January 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

Having entered the centenary year of the Dublin Lockout, the words belong to the curator of this project, Helen Carey (Director, Limerick City Gallery of Art), and formed part of Helen’s presentation as part of a panel discussion held last October at the Arts Office of the Dublin City Council, The LAB. In the context of the exhibition, Digging the Monto, facilitated by Thomas Kador, the panel critically addressed the question of how to commemorate the 1913 Dublin Lockout, the 1916 Rising and the Treaty?

Thematically, Helen addressed the role of memory, the relationship between power and the construction of history and with such awareness, what is the role of contemporary visual art practice to mark this pivotal moment in Irish labour history with critical significance for the globalised present and the possibilities for a re-imagined future. Now available online, the presentations begin with Helen and are followed by  Mary Muldowney (Oral Historian, Trinity College Dublin), Padraig Yeates (Lockout  Historian & Writer),Roisin Higgins (Historian, Boston College), Pat Cooke (School of Art History & Cultural Policy, University College Dublin) and is chaired by Charles Duggan (Dublin City Council).

When we are talking about commemoration, we are talking about power and not necessarily history (Helen Carey)

Out Of The Pits: A Gursky Photograph and How to Represent Capital

December 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

Chicago Board of Trade II (1999) by Andreas Gursky

Chicago Board of Trade II (1999) by Andreas Gursky

A photograph of a frantic trading pit on an epic scale is installed on a gallery wall, its origins are the largest and oldest commodity exchange in the world. The photograph is titled Chicago Board of Trade II (1999) by German-born photographer, Andreas Gursky. Traversing the globe, Gursky makes images that reflect upon the human condition, as he sees it, manifest in urban, rural, cultural and industrial spaces. Although a former student of Bernd Becher (who worked professionally as an artist with his wife, Hilla Becher) at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf Art Academy), Gursky has not completely subscribed to the dogma of strict objectivity, having always cropped and manipulated negatives when necessary and more recently, incorporated digital manipulation into his practice.

The Chicago Board of Trade is an exemplary site of modernity…in this location, everyday relationships to the potential of money and the necessity of trade become extreme. Financial professionals bring together flow, speed and technology in the pursuit of profits, and when thousands of them gather everyday, they help create something larger – the market.

Installed in a central passageway of London’s Tate Modern, the cultural anthropologist, Caitlin Zaloom, first encountered the image while in the city as part of her long-term ethnographic research on traders. The words quoted above form part of her response to the abstraction of capital that the image invokes, she continues:

a clear message about the velocity of money and its disordering effects in the global economy. The market takes in vast waves of capital and spews them out again in a logic all of its own. Yet the for the crowd of spectators around the photogaph, the commotion and dissarray are entrancing. It is unsettling to examine the picture closely, especially because a literal understanding of the physical space, or of the traders’ labor, is impossible. Instead it is easier to step back from the photograph and absorb the overall impression of the global financial beehive (2010: 2).

Her encounter with Gursky’s photograph forms the introduction to her book, Out of the Pits: Traders and Technology from Chicago to London (2010) and pivotally defines her methodological approach. While, understanding the functioning of such an aesthetic, Zaloom advocates as a priority to move beyond the abstraction of capital, as visually embodied in Gursky’s photograph – a function capital embraces also in the context of technological evolution regarding the labour  of the traders themselves and their possible future abstraction – and a necessity, therefore, to look closer and in great detail at the apparatus of the global market:

Markets are objects of inquiry into the culture and economy of contemporary capitalism…today, the world’s powerful financial centers are the ones that need explanation. The mysteries of markets touch our lives, but few outside the financial profession understand them (2010: 11).

‘capital remains invisible’: L’Argent/Money (1928)

December 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

C’est proces est, peut-on dire…le proces de l’argent (You might say what is on trial…is money) proclaims the judge in the trial scene from the film L’Argent (Money). Directed by the French-born, Marcel L’Herbier and released in December, 1928, the film was an adaption of a story by the writer, Emile Zola. While Zola intended his story to be a ‘scathing representation of the French banking system of the Second Empire’, LHerbier sought in his ‘modernising’ version to ‘express, in all its modern virulence, his own contempt for money and capitalist speculation’. Centered on two duelling Bankers, the tale recounts their speculatory struggles against one another.


If somewhat ironically, the film cost almost 4 million French Francs at the time to produce, a fortune in today’s terms. L’Herbier had secured three full days access to the Paris Bourse (Paris Stock Exchange), where seeking to exploit the limited time,  ‘there were fifteen hundred extras, about fifteen technicians, scaffolding that went up to almost the summit of the cupola, forty metres from the floor…and cameras everywhere’ (L’Herbier). Such scale is reflected throughout the film and, could be argued, evokes the privileged context it seeks to critically address.

'Traders on the Trading Floor' (still from L'Argent, 1928)

‘Traders on the Trading Floor’ (still from L’Argent, 1928)

Prior to the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the central narrative is framed by the structures of world financial spheres, through images of the application of communications technology, named world city exchanges repeatedly referenced to locating the viewer in the midst of the Open Outcry of the traders on the Parisian Trading Floor. One of the innovative dimensions to the film is the ‘absolutely unprecedented mobile camera strategy’ (Noel Burch), exemplified in one key sequence. The film’s focus of speculation is the cross-channel flight of a pioneer pilot and the possible riches to be exploited from the site of his destination and at the time of his departure, the propellors of his plane mimic the frenzied activity of the Trading Pit of the Paris Bourse, ‘recorded by an automatic camera descending on a cable from the dome toward the central stock exchange ring’ (Richard Abel). The activities are visually bound, synergies heightened, the speculative process and those involved, implicated.

Trading Pit of the Paris Bourse (still from L'Argent, 1928)

Trading Pit of the Paris Bourse (still from L’Argent, 1928)

The film critically acknowledges the interconnectedness of a then world economy, and while the scales of precarity and scope of speculation could be argued to have broadened, the resonance regarding the defining function of the market for the global neoliberal present are significant. The film studies and cultural historian, Richard Abel, writes:

L’Argent’s achievement in the end, rests on the correlation it makes between discourse, narrative and the subject of capital. Capital is both everywhere and nowhere, as Pierre Jouvet argues, echoing Marx; it motivates nearly every character in the film and is talked about incessantly, but it is never seen or – as the ‘dung on which life thrives’ – even scented. Capital remains invisible, and yet, its ideological manifestation, produces a surplus of effects…the film reflects on and critiques that which it cannot represent directly – the crucial reference point of a crisis in capitalist exploitation or, more specifically, the condition of western capitalist society on the brink of the Great Depression. 


November 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

This forthcoming conference, part of a project of the same name, is taking place at Goldsmiths, University of London and will seek over the course of the two days:

to examine the repercussions of the crash for an island on the periphery of Europe from a cultural perspective. Examining cultural responses both pre and post economic meltdown, the conference will explore the possibilities of a new post-crisis Ireland: from the highly visible to the barely perceptible consequences of the crash and austerity, sources and limits of citizen resilience in crisis, the perceived value of cultural responses and active/passive citizenships. It will provide an opportunity for leading thinkers and practitioners across different disciplines to come together to discuss artists’ and citizens’ reactions and resilience in times of crisis and austerity.

A programme of visual and live art focused on crisis, resilience and endurance will intersect the conference schedule. 

Speakers include Fintan O’Toole, Professor Roy Foster, Troubling Ireland Think Tank (of which Helen Carey is a project participant) and Kennedy Browne amongst others. The key organisers are Dr. Derval Tubridy, Stephanie Feeney and Nicola Bunbury. The conference takes place on 17-18 November, 2012 and full details regarding speakers and booking can be found here.

‘flexible accumulation’

November 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

‘At the economic level, capitalism adopts a new model of flexible accumulation which exploits and recreates difference. At the political level, the world of interacting states is transformed by relations that move above and below the nation’.

(Burawoy, M. et al. (eds)(2000) Global Ethnography: Forces, Connections and Imaginations in a Postmodern World, Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 344)

Digging the Monto: An archaeology of tenement life and the 1913 Lockout

October 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Occurring at The LAB, the Arts Office of Dublin City Council, an exhibition will open this Thursday, October 25th and continue until November 10th.

Monto (image courtesy The LAB)


‘Drawing on the results of recent archaeological excavations undertaken by a community archaeology group led by Dr Thomas Kador, the show will feature a variety of visual displays including old photographs from the area, artefacts,  and historical census records’

The exhibition is accompanied by a number of free talks, a walking tour and discussions focusing on Dublin tenement life, the 1913 Lockout, and the proposed commemorations for the forthcoming centenary. Included in this programme on the opening night is a panel discussion titled

From the Lockout to the Rising and the Treaty: (How) should we commemorate?

It is chaired by Charles Duggan (Dublin City Council) / Padraig Yeates (Lockout Historian) / Pat Cooke (University College Dublin) / Mary Muldowney (Trinity College Dublin) / Roisin Higgins (Boston College) and the curator of this project, Helen Carey (Limerick City Gallery)

The discussion begins at 6pm and further information can be found here.

‘to know, realise and control’

October 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

‘The insertion of photography into the discursive field of management and the capitalist process of production, as a mechanism of objectification and as an instrument of subjection, is within the broader parameters of the desire of power of capital to know, realise, and control labour in its own image’

(Suren Lalvani (1996) Photography, Vision and the Production of Modern Bodies, Albany: State University of New York Press, p.139). Suren Lalvani was associate professor of humanities and communications at Pennsylvania State University until his early death in 1997, at the age of 43. Here is a short description addressing Lalvani’s work by Liz Wells from her edited publication, Photography: A Critical Introduction.

The Bull Laid Bear

August 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

(The Bull Laid Bear (film still by Begg and Ressler, 2012)

This year’s Eva International, the artist-centered biennale held in Limerick, Ireland was guest curated by Annie Fletcher. Thematically titled, After The Future, the city-wide event sought to ‘to examine how certain artistic practices provide an active invocation of the present and speculate how we arrived here in the first place. This collaborative and multifaceted project takes as its point of departure the media theorist and activist Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s book, After The Future (AK Press, 2011), considering his admonishment of economic futurisms and advocacy for living slowly in the infinite present’. As Fletcher, Curator of Exhibitions at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, elaborates:

Everywhere we look and everything we read right now seems to tell us we are at a new juncture. We are at an unprecedented moment of change – whether teetering on the edge of a financial precipice, or witnessing extraordinary new articulations of protest. This year eva International will attempt to tap into this feeling of immanence by understanding how artists define and explain the status quo in relation to global events. What are we on the verge of? How do artists envisage what is to come and what is to be done?

The Bull Laid Bear (film still by Begg and Ressler, 2012)

One of the central installations was the collaborative project, The Bull Laid Bear, by cross-disciplinary artists, Zanny Begg and Oliver Ressler. This 24 minute film, using interviews with economists and activists in the United States interspersed with animation and drawings and in the words of the authors:

‘lays bare’ the economic recession (bear market) that hides behind each boom time (bull market). The film pokes fun at the slippery justifications made for the bailouts and austerity packages by exploring how governments in the United States, and other countries such as Ireland, turned a banking crisis into a budgetary crisis at the governmental level.

Significant in both format and insight offered, a short clip can be viewed here.

‘Predatory Mobility’

August 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

‘Global capital in its contemporary form is characterised by strategies of predatory mobility (across both time and space) that have vastly compromised the capacities of actors in single locations even to understand, much less anticipate or resist, these strategies. Though states…vary in how and whether they are mere instruments of global capital, they have certainly been eroded as sites of political, economic and cultural sovereignty’

(Arjun Appadurai (2001), ‘Grassroots Globalisation and the Research Imagination’ in  Globalisation, Duke University, p. 18)

Normalisation of Deviance

July 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

Algorithmic Trading or High Frequency Trading or Black Box Trading according to a new report by the British Government’s Office for Science, Foresight, is set to replace Human Trading in the global stock markets. This form of trading is undertaken through decisions made by computers, primarily based upon large volumes of information/data related to previous market behaviour. In 2007, 50% of all equity trading in the United States was undertaken via algorithms and at present, this is 75%. In Europe, it is presently 40%.

The Future of Computer Trading in Financial Markets (Foresight, Goverment Office for Science, UK 2012)(cover)

In the working paper, titled, The Future of Computer Trading in Financial Markets (the full report is due at the end of 2012), the research project outlines the benefits and costs of such processes. The authors describes how in a decade, algorithms will be able to essentially self evolve through their ability to ‘experience’ i.e. building upon their previous market experiences and therefore requiring no human intervention. However, they do warn, that within such a framework, there exists the potential for what they describe as ‘instability’ through the Normalisation of Deviance which they identify as when ‘unexpected and risky events come to be seen as ever more normal (eg. extremely rapid crashes), until a disaster occurs’

We’re running through the United States with dynamite and rock saws so that an algorithm can close the deal three microseconds faster, all for a communications framework that no human will ever know; that’s a kind of manifest destiny.

The above words by Kevin Slavin were made in relation to the present construction of a high-speed fibre-optic cable between Chicago and New York to facilitate black box trading and comes from his TED talk titled, How Algorithms Shape Our World. Addressing some of the thematics outlined in the Foresight working paper. Slavin, a designer and consultant in the field of technology, argues, ‘that we’re living in a world designed for, and increasingly controlled by, algorithms’, and through the course of his presentation shows ‘how these complex computer programs determine espionage tactics, stock prices, movie scripts, and architecture’. Critically, Slavin warns how ‘we are writing code we can’t understand, with implications we can’t control’.

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