Goodness, three years ago now Christopher Rodrigues and I worked non-stop on this project below. We were skint and nigh homeless. (We still are!)
Anyway, we didn’t find the backing we needed and have since crossed continents looking for opportunities.
It would be a shame if this work, dealing with the Great Financial Crisis, didn’t see the light of day. So, I’m deciding to publish it here. Who knows how timing works?
⤷ Anatomy Of An Unrealised Project
The following is a proposal for an exhibition dealing with the Great Financial Crisis provisionally entitled: “TWO THOUSAND AND EIGHT …” Regarding its material finish and scale it remains a work in progress as we must cut our coat according to our cloth. Gráinne McHugh and I, collaborating as Gail Luis, initially conceived of bronzes, but acrylic and polished concrete also recommend themselves, so does ceramic — Gráinne’s primary medium.
If everything takes shape, the pieces will be exhibited either in a city with a significant financial centre or somewhere entangled in the mare’s nest.
We have aspired to do two things: sculpturally embody the form of a portentous graph and present critically minimalist statements that avoid sloganeering easy exits.
TWO THOUSAND AND EIGHT …
By the end of October 2008 it was official, both the UK and the US were in recession. In the preceding months, financial behemoths on either side of the Atlantic had either gone to the wall or needed rapid transfusion. The awry jargon of subprime mortgages, collateralised debt obligations and credit default swaps seared through the body politic like a fast killing poison. $40 trillion of equity globally had been eviscerated. This wasn’t merely some cyclical phenomena it was, just as 1929 had been, a capital-C Crash.
The violent shocks continue. What began as a banking crisis has since morphed into a sovereign debt crisis. Decade old certainties have loosened, foundations have cracked; geography and ideology have re-emerged. Comparisons are drawn with the 1930s. Morbid symptoms abound.
Our work represents aspects of this epochal present. It takes as its departure point one seminal metric: the daily closing value of the Dow Jones Industrial Average between September and October of that year.
Another emphasis is the proto-fascist concept of the merger of corporate and state power. Two explicit references are made to Italian fascism in particular because its corporativist foundations anticipate features of another synergy — neoliberalism:
Everything In/ Nothing Outside/ Nothing Against refers to Benito Mussolini’s 1927 Ascension Speech; The Continuous Profile to a noted 1933 ceramic bust of the dictator by the futurist sculptor Renato Bertelli.
What we have in mind is the affinity between the “all-embracing” claims of both ideologies—what the fascists’ official philosopher, Giovanni Gentile, described thus: “outside [of which] no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value”.
This skein is extended through the use of an Italian Art Deco lettering style.
Art Deco “with its sharp lines and blunt massing of material, its petrified eroticism” was, as Susan Sontag put it, “the fascist style at its best”. It was also “above all the art of selling” everything from cigarette lighters to skyscrapers — a kinship that wouldn’t have been lost on Mussolini:
“The fascist regime does not intend to nationalise, or worse bureaucratise, the entire national economy, it is enough to control it and discipline it through the corporations.”
The Hungarian intellectual Gáspar Miklós Tamás coined the phrase “post-fascism”. It describes the present-day degradation of the notion of citizenship: “What is left … is the pure bourgeois without the [citizen].” Think too big to fail. Think Greece. Think Trump. Think refugees.(“Post-fascism reverses the Enlightenment tendency to assimilate citizenship to the human condition”.) We make similar such points with Oxi; The National Razor — a French Revolution sobriquet for the guillotine now re-envisaged as a symbol of terrifying austerity; and Make America Great Again.
There are other aesthetic conceits, too: El Lissitzky’s 1919 Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge (The Laboratory Of The Future); Fransisco Goya’s 1799 The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (The Sleep Of Goldman); Warhol Prince Hirst — mentioned as examples of what could also be called “Art Incorporated”.
These are all subtexts, of course. We don’t think an audience needs to be engaged with the history of ideas into order to intuit our anti-democratic drift. Public Funds has a sinister feel, suggestive of a camp of some sort; Surplus And Deficit represents the authoritarian capitalist model that’s The People’s Republic of China.
If, as is our intention, a political economist opens the show, no doubt, other meanings will be generated besides.
To elucidate the other phrases that we have used:
Stockholm Syndrome derives from the 1973 robbery of Kreditbanken in the Swedish capital.
It’s Like Seeing A Guy/ Show Up At The Soup Kitchen/ In High Hat And Tuxedo refers to U.S. representative Gary Ackerman’s quip at the 2008 “Big Three” automative bailout hearings. (The CEOs of Chrysler, Ford and General Motors had just alighted from their private jets to ask Congress for $50 billion in order to stave off bankruptcy.)
The Statement Is Pointless/ The Finger is Speechless is taken from R.D. Laing’s Knots — a collection of ironic dialogue-scenarios that fit our sense of there being no easy exits.
Private Money introduces the idea that financial instruments, like the above mentioned collateralised debt obligations, had become a “means of exchange”. Former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis:
Notice the irony: in a world ideologically dominated by monetary conservatism, and ringing with long sermons about the perils of printing money, the effective money supply had been turned over to privateers bent on flooding the markets with money of their own making. How did this differ, really, from handing the Fed’s printing presses over to the mafia?
The phrase could also read as both the counterpart of Public Funds and How Many Angels Can Dance On The Head Of A Pin. (We can think of no better description of financial derivatives, such as forwards, futures, options and swaps, than to compare them with the metaphysics of an old scholastic chestnut.) Indeed, all these texts stand in relation to each other and ought to be scanned back and forth.
The Antropocene is left field, but our human geological age is, first and foremost, an economic one. The Industrial Revolution, which marks, if not the beginning, then, the climatic acceleration of the epoch, was borne from innovation in large-scale credit systems. (American geographer Jason W. Moore: “The rise of a capitalist world-economy and the rise of a capitalist world-ecology were two moments of the same world historical process.”) Sculpturally, too, there’s an obvious environmental facet in the vertical and slope of the graph.
Finally, Utopia represents the latent possibility that something progressive might emerge. However, it needs to be constructed and differentiated. Slavoj Žižek:
The true Utopia is when the situation is so without issue, without a way to resolve it within the coordinates of the possible, that … you are forced to imagine it as the only way out …
Were The Project Stands …
As mentioned above — it remains a work in progress. The manufacturing thereof will result in additions, subtractions and serendipities. We’re still in search of statements, for instance, that speak to the evictions, the terminal job losses and the garrotting of pensions and savings. (One possibility would be to affix a Monopoly board game house to the Dow Jones graph; another resides in the following correlation: ‘1% Cut 0.43% Suicide’.)
Excluding the above and the multiples of Public Funds, we conceive of, more or less, eighteen pieces. (For the purpose of our models, renders, and sketches, the graphs’ dimensions are: H:53.8, L:36.4, W:8.9cm; the clay maquette’s: H: 22 cm.)
What we need is support from a gatekeeper and a gallery. What one might term “the aura of selection”. This is the sine qua non . The right funding and/or technical residency will allow us to put meat on the bones.
© Gail Luis 2016