Category Archives: finance

Secrets of Trade. Goldin+Senneby on magic, finance and art market predictions

Goldin+Senneby, Zero Magic, 2016. Exhibition view at Nome Gallery

Goldin+Senneby use strategies and tools inspired by the financial sector to dissect the late-capitalist system, interrogate its mythologies and expose its connections with areas as diverse as virtual identities, precarious labour in the art sector or even alchemy. Goldin+Senneby is “a framework for collaboration”, its projects often use the skills and knowledge of experts in the fields they are investigating. These collaborators might be computer engineers, magicians, economists, anthropologists or playwrights.

The NOME gallery in Berlin has recently opened a solo show of the artists duo. Titled Secrets of Trade, the exhibition presents key works from Goldin+Senneby’s recent interrogations of financial trading, the art market, and artificial intelligence.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the works in the show:

Goldin+Senneby, Art Aligns With Young Readers, 2017. From the series Force Directed Predictions

Goldin+Senneby, Force Directed Predictions. Exhibition view at Nome Gallery

Correlation maps generated by algorithms trained on art market data (Force Directed Predictions). The maps visualize art price fluctuations as they relate to macro political and economic factors such as employment rates and literacy. One shows only positive correlations and the other only negative correlations.

Goldin+Senneby, Zero Magic, 2016. Exhibition view at Nome Gallery

For Zero Magic, the artist duo infiltrated a secretive hedge fund in the US, reverse engineered its methods and recreated its short selling practices. This practice consists in selling shares that one does not own to buy it back once it has fallen in price, netting a profit in the process. Which sounds pretty baffling for someone like me. Indeed there’s something akin to magic here. It’s about ‘adjusting’ people’s perception of reality, making them see things that do not exist. It doesn’t take place on a stage though but in the more secretive context of the financial markets.

In collaboration with the magician Malin Nilsson and finance sociologist Théo Bourgeron, Goldin+Senneby developed and patented a magic trick for the financial markets that has the capacity to undermine the perceived value of a publicly traded company and to profit from this. The magic gimmick consists in a computer program that help non-experts identify suitable short selling targets, and a step-by-step guide to undermining their perceived value and executing thus a successful short sale. Goldin+Senneby put the Zero Magic computer software inside a magic box that also contains a US Patent Application for Computer Assisted Magic Trick Executed in the Financial Markets and four historical examples of magic tricks played out offstage, in real life.

Nilsson will be performing a magic demonstration on the last night of the exhibition (this way to RSVP!)

Goldin+Senneby, Momentum Trading Strategy. Exhibition view at Nome Gallery

Goldin+Senneby, Momentum Trading Strategy. Exhibition view at Nome Gallery

Goldin+Senneby acquired a series of confidential trading strategies in exchange for artworks. These ‘tricks of the trade’ are bound in files and sealed in glass boxes. The content remain a mystery to the viewer, only cover illustrations by designer Johan Hjerpe might give us a clue since they visually interpret the main dynamics of the strategies.

Goldin+Senneby, Banca Rotta (Central Europe, Late Baroque, oak), 2012/2017. Exhibition view at Nome Gallery

There’s also an antique money changers’ table broken in two. The piece of furniture is a visual representation of the etymology of “bankruptcy”, which derives from banca rotta, the Italian word for broken bench, the bench that moneylenders worked from and that had to be broken when they were no longer in business.

I’ve written time and time again about Goldin+Senneby‘s work. But i’ve never met them. Nor have i ever had the chance to fire a few questions at them. Until now:

Hi Goldin+Senneby! To be honest with you, I’m a bit worried about this interview. While preparing it, i read a story in rhizome that says: “In previous interviews the artists have responded to questions about the project exclusively in the form of quotes from its various parts. For the interview below, however, they produced some new statements, perhaps mindful of the opportunity to recycle them in future incarnations of Headless.” Is that a strategy you have kept on using since that 2009 rhizome interview?

No. This was one of our strategies used in the Headless project – an eight year long performance (2007-2015) staging an “act of withdrawal”.

Goldin+Senneby works with people who sometimes have rather surprising profiles: a magician, an investment banker, an academic social scientist, a patent attorney, an anthropologist, etc. How do you work with them? How much say do they have in the process that leads to a final work?

We try to produce situations in which our (willing and unwilling) collaborators can “act as themselves”. We think of our practice as a distribution of agency within authored frameworks. The clearer the frame we are able to provide, the more agency can be handed over.

Attaching a slide from a “progress report” produced by management consultant Aliceson Robinson in 2011, where she interviewed 12 individuals who had played key roles in our project The Nordenskiöld Model (2010-2017), but notably not ourselves.

Progress Report

The show at NOME Gallery will feature the magic demonstration Acid Money. Could you tell us what will happen? Will it feature the magic trick for the financial markets that you patented?

Yes, the magic demonstration will feature our trick for the financial markets (patent pending) and how we appropriated the methods for this trick from a secretive hedge fund. It will also offer an opportunity to bring some magic with you home!

One of the works you will be showing at the Berlin gallery is Force Directed Predictions. From what i gathered online, the series is based on a system that uses big data and AI to predict art prices. Do algorithms really play such a key role when it comes to predicting art prices? How did we get there?

In the context of a gallery show we were interested in the possibility of offering art market predictions as artworks. So on one level the idea is straightforward: to offer meta-data about collecting to collectors.

And because the learning process of the AI we are working with looks at art price fluctuations in relation to a wide range of macro political and economic indicators (10k+ correlating factors) it also produces portraits of the kind of society in which the art market thrives or declines respectively.

These works are the beginning of a longer process. We are collaborating with and one of their artificial intelligences that has been surprisingly good at predicting “black swan” events in other areas (such as unexpected civil unrest, large jumps in commodity prices, etc). When we got into contact with XLabs, they were just about to discontinue the use of this AI, since they were disillusioned with their customer base – the only customers that were able and willing to pay for these kinds of predictions were either hedge funds or authoritarian states, and they were not interested in selling their services to either of these categories.

So you figured out how to predict art prices, how to use magic and patents to perform financial manipulations…. Why do you feel that you need to bring this knowledge into the art world? That’s very generous of course but if i were you, i’d use all those tricks and know-how to get ultra rich and ultra idle.

In this sense we are not sure that we are bringing anything to the art world that isn’t already there. Clearly, much of the art sector is bound up with the “ultra rich and ultra idle”, as you put it. For us an important question is how to deal with this position of implication.

Goldin+Senneby. Exhibition view at Nome Gallery

Goldin+Senneby, VWAP Mean Reversion Strategy with Professor Donald MacKenzie and Philip Grant, 2013. Exhibition view at Nome Gallery

Your practice mixes objects with creative forms such as theater, magic and literary fiction. In general, i find that many of your works are quite ‘brainy’. They are fascinating and easy to get drawn into but they require time and attention from the audience to fully engage with them. Is that part of a plan to request effort from the audience? Or is it because the complexity of topics such as financial operations or the art market requires that we observe/reflect upon them with care?

In times of financialization, speed and acceleration have been distinct features. But we are slow. We work for years on the same project. And this slowness produces certain contradictions that we value.

One of our long-term collaborators, playwright Pamela Carter, drew our attention to how, in physical comedy, it’s a rule that you slow the action down … just a little … just enough to give the audience time to see the joke fully … and then laugh.

Thanks Goldin+Senneby!

Goldin+Senneby‘s solo show, Secrets of Trade, remains open until 9 June 2018 at the NOME gallery in Berlin. The magic demonstration Acid Money will take place as part of the exhibition on 9 June 2018 at 7.30 pm.

Previous stories featuring Goldin+Senneby: Artefact festival: Magic and politics, Art Turning Left: How Values Changed Making 1789-2013, Artissima 2013 – From Philospher’s stone to tomato crops, Feedforward. The Angel of History. Part 2: Globalization and agency.

Economia festival: short films about finance

Nathaniel Sullivan, Before the Nation Went Bankrupt (still), 2016

Adam Curtis, The Century of the Self. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel

On Monday, i took you on a quick walk through the exhibition of the Economia festival in Eindhoven. Today I’m going to share a few short films, animations and documentaries i discovered over the 3 days i spent there. The screenings exposed the world of finance under the most human perspectives: from the bank robbery that goes terribly wrong to an economic system so complex they become incomprehensible for humans, from the bankers trying in vain to avoid massive troubles to people forming endless queues in order to receive free soup and bread, etc.

There were some real gems in the film program put up by Baltan Laboratories and the invited curators but i’m going to tell you only about the ones you can watch online for free:

David Borenstein, Rent a Foreigner in China

While he was in China studying urbanization and real estate speculation, David Borenstein discovered the existence of ‘foreigner agencies’ that hire European, Indian, African and American expats to help real estate developers market their new developments and turn remote ghost towns into ‘globalized cities’ on the days that investors and potential buyers visit. All the foreigners have to do is pose as investors, buyers, or ‘superstars’. Borenstein calls these jobs ‘white monkey gigs’. The festival screened the feature length documentary, called Dream Empire, but Borenstein also did a short film for the new york times that sums up the phenomenon and that’s the one you can watch above.

Jorge Furtado, Ilha das Flores (Isle of Flowers), 1989

Isle of Flowers is an amazing Brazilian pseudo-documentary short film by Jorge Furtado. The 1989 film follows the path of a tomato from the field to the supermarket to a perfume saleswoman’s kitchen to a landfill outside of the city.

Each stage in the journey of the tomato requires the exchange of money. Until it is judged unfit for consumption by the woman, thrown in the garbage, and unloaded in a landfill. There, it becomes part of the organic material selected by farmers to be given to pigs as food. The rest, which is considered inadequate for the pigs, is given to poor children and women to collect and eat.

The film talks with humor about the absurdity of consumerism and about our indifference to the suffering of other human beings.

Bela Tarr, Prologue, 2004

Prologue is part of “Visions of Europe”, a 25-film anthology made by film directors from the European Union. Prologue is Hungarian film director Béla Tarr’s sharp and remarkably poignant view of Europe.

Scott Massey, One Thousand Four Hundred and Ninety Two Fifty Two, 2011

In One thousand four hundred and ninety two fifty two, Scott Massey attempts to convince a bank employee to pay off his overdraft using the words, ‘one thousand four hundred and ninety two fifty two’ as payment. He recorded the dialogue with a hidden microphone.

Konrad Kästner, Cathedrals, 2013

The city of Kangbashi is one of the most famous ‘ghost cities’ of China. The images of empty streets and light shows that no one sees are accompanied by a voice-over telling the modern fable about a cathedral built of money.

Yorgos Zois, Casus Belli, 2010

As film director Yorgos Zois writes: People standing in line; all in order. Everyone is starving for something: products, entertainment, religion, art, money. But in the last queue they are all starving for… food. It’s the queue of personal survival. If the food ends, then disorder begins. And if one man falls, we all fall down.

Nathaniel Sullivan, Before the Nation Went Bankrupt, 2016

Before the Nation Went Bankrupt tells the story of the financial crisis through the fictional love letters that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon wrote to his wife, daughter, mistress 1, mistress 2, etc. He writes these messages as the financial crisis is about to change the world. More precisely, during the weekend he spent at the Federal Reserve, in Manhattan, summoned along with the CEOs of the biggest banks to save the world economy from ruin. Or rather to save themselves from ruin.

Adam Curtis, The Century of the Self (Part 1: “Happiness Machines”), broadcast on 29th April 2002

The Century of the Self is a 2002 tv documentary series by Adam Curtis. Episode one, Happiness Machines, exposes how Sigmund Freud’s theories were used by PR gurus and politicians to manipulate the masses. The central figure in the film is Edward Bernays, a pioneer in the public relations profession who showed American politicians and corporations how, by satisfying the inner irrational desires that Freud had identified, the masses could be made happy, gullible and docile.

Francois Alaux, Hervé de Crécy & Ludovic Houplain, Logorama, 2009

Logorama is a clever action-packed film told entirely through the use of more than 2,500 brand logos and mascots. Ronald McDonald is the villain, Michelin Men play the cops, the Green Giant is in charge of security at the zoo, etc.

Santiago Bou Grasso, El Empleo (The Employment), 2008

This short animation film by Santiago Grasso received 105 awards. It’s quite good but not 105 awards good, imho. Maybe the jurors were surprised by the ending (i saw it coming way before the guy left his house and i’m not even that clever at guessing the end of books.)

That’s it for today! More about the festival soon!

Previously: Economia, a festival on economy without the economists.

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


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.