Mark Curran’s Normalisation of Deviance
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.