The Economy of Appearances by Mark Curran is an elaboration of his long-term ethnographically informed transnational research project, THE MARKET, focusing on the functioning and condition of the global markets. This continues a cycle of multi-media projects beginning in the late 1990s addressing the predatory context resulting from flows and migrations of global capital.
Incorporating photographs, film, sound, artifactual material and text, themes include the algorithmic machinery of the financial markets, their absorption of crises and emergencies as normalisation of deviance, and of the long range mapping and consequences of financial activity disconnected from the circumstance of citizens and everday life. Profiled testimony has included traders, bankers and financial analysts and documentation of trading floors, exchanges in London, Dublin, Frankfurt and Addis Ababa. This installation furthers the enquiry with new research, extending to Amsterdam (site of the oldest exchange in the world) and the new financial district of Zuidas, and into the heart of the highly complex nature of the international trading culture, against the evolutionary backdrop of volatile global capitalism in flux and transition.
Curran filmed in the new financial district on the southern periphery of the Dutch capital – a global centre for algorithmic trading. Adapted from a text by former trader and now financial activist, Brett Scott, which examines High Frequency Trading (HFT) and how the input of human values, are excluded, the voiceover and title of the film are inspired by Scott’s essay, ‘Algorithmic Surrealism’. The film suggests the hegemony of HFT and the extinction of human reason or intelligence – human strengths that also include traits such as empathy and ethical behaviour – in Market decisions will both perpetuate and render more extreme the power relations of minority wealth in globalised capitalist systems.
This focus on Amsterdam also arises out of the Netherlands’ pivotal role in the global Shadow Banking system, where officers play prominent and conflicting parts in current Euro Zone financial manoeuvres, for example simultaneously facilitating the flight of capital from Greece whilst scolding the Greek system for lax tax regimes. The photographs, titles and their means of presentation allude, in an allegorical sense, to such circumstance. As with previous installations, the soundscape in Groningen, also transforms data using an algorithm to identify the application of the words, ’market’ and/or ‘markets’ in the public speeches by the relevant national Minister of Finance, in this case, the Dutch Minister for Finance and President of the Eurozone Group, Jeroen Dijsselbloem.
The anthropologist and former Banker, Karen Ho, in her ethnographic research of the culture of Wall Street, uses the phrase ‘economy of appearances’ in her argument that banking culture consciously nurtures the very production of crises while simultaneously, ensuring its rescue – this culture builds on characteristics such as anxiety, exhaustion, high risk and high rewards, capitalising on humanity’s limits and weaknesses.
The installation further activates the popular graphic representation of such circumstance through the intervention of a 3D visualisation of the algorithmically-generated data of the soundscape – ‘The Economy Of Appearances’ – in summation, representing the functioning of contemporary financial capital through the conduit of the nation state, in this case, the Netherlands.’
Text by Helen Carey.