Category Archives: algorithm

Economia, a festival on economy without the economists


Zachary Formwalt, the Three Exchanges trilogy. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel

A couple of weeks ago, Baltan Laboratories invited artists, philosophers, scientists, film makers and members of the public to join the Economia festival in Eindhoven. The only thing the participants had in common is that none of them would have described himself or herself as an economist. That and the fact that they had plenty of provocative and thought-provoking ideas to share about the economy. Unsurprisingly, our current economic system took quite a beating over the course of the various keynotes, (on/off stage) debates and documentary screenings. The Economia festival, however, went beyond the critiques (we’ve heard them all before anyway!) and suggested new challenges and alternatives, new perspectives and hypotheses.

As curators Wiepko Oosterhuis and Olga Mink wrote: Why not start by treating economics like any other technology? Play with it, hack it, use input from other disciplines, unleash science fiction on it, approach it in an artistic manner. In short, take ownership so that we can reshape and rework economics as we see fit.

I’ve still got a lot to unpack, think and write about so expect more stories in the coming days. For now, let’s have a quick walk around some of the artworks and design ideas i discovered at Economia:


Blake Fall-Conroy, Minimum Wage Machine, 2008-2010. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel


Blake Fall-Conroy, Minimum Wage Machine, 2008-2010. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel

Perhaps the easiest to engage with, the Minimum Wage Machine allowed visitors to get a tangible, physical understanding of what it means to work for minimum wage. Turning the crank yielded a one cent euro coin every 4.018 seconds, that’s €8.96 an hour, the minimum wage in The Netherlands right now. The coins dropped as long as you turned the crank. I saw many people trying it. All of them stopped after the first few cents. You want to have a go because it’s a fun and straightforward installation but you quickly realize how depressing and mind-numbing routine work is.

In an interview with 1215 today, Blake Fall-Conroy discussed the irony of being repeatedly asked by galleries to exhibit his work for free.

UBERMORGEN, Red Coin (Chinese Blood), 2015

Red Coin mining has made the People’s Republic of China the world’s largest Bitcoin producer. However, mining the cryptocurrency requires a lot of energy to power the hardware and to keep it cool. The first mining farms were built in Shanxi and Inner Mongolia where coal energy was cheap, but never as cheap as free water so most of the farms have now migrated towards the west of the country where China has been building hydropower plants.

“Both red blood cells and mining hardware consist of units that have a profitable life-span of about 4 months, they use vast amounts of energy, transport oxygen and as a result create, maintain and enable life in its various forms without maintaining any form of recognizable self-consciousness…”

The video was shot in a Chinese Bitcoin mine that spans six sites which, when the video was shot in 2014, held down roughly 3% of the network’s total hashing power.


Zachary Formwalt, In Light of the Arc, 2013. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel


Zachary Formwalt, In Light of the Arc (video still), 2013


Zachary Formwalt, In Light of the Arc (video still), 2013

Zachary Formwalt’s video diptych In Light of the Arc, part of the installation Three Exchanges, is shot in China too but it takes us inside Shenzhen’s stock exchange when it was still under construction. Just like Red Coin, this video depicts a reality that is populated, powered and governed more by machines than by men. It is a world characterized by an increasing abstraction, by powerful activities that take place beyond the threshold of our human perception.

But while mining sites are often located in remote and sometimes even secret locations, the financial system needs its material infrastructure to be visible. The building of the Shenzhen’s stock exchange was designed by Rem Koolhaas and his firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture. The facade is your typical stern and futuristic skyscraper. The inside of the building reflects how much advanced algorithms have taken over the world of finance: the trading floor itself, with its iconic bronze bell, now serves only a ceremonial purpose.


RYBN, ADM XI. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel


RYBN, ADM XI

The work ADM XI further illustrates the de-materialization and abstruse logic that reign over the financial world. This collection of highly irrational trading algorithms was created by 10 artists to compete with each other in a marketplace provided by RYBN.ORG. The artistic trading algorithms hosted on the platform follow their own non mercantile logic: some attempt to produce an irreversible chaos, others try to influence the market prices to make it look like a geometrical shape, while others attempt to saturate the market with non human affects. Profits are no longer driven by the usual economic instruments, but rather, by living organisms – soil, plants, bacteria; by supraterrestrial rules – environmental, astronomical, astrological; or by non-scientific knowledge – esoterism, magic, geomancy, etc.
(i wrote about the project a few months ago.)


Andrés Costa, Notes on a Suicide. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel


Andrés Costa, Notes on a Suicide. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel

A small car inside a glass box. The vehicle accelerator is linked to real-time fluctuations of the international oil market. Depending on the movements of prices, the car will speed up or slow down emitting carbon dioxide accordingly, possibly creating an environment too toxic for the vehicle itself.

Notes on a Suicide lays bare the domineering position of data in nowadays’ society as well as its relationship with the key players in the economic field: technology and oil.

See it in action!


Mark van der Net and Wiepko Oosterhuis, EGONOMIA, 2017. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel


Mark van der Net and Wiepko Oosterhuis, EGONOMIA, 2017. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel


Mark van der Net and Wiepko Oosterhuis, EGONOMIA, 2017. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel


Mark van der Net and Wiepko Oosterhuis, EGONOMIA, 2017. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel


Mark van der Net and Wiepko Oosterhuis, EGONOMIA, 2017. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel

One of the most entertaining moments for me was when i got to play with the festival’s temporary local currency. Because the system is based on your own values and beliefs, you first had to fill in an online questionnaire about the importance that concepts such as knowledge, beauty, network or creativity have for you. After that, the system prints your personal money to spend all over the festival venue. You could buy drinks for friends, get chocolate at the bar, vote, gamble it, etc.

But because EGONOMIA was a social experiment rather than just one of those pop-up local currencies, you soon found yourself defied by the difference between your initial, admirable values and the very prosaic transactions you make in real life. The discrepancies between the former and the latter might explain why having the best intentions and the most laudable ideals will not necessarily translate into a fairer society.

I ended up gambling most of my money (which was a complete surprise to me) and exchanging the rest for chocolate (now, that’s pretty normal.) I may also have ‘borrowed’ some of the banknotes i saw abandoned on the printer. I scanned them in the gambling machine and lost every single time. Ill got, ill spent…


Monique Grimord, TerraEconomics. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel

With TerraEconomics, Monique Grimord asks us to ponder on the following questions: What if the stock was not determined by supply and demand, but by health of the earth and resource extraction? Her installation envisions a possible future when the value of goods are no longer dictated by the invisible forces of supply and demand, but are governed instead by the flux of the natural environment, the Earth’s A.I. In her scenario, the countries that pioneered this unique system called it terra-economics.

Jennifer Lyn Morone™ Inc

Jennifer Lyn Morone™ Inc is the girl who became a corporation. I wrote about her work back in 2014 already and i’ll spend more time in a coming story exploring how her project has evolved since i last saw her. In the meantime, if ever you have the good fortune to find yourself in or around Ljubljana, don’t miss her upcoming solo show at Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art.

The Economia festival was organized by Baltan Laboratories in Natlab, the former physics lab of Philips, in Eindhoven (NL) on 28, 29 and 30 April 2017.

For more photos of the festival, check out Baltan laboratories flickr set. There’s mine too but i still haven’t improved my photo skills one bit after all these years.

GAMERZ 2016 – Our daily computer-programmed reality

For a full intro to the festival, check out my previous story: GAMERZ: Digital tech ‘degenerated’ by craft and kludge.


Špela Petrič, Miha Turšič, Dunja Zupančič and Dragan Živadinov, Agents non-humains, installation at GAMERZ 2016. Photo: Luce Moreau

This year, a section of the exhibition of the GAMERZ festival was dedicated to the omnipresence of algorithms into our life. It was curated by artist, writer and otherwise brilliant cultural agitator Ewen Chardronnet.

By anchoring his curatorial text in the year 1972, Chardronnet reminds us that back then, the future of technology was not paved with malignant machines and other existential risks. Instead, it was brimming with hopes, ideals and thrilling speculations. In 1972 thus, Nixon orders the development of a Space Shuttle program, the first man-made satellite leaves the solar system, a man walks for the last time on the moon and his crew photographed one of the most reproduced images in human history: The Blue Marble portrait of the Earth.

1972 is also the year the cybernetic system Cybersyn and NASDAQ, the world’s first electronic stock market, were starting to show their potential. NASDAQ was only one year old but would rapidly become the fastest growing stock market. As for the socialism-imbued promises held by Cybersyn, they were cut short by the coup d’état led by Augusto Pinochet (and backed by the U.S.) in 1973.

Philip K. Dick declares that we Live in “a computer-programmed reality”

As the curator also recalls, a few years later Philip K. Dick would explain with determination (and a certain sentiment that the audience is not ready to believe his words) that we are living in a computer programmed reality. And indeed, nowadays, many scientists would argue that the science fiction writer’s declaration should not be taken lightly and that a being whose intelligence is far greater than our own might very well have created us for their own entertainment. In other words, chances are that we are indeed living in a computerized simulation.

What is sure is that artificial manipulations and decisions of all kinds have very physical and real impacts on our culture.

“Nowadays, algorithms are everywhere,” writes Chardronnet. “They organize the planning and optimal use of resources, pictures rendering, bio-computerizing, cryptography, stock exchanges, electronic surveillance, target marketing, our behavior on social media… But algorithms are as old as Babylon. If procedural generation video games universes are truly infinite, is there still any enchanted gardens full of immaterial mathematical relics to be found? Or will it be time to encompass the possibility of an end?

The title for Chardronnet’s exhibition is thus, very fittingly, Simulated Universe. The show featured artists whose works filter through the hype and anxiety surrounding a world controlled by artificial and often invisible intelligence.


Konrad Becker and Felix Stalder, Painted by Numbers. A Discursive Installation on Algorithmic Regime. Installation view at GAMERZ. Photo by Luce Moreau


Konrad Becker and Felix Stalder, Painted by Numbers. A Discursive Installation on Algorithmic Regime. Installation view at GAMERZ. Photo by Luce Moreau

Painted by Numbers provides an excellent introduction to the theme of the exhibition. Konrad Becker and Felix Stalder interviewed artists, scientists, activists, artists and experts in technology about their own perspectives on the power of algorithmic realities. The interviews were then segmented and rebuilt into short thematic videos that explore a particular issue (politics, culture, agency, etc.) under different but complementary points of view. The people interviewed talk about the perceived rationality of algorithms, weigh in on the possibility to build algorithm that would better reflect our values, discuss their lack of transparency, the subtle ways in which they are already shaping our cognitive processes, and often secretly scoring of members of society.

The videos are also available for watching online. I would highly recommend that you have a look at them if you have an hour (or 6 times 10 minutes) to spend on short films that efficiently open up all sorts of questions and provocations around the world built on data.
Extra bonus points to the authors of the videos for including women’s perspective (still not something that we should take for granted, alas!)


RYBN, ADM XI at GAMERZ 2016. Photo: Luce Moreau


RYBN, ADM XI at GAMERZ 2016. Photo: Luce Moreau


RYBN, ADM XI at GAMERZ 2016. Photo: Luce Moreau


RYBN, ADM XI at GAMERZ 2016. Photo: Luce Moreau

Important decisions are more and more devolved to machines and programs, making it difficult to determine who (or what) is actually in control. The trend is particularly noticeable in finance where increasingly high number of stock trades are now driven by algorithms.


“Algorithmic Trading. Percentage of Market Volume,” data from Morton Glantz, Robert Kissell. Multi-Asset Risk Modeling: Techniques for a Global Economy in an Electronic and Algorithmic Trading Era. Academic Press, Dec 3, 2013, p. 258.

Many types of algorithmic or automated trading activities can be described as high-frequency trading (HFT), a type of algorithmic trading characterized by such high speeds, such high turnover rates and high order-to-trade ratios that no man would ever dream of comparing to its. Algo trading been the subject of much debate since one of them caused the 2010 Flash Crash which saw nearly $1 trillion of value erased from U.S. stocks and the Dow Jones index lose almost 9% of its value in a matter of minutes. The market rapidly regained its composure and eventually closed 3% lower.

RYBN.ORG is a group of French artists who have been studying algorithmic finance for a number of years but who also created their own trading robot. Using an artificial intelligence algorithm, the autonomous program has been investing and speculating on financial markets since 2011. More recently, the group have invited other artists to join their research platform ADM XI and experiment with counter-intuitive strategies of investment and speculation.

The trading algorithms hosted on the platform follow their own non mercantile and obsessive logic: some attempt to produce a total and irreversible chaos, others try to influence the market prices to make it look like a given geometrical shape, while others tries do saturate the market with non human affects.

Within this contest, benefits are no longer driven by the prices and other economic instruments, but rather, by living organisms – soil, plants, bacteria; by supraterrestrial rules – environmental, astronomical, astrological; or by non-scientific knowledges – esoteric, magic, geomancy, etc.

Suzanne Treister‘s Quantum V algorithm is guided by data from human brains under the influence of psychoactve plants and planetary networks. Horia Cosmin Samoila‘s work submits selected stocks and financial products to an algorithm governed by the Global Consciousness Project, a Princeton University parapsychology experiment that looks for interactions between “global consciousness” and physical systems. Marc Swynghedauw’s HeidiX buys or sells stock according to how likely her actions with help her (she’s a lady bot!) reach the summit of famous mountains. Nicolas Montgermont‘s HADES trading algorithm uses its knowledge in astronomy, astrology and mythology to sell or buy gold. You can find more algorithms on the platform, the logic behind each of them is frankly quite baffling but some of them seem to perform rather well.


Regina de Miguel, Una historia nunca contada desde abajo, 2016. Photo by Luce Moreau

Una historia nunca contada desde abajo (A Story Never Told from Below) is inspired by the Cybersyn or Synco project. The project kicked off in mid-1971, when cybernetic visionary Stafford Beer was approached by a high-ranking member of the newly elected socialist government of Salvador Allende. The scientist was asked if he could apply his cybernetic theories to the management of the public sector of the Chilean economy. The objective of Cybersyn was to use a system of networked telex machines and computers to transmit data from factories to the government, allowing for economic planning in real time. The project was dropped after Pinochet’s 1971 coup.

Regina de Miguel’s film lasts roughly 2 hours and i didn’t get a chance to watch it properly, alas! From what i’ve seen and also gathered from various readings and discussions, it seems that the work looks at times (which might now be regarded as ‘utopian’) when scientists and politicians embraced technology with enthusiasm in the hope that they would genuinely help them govern and improve humanity. However, utopias, even the most revolutionary ones, tend to be betrayed by the systematic failures of the times when they were conceived.


Špela Petrič, Miha Turšič, Dunja Zupančič and Dragan Živadinov, Agents non-humains, installation at GAMERZ 2016. Photo: Luce Moreau


Špela Petrič, Miha Turšič, Dunja Zupančič and Dragan Živadinov, Agents non-humains, installation at GAMERZ 2016. Photo: Luce Moreau


Špela Petrič, Miha Turšič, Dunja Zupančič and Dragan Živadinov, Agents non-humains, installation at GAMERZ 2016. Photo: Luce Moreau


Špela Petrič, Miha Turšič, Dunja Zupančič and Dragan Živadinov, Agents non-humains, installation at GAMERZ 2016. Photo: Luce Moreau


Špela Petrič, Miha Turšič, Dunja Zupančič and Dragan Živadinov, Agents non-humains, performance at GAMERZ 2016. Photo: Luce Moreau


Špela Petrič, Miha Turšič, Dunja Zupančič and Dragan Živadinov, Agents non-humains, performance at GAMERZ 2016. Photo: Luce Moreau

Špela Petrič, Miha Turšič, Dunja Zupančič and Dragan Živadinov believe that the research in arts and humanities should be recognized as development practices complementary to space science and technology. The installation and performance they presented at GAMERZ are part of a broader call to integrate art forms into space programmes.

Živadinov was a co-founder of the avant-garde art collective Neue Slowenische Kunst and the director of the first complete theatre production in zero gravity conditions. In 1995 Živadinov embarked on Noordung 1995-2045, a 50-year theatrical process named after the famous Slovene rocket engineer and pioneer of cosmonautics.

The Noordung 1995-2045 theatre piece is to be repeated on the same day, every ten years, until 2045. Should any of the actors die during this 50 year period (as it happened already with actress Milena Grm), their role will be symbolized on stage by a remote controlled sign that the individual had previously selected. As for their text, it will be replaced by a melody for women and rhythm for men. Since it is highly likely that all actors will have passed away by 2045, all that will remain on the stage for the last performance will be their technological substitutes. Each of these devices will then be sent in the Earth’s orbit from where they will transmit signals back to Earth and also into deep space.


Špela Petrič, Miha Turšič, Dunja Zupančič and Dragan Živadinov, Agents non-humains, performance at GAMERZ 2016. Photo: Luce Moreau

Previously: GAMERZ: Digital tech ‘degenerated’ by craft and kludge.