idealised past. Curiously, it is also a book about fascism and metaphysics, and a book that expresses a terrible opinion about the pretensions of art.
I mention this novel in particular because it gives the answer to your question whether my fiction is likely to be translated or not any time soon. If the answer is not obvious by now, let me cite the response of a German publisher to a Greek writer I know, just a few years back: ‘We don’t want Greek authors to write about Kafka, we want them to write about windmills’. That said, the new portrayal of Greece as a land of riots and capitalist drama may finally liberate us from the beach-plus-Acropolis curse…
Normalisation of Deviance is the title of an visual and aural art installation by artist Mark Curran. Part of the basis for the installation is an algorithm, designed by Ken Curran, to identify how often the Irish Minister of Finance, Michael Noonan, used the words ’market‘ or ’markets‘ in public speeches since taking office in March 2011. The algorithm’s output is manipulated into multiple forms: visual and aural; manifesting as soundscapes accompanying spectrographs. The artist describes the installation as “attempting to represent the defining and ceaseless sound of the global markets through a pivotal conduit of capital, the nation-state“.
The first installment of the work is currently on display in Limerick City Gallery of Art as part of the group exhibition Labour and Lockout. As well as photographs, artefacts and transcribed converstions the installation incorporates the Michael Noonan algorithmic soundscape and a 6 feet column of A4 paper representing the data generated from 14,000 positions taken globally on a single financial stock in one nanosecond (measured by Chicago based researcher in 2011). The text on the paper is a quote transcribed from a telephone conversation between Curran and a London based investment bank trader in February 2013:
…what people don’t understand… is that what happens in the market is pivotal to their lives… not on the periphery…but slap, bang, in the middle…
The trader’s quote tells us that trading of stock market positions is occurring faster than humans can communicate; we think we understand the mechanics of the market but we have no realistic way of knowing.
The title of the installation, Normalisation of Deviance, and Curran’s use of algorithms draws attention to the increased use of algorithm trading in the global stock markets, also referred to as ‘black box trading‘ or ‘high frequency trading‘. In his research Curran points to a 2012 report by the British Government’s Office for Science, which predicts that algorithmic trading will replace human trading activity in the global stock markets within a decade. Curran observes:
In the same report, the authors state algorithms will eventually be able to self-evolve through their ability to experience i.e. building upon their previous market experiences and therefore requiring no human intervention. However, they also warn, that within such a framework, there exists the potential for what they describe as the Normalisation of Deviance, when ‘unexpected and risky events come to be seen as ever more normal until a disaster occurs‘.
The Normalisation of Deviance installation also raises questions about the normalisation of citizens to economic concepts and market ideologies as a result of neo-liberalism and globalisation.
Normalisation of Deviance will be installed simultaneously in galleries in Dublin and Belfast later in the month, where spectrographs will appear in place of the trader’s quote to reproduce the paper column and therefore revealing the true source of the soundscape which envelopes the entire installation.
The Normalisation of Deviance is part of an ongoing research project titled THE MARKET, undertaken by Mark Curran and curated by Helen Carey, Director of the Limerick City Gallery of Art. Described as a “transnational multi-sited project… [that] focuses on the functioning of the global stock and commodity markets“, Curran has sought access, with, to date, varying degrees of success, to the trading floors of the stock markets in Dublin, London, Frankfurt and Addis Ababa, key nodes in the network of stock markets that play out the global financial crisis.
Curran’s point of departure is to propose that the market is a construct, a myth, an ideal that does not resemble reality. The invisible control of the world‘s resources, the complex relations of power, algorithmic trading of stock market positions faster than humans can communicate: we think we understand but we don’t.
In his book The Right To Look, Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff describes the set of contemporary social conditions in the West as a “military-industrial complex” where “the real goal is maintaining a permanent state of crisis, rather than achieving a phantasmic victory” and “the point is less to win than to keep playing, permanently moving to the next level in the ultimately massively multi-player environment”. Military – industrial complex is separate to capitalism but it is not difficult to imagine the same game being played out in a global financial crisis where the reward for survival is a place in the market and a crisis solution, unless it benefits the market, is ignored.
Curran’s Normalisation of Deviance is on display as part of Labour and Lockout, an exhibition marking the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lockout: a key moment in Ireland’s industrial history when employers refused to recognize workers in an attempt to break worker solidarity and the trade union movement. Curran has been invited to speak about this work at Land │ Labour │ Capital, a free, public symposium taking place 26-28 September in Limerick City Gallery of Art in collaboration with Future State, and Goldsmiths, University of London.
 Curran, M., (2012) ‘About’ in Lockout 2013. A Visual Art Research Project Marking the Forthcoming Centenary of the 1913Dublin Lockout. Available at: http://lockout2013.wordpress.com/about/ (accessed 31/11/2012)