Normalisation of Deviance

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“.


Installation shot of ‘Normalisation of Deviance’ by Mark Curran.
Image courtesy of Helen Carey.

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 Normalisation of Deviance II’
(Algorithm to identify Michael Noonan’s application of the words, market/markets in public speeches since taking office in March 2011 from THE MARKET, a project by Mark Curran.

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‘[1]. 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.


‘The Normalisation of Deviance I’
(Spectrograph of selection of audio generated by Michael Noonan’s application of the words, market/markets in public speeches since taking office in March 2011) from THE MARKET, a project by Mark Curran.

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“[2], 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.


‘Bethlehem, Trader’
Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX)
September, 2012 Addis Abeba, Ethiopia
from THE MARKET, a project by Mark Curran.

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”[3]. 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.

[1] Curran, M., (2012) ‘About’ in Lockout 2013. A Visual Art Research Project Marking the Forthcoming Centenary of the 1913  Dublin Lockout. Available at: (accessed 31/11/2012)
[2] Curran, M., (2012) ‘Normalisation of Deviance’ in Lockout 2013. A Visual Art Research Project Marking the Forthcoming Centenary of the 1913  Dublin Lockout. Available at: (accessed 9/8/2013)
[3] Mirzoeff, N., (2011) ’The Right to Look, or, How to Think With and Against Visuality’, The Right to Look, Durham & London. Duke University Press. p. 21.

Global Ghost Towns: Photography Showcase

Global Ghost Towns: Photography Showcase


Emma Cummins continues her exploration of contemporary ghost towns by showcasing the work of five artists and photographers. From Anthony Haughey’s images of Ireland’s ‘ghost estates’ to Richard Allenby-Pratt’s photographs of deserted cities in Dubai—the effects of the global economic crisis are revealed in a very visual way.

Attracting attention from newspapers such as The Guardian and The New York Times, ‘ghost towns’ are a common architectural landmark across today’s globalised world—but what do these images reveal about neoliberal development?


Anthony Haughey – Settlement (2011)


‘Settlement XI’, Anthony Haughey 2011


‘Settlement I’, Anthony Haughey 2011

Following years of intense development, a devastating property bubble emerged in Ireland, which eventually burst in 2008.  As a result, the effects of the global economic crisis have been painfully exacerbated by homeowner equity problems and a shocking profusion of empty and partially constructed buildings.  Recently recategorised as ‘ghost estates’, these modern day ruins have inspired a wide range of photography and visual art projects—from Michael O’Hallaran’s images of the rise and fall of the property market, to Valérie Anex’s striking photo-essay ‘Ghost Estates’ in The New York Times.

Amongst the many photographic projects that explore the thousands of unfinished buildings in Ireland, Settlement, by Anthony Haughey, has attracted the most critical attention.  There is good reason for this: in addition to his beautifully-shot, long exposure photographs – produced between sunset and sunrise – Settlement brings together proposals by students and architectural firms for how these developments could be improved.  As Dorothy Hunter explains: ‘[…]whilst these particular proposals shall probably never be realised, it is through this work that we consider what alternative methods exist for gaining control of a paralysed environment – be they artistically expressive actions, or spatial solutions’.

Settlement has been exhibited at venues including Belfast Exposed and The Copper House Gallery, Dublin.  Haughey’s work is currently on view at the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing as part of the group show New Irish Landscapes.

For more on Settlement see the artist’s website:


Edgar Martins – This Is Not A House (2008)


From the series ‘This Is Not A House’, Edgar Martins (2008)


From the series ‘This Is Not A House’, Edgar Martins (2008)

Edgar Martins’ unforgettable images of abandoned homes explore the subprime mortgage crisis and property market collapse in the United States.  Rooted in the development of a vicious housing bubble that began in 2001, “mortgage meltdown” reached a peak in 2006 with an unprecedented rise if foreclosures.  By the end of 2007, nearly 2 million Americans had lost their homes, leaving streets in Florida, California, Michigan and beyond with many unoccupied properties.

As seen in Martins’ touring exhibition This is Not a House, his images have a surreal, almost apocalyptic quality.  Originally commissioned for a feature in The New York Times, the photographs sparked controversy when it was revealed that Martins digitally edited some of the images in the series.  As the artist explains: ‘Photojournalism has never felt the need to challenge or contravene certain rules, aesthetic or ethical.  Yet, within this framework there is a perpetual search, not to mention a real need, to find new ways of assimilating and representing the real.  I viewed this project, from the outset, as a platform to explore new models for conceptualising a particularly contemporary phenomenon and landscape.  The work was therefore structured as ‘a photographic intervention into a crisis, a crisis that is only in part economic’’.

This is Not a House has been exhibited at several venues, including The Wapping Project Bankside in London and more recently The Gallery of Photography in Dublin.  Martins’ work is currently on show at Somerset House, London as part of the exhibition Landmark: The Fields of Photography.

For more on the artist’s work see his website:


Richard Allenby-Pratt – Abandoned (2011)


‘Hyena’, Richard Allenby-Pratt (2011)


‘Ibex’, Richard Allenby-Pratt (2011)

Following decades of economic growth, Dubai’s economy began to decline in 2009 with the dramatic bursting of its investment and property bubble.  As Patrick Collinson writes in an article for The Guardian: ‘House prices in the desert sheikhdom dropped by an extraordinary 40% in the first three months of 2009, outpacing falls anywhere else in the world […]’. With the collapse of the country’s lucrative property market, capital fled Dubai at speed, leaving many buildings unfinished and motorways unused.

These strange urban landscapes are the subject of a stunning series of photographs by Richard Allenby-Pratt.  Simply titled Abandoned, the series depicts exotic animals – such as gazelles, zebras, rhinoceroses and hyenas – in environments originally intended for wealthy people and businessmen.  As the artist explains: ‘The project imagines a future without people, where the relics of our unrealised ambitions are populated by some of the species we have, in the present day, come so close to exterminating.  I hope to highlight the fragility of our economic systems and the desperate need for us to be responsible guardians of our environment’.

Abandoned was included in the 2011 London Association of Photographers Awards.  The project was also awarded an honourable mention at the Paris PX3 Awards and came second in the international category of the Al Thani Awards in Qatar.  Abandoned is currently being exhibited at Shelter in Al Serkal Avenue, Dubai, to coincide with Art Dubai week.

For more on Allenby-Pratt’s work see his website:


Michael Christopher Brown – Ordos (2010)


From the series ‘Ordos’, Michael Christopher Brown (2010)


From the series ‘Ordos’, Michael Christopher Brown (2010)

The impending implosion of China’s real-estate market has been the subject of countless articles and TV documentaries.  Less well documented are the millions of empty buildings that have proliferated in recent years.  Estimates suggest there could be over 16 million vacant homes in China—many of these lie unsold, whilst others have been bought as speculative investments.

In the impressive series of photographs Ordos, Micheal Chrisopher Brown reveals the effects of rampant development on a wealthy coal-mining town in Inner Mongolia.  Collected in a photo-essay for Time magazine, images from this series focus on the Kangbashi district—an area replete with office blocks, administrative centres, government buildings, museums, theatres, sports fields and acres of middle-class houses.  As Time’s editorial explains: the only problem is that ‘the district was originally designed to house, support and entertain 1 million people, yet hardly anyone lives there’.

Brown’s other projects include Xiasi (2010) – a two-part series produced during train and road trips in China – and Broadway (2009) which explores American identity amidst a global financial crisis.  Brown has worked as a contributing photographer at National Geographic Magazine since 2005 and was a finalist for the Emerging Photographer of the Year award for three years running.

For more on Brown’s work see his website:


Markel Redondo ­– Tu Casa es Mi Casa (2011–2012)


From the series ‘Tu Casa es Mi Casa’ (Residencial Francisco Hernando in Sesena), Markel Redondo (2011)


From the series ‘Tu Casa es Mi Casa’, Markel Redondo (2011–2012)

Between 1998 and 2007, Spain’s housing stock increased by approximately 5.7 million units.  Responding in part to increased demand – afforded by factors such as immigration, rising divorce levels and an increased interest in buy-to-let properties – an astonishing number of new buildings were constructed in urban, rural and suburban environments.  When Spain’s “boom decade” reached an abrupt halt in 2007, the damage produced by years of frenzied development was revealed in a very visible way—estimates suggest that there are over one million vacant or unfinished houses in the country.

Coterminous to Spain’s housing crisis, levels of unemployment remain astonishingly high.  At the beginning of 2013, the country’s unemployment rate was 26%, with joblessness among young people reaching an unprecedented 55%.  As evidenced in Markel Redondo’s emotive series of photographs, Tu Casas es Mi Casa, the demise of Spain’s property-led economy has transformed the country’s social and material landscape.  Focusing on the lives of unemployed people living in two Andalucian ‘ciudades fantasmas’ (‘ghost towns’), the series highlights the impact of economic crisis on people and places.  As Redondo explains: ‘Even in this corner of the developed world, the impact of economic crisis is resulting in the often surreal juxtaposition of a hand to mouth existence lived amongst the ruins of failed urban and economic development’.

Markel Redondo’s work has been featured in numerous publications including Time, Le Monde, New York Times and Wall Street Journal.  He came third in the Lens Culture Exposure Award in 2012, and was a finalist in the International Photojournalism Award in 2010.  Tu Casa es Mi Casa is currently on show at the Espai de fotografia in Barcelona.

For more on Redondo’s series Tu Casa es Mi Casa see his website:


Contemporary Ghosts Towns: A Photo-Essay

Contemporary Ghost Towns: A Photo-Essay


Following on from last week’s podcast, independent writer Emma Cummins continues her exploration of contemporary ghost towns through a photo-essay .  Her interest in the problematic phraseology of the term ‘ghost town’ inspired recent visits to many unfinished and unoccupied housing developments in Ireland and Spain.

The term ‘ghost town’ has been used for centuries to describe areas that residents vacated due to deindustrialization, urbanization, civil conflict, natural or man-made disasters or, most commonly today, the patterns of urban regeneration and development.  In contrast to the image of post-Fordist Detroit or a small town in America abandoned during the gold rush,  most contemporary ‘ghost towns’ never realise  their potential, in the first instance, as a site of community and economic activity.

In contemporary usage, the terms ‘ghost town’, ‘ghost estate’ and ‘ghost city’ often describe empty or unfinished buildings that proliferated in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis.  The terms imply that the developments ‘haunt’ us  and remind us of the problems of the past.  Although there are differences in approach between Spain and Ireland the search for a neoliberal solution to a neoliberal problem of ‘ghost towns’ is shared by both.  Rather than radically rethinking the workings of the housing market, the sole aim is to resuscitate a struggling construction market and continue to promote home ownership as the hallmark of a functioning, liberal society. How does the term ‘ghost town’ fit into this narrative? Is it a harmless and incidental addition to the contemporary urban lexicon?  Or does it function somehow as a means of hindering real change?

Download the essay ‘Pathological Geographies: The Materiality of the Global Financial Crisis‘ by Emma Cummins via MARA-STREAM, a digital platform hosted by the Centre for Research Architecture (CRA), Goldsmiths, University of London.

Visualising Contemporary Ireland #1

Visualising Contemporary Ireland #1


Analysis of a financial crisis is conducted almost exclusively in the jargon of politics and economics. Economists have become the new ideologues, whose fiscal solutions, wrapped in the technical language of the discipline, are readily absorbed and discussed in everyday conversations, alongside the weather, sport and fashion. Political analysis is pervasive too, but at the same time limited to the conventional and formal framework of the State, government, party politics, trade unions, social partnerships, citizenship and the Constitution.  Whatever the crisis is, it is a position of knowledge, so if we frame a set of questions in a different way we may get different answers.  What would happen if we analysed crisis in terms of visual culture: those elements of cultural production that rely on visual representations such as newspapers images, campaign posters, film, billboards and artists’ projects?

Visualising Contemporary Ireland is a new project from The Future State.  Engaging with Carl Schmitt’s theory of ‘the political’,  it will examine Ireland’s ‘financial ‘crisis’ through visual culture, on the understanding that aesthetics can reveal and perform the daily antagonisms that society must negotiate in order to overcome or re-affirm hegemonic narratives. At stake is the possibility of foregrounding Ireland’s visual culture in the formation of a new society.

Visualising Contemporary Ireland #1

Morrison, P. (2010) Untitled [Photograph]. The Guardian, 18 November 2010 [Online]. Available at (Accessed 1 February 2013)

This image appeared online in The Guardian newspaper on 18 November 2010 as part of a minute-by-minute report covering developments on the Irish bailout, which had just been announced. The article was updated at intervals throughout the day. The image above was published in the report at 11.23am. It depicts Ajai Chopra, the deputy director of the European department of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), along with a colleague, making his way towards the Central Bank of Ireland for the start of the bailout talks. A homeless man sits on the pavement holding a paper cup in his hand. The disparity is deliberate; later on a second photograph appears depicting another homeless beggar, cup in outstretched hand, just as the IMF officials hurry past.

The next report entry was published 28 minutes later and referenced another online article in the same newspaper that focused on the sense of shame and humiliation around Dublin that day at Ireland’s loss of face on the international stage. It carried a quote from rival newspaper The Irish Times, taken from an article titled Was It For This?,  which stated “It may seem strange to some that The Irish Times would ask whether this is what the men of 1916 died for: a bailout from the German chancellor with a few shillings of sympathy from the British chancellor on the side. There is the shame of it all. Having obtained our political independence from Britain to be the masters of our own affairs, we have now surrendered our sovereignty to the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.” Ireland’s postcolonial past was placed side by side with the ‘shame’ of its new status as debtor to the EU/IMF. Loss of financial sovereignty was equated with loss of national independence.

Postcolonial theory points to the construction of the Other-coloniser relationship, whereby the coloniser always has the upper hand. The coloniser sets itself up as the authority on the Other by virtue of the fact that he is there in the colonised land and thinks about the Other because “he could be there, or could think about it with very little resistance”.[1] The coloniser becomes a distributor of knowledge or awareness of the Other by “making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it: in short… dominating, restructuring and having authority over” it.[2] The perception of a distinction between the coloniser and the Other becomes the reality. If Ireland does have a new colonial master in the EU/IMF can it be said that this narrative/reality has, in part at least, been created in reverse, by Irish society rather than the coloniser?  And can it follow from this, that in narrating the distinction between the coloniser and Other, as visualised in the image above, Irish society continually performs and reinforces its colonised identity?

Email your thoughts to stephanie[at]


[1] Said, E. (1978) ‘Orientalism’ in Ashcroft, B., Griffiths, G., and Tiffin, H. (ed.) (1995) The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. London and New York.  Routledge. P. 90.

[2] Said, E. (1978) ‘Orientalism’ in Ashcroft, B., Griffiths, G., and Tiffin, H. (ed.) (1995) The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. London and New York.  Routledge. P. 88.