Art, Finance and Culture

Discussion of Video Presentations

Friday 28th August 13:30 – 14:30

Chair: Joyce Goggin

Sarah Vowden – Contact/Less Exchange and Pandemic Proximities

Contactless Technologies have increasingly entered the financial terrain of small payments, reducing the transaction to the waving of a card over the payment terminal, or the touch of a thumb with biometrics integrated into mobile phones, forming a dematerialised encounter of the everyday transaction. The dwindling popularity of cash exposes our embodied disciplining of contactless technologies. Using Near-field-Communication technology, contactless cards produce an electromagnetic induction via its internal antenna and data is transmitted via radio waves between the card and the payment terminal at a maximum distance of 4cm. It is this critical space in which multiple scales of contact take place; the prosthetic tendency of contactless as an extension of the body, the reduced social encounter, the exchange of personal data between multiple corporate stakeholders, and the increasingly biometric uses of contactless as it shifts from the plastic card, to the watch, to under the skin.

Yet, as Coronavirus recalibrates our relationships to touch, the boundary of the Contact/less 4cm swells to the 2m required between bodies to suppress transmission. In shops throughout the UK, the £30 contactless transaction limit was increased to £45, revealing the adaptability of its infrastructure to mould to our new spatial choreographies. Through the introduction of contact-tracing apps we are in a new Contact/less era as mobile payment systems become the architects of the contact-tracing interface, and bluetooth becomes the Contact/less transmitter of health data between phones. The contactless transaction is now blurred with the biopolitical, a new management system of contact as we enter a new phase of its social, financial and architectural reach. I speculate the future of Contact/less, its relation to new pandemic proximities and the logics of finance capital

Charlotte Warne Thomas – New labour (2020), film screening and artist talk

This artwork is an attempt to articulate the nature of the profound anxiety I experienced during the initial weeks of the coronacrisis. Aside from the obvious stress of a mismanaged global pandemic, we faced the sudden and unexpected burden of living our lives almost completely online. Webinars, email, video conferencing and social media now constitute the vast majority of the working day and leisure time, with little escape from the online world.

Following Mark Fisher’s Deprivatizing Anxiety (2017), I will argue that being constantly online induces a kind of anxiety (even when disguised as leisure), rooted in libidinous compulsion, that is in itself a form of labour. I will seek to align the quality of this labour (constantly checking and updating one’s status) to that performed by the precarious worker in building and maintaining their personal brand, an additional unrecognised labour which induces a similar anxiety.

Citing Phil Jones’s work for Autonomy, I will map the speculative work of self-branding onto Marx’s notion of fictitious capital, whereby an economy “is largely defined by illusory promises that suppose the creation of value at a later date” (Jones 2019), and argue that it is akin to constant online labour, embodying the concept that upfront investment creates future value. Echoing the logics of financialisation, the material conditions of the 24/7 online worker function as fictitious capital.

I will conclude by suggesting how the artwork New labour articulates these concerns, highlighting the dilemma faced by reluctant “portfolio career” workers (specifically artists and academics), that in our complicity with personal branding and online work, we further entrench the neoliberal myth many of us seek to negate, that personal success is the result of individual merit or hard work.

Katleen Vermeir and Ronny Heiremans, with Luke Mason – 7 Walks (Revisiting Ernest Gambart (1814-1902)

Our cross-disciplinary project questions the absoluteness of property ownership. We argue that understanding property relations in a stratified way could contribute to more sustainable practices to govern natural and artistic resources. The Belgian city of Spa offers us an opportunity to connect the ecology of the arts with a natural commons: water. Spa is known for its medicinal springs since the 16th century. It became the ‘Café de l’Europe’ for the elites of that time, for whom drinking water and walking was part of their therapy. Four centuries of water management – from the 16th-century water export to its current financialization and monopolisation – form the basis for a reflection on property relations. For this we follow into the footsteps of historical walkers treading the Spa therapeutic landscape. Spa towns were the setting to debate political, philosophical and artistic visions. The Belgian art dealer Ernest Gambart was one of the walkers in Spa. Gambart brought art and money close together. Mid-19th century he dominated the London art world causing the disruption of the Academy dominated system. Gambart’s pioneering commercial gallery practice and his connections with artists, buyers and critics became a model for how modern art business would be run.

7 Walks questions existing conceptual legal frameworks that are often seen as ‘unchangeable’ and investigates new narratives of ‘governing’ for an ecology of the arts and natural resources, in addition to market and government. Gambart’s case illuminates the complexity of the issue in an exemplary way.

John Macintosh – Valuation, Narration, and the Global South in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Literary critics have primarily read Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) as a response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Yet while the novel engages indirectly with radicalization and the early years of the U.S. military’s ongoing quagmire in Afghanistan, this critical focus misrecognizes the novel’s initial and central plot: protagonist Changez’s work as a corporate valuation analyst and his subsequent denunciation of financial capitalism’s disastrous effects across the Global South. Through scenes of valuations in Chile and the Philippines, Changez sees firsthand the disruptive and precarious-making force of global finance. However, while The Reluctant Fundamentalist rejects economic fundamentalism in terms of its content, the novel’s striking narrative strategy—an uninterrupted monologue—registers at a formal level Changez’s inability to shake the financial industry’s desire for complete narrative control about its roles, responsibilities, and claims to unquestioned economic expertise. I argue that this narrative strategy reveals the contradictions that arise between valuation’s self-representation of neutral expertise in the determination of value and the work that analysts actually do in rationalizing and enforcing a regime of austerity, degraded work, and surplus populations. My argument concludes that taking The Reluctant Fundamentalist’s representation of valuation seriously not only demands a critical reassessment of the novel, but also productively subverts other contemporary cultural representations of finance.

Ami Clarke – The Underlying

The Underlying embraced the complexities, multi-temporalities and scales, that coalesce around some new, and some very old power relations, that come of, and are revealed by, the interdependent ecologies of social media, finance, and the environment.  

The work focused on the contractual condition of insurance, as a means to consider how models of probability reveal the effects of capitalism upon the environment, as ‘unprecedented’ events become increasingly everyday, questioning not only their own validity but potentially holding a key to thinking about things differently.  The work pointed to the extractive protocols of the meme that is capitalism; ‘platform’, ‘surveillance’, late, as well as ‘disaster’, and how these converge in digital neo-colonialisms, as well as historical colonialisms that manifest today in practices of aggressive tax evasion as ongoing forms of economic oppression, drawing out the markets relationship with the past, as the future comes up increasingly short. 

Now, contagion means epidemiologists advise government economic strategies, as a renewed interest in the state as ‘insurer of last resort’ blooms across the planet.  Questions addressing current financial models with regard to the underlying practices of extraction that these are predicated upon, as a state of contingency becomes a modus operandi, in the churning markets of disaster capitalism, and strategies of disinformation across the mediasphere, have never been more urgent.