Andrew Paul Wood – 7 September, 2013
In the nineteenth century theology was replaced by the equally abstract, theoretical and causidical study of economics. The universe was no longer moved by the invisible hand of God, but by the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith. Market fluctuations were the modern divine wrath and could only be propitiated by sacrifices. It seems somewhat logical that art would come around to investigating that, and to a certain extent, since the 1960s it has.
David Bennewith, Robert Hood, Amy Howden-Chapman, Anja Kirschner & David Panos, Kim Paton
Supply + Demand
Curated by Melanie Oliver
31 August - 6 October
Once upon a time the primary subject of art was theology. This remained pretty much the state of things up until the nineteenth century when theology was replaced by the equally abstract, theoretical and causidical study of economics. Free marketers in particular bear all the hallmarks of fundamentalism. The universe is not moved by the invisible hand of God, but instead by the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith. Market fluctuations are the modern divine wrath (especially if you have been indulging in heresies like Keynesianism - ie. playing God) and can only be propitiated by sacrifices (austerity measures and asset sales). It seems somewhat logical that art would come around to investigating that, and to a certain extent, since the 1960s it has - in the form of much idealistic hot air about the commodification of art (although I can’t think of many sane artists who in their heart of hearts aren’t thinking “yeah, yeah, I’m really glad you love the work, but I’d much rather you’d just sign a cheque”).
Rather than fart around with the art market, The Physics Room show Supply + Demand goes directly to the dark arts of capitalist economics for its inspiration. The work of six artists have been brought together, and although they are each quite different, they are strongly united in theme and aesthetic. In particular I am reminded of Michael Stevenson’s installation This is the Trekka at the 2003 Venice Biennale, which dealt with similar themes.
I am a huge fan of Christchurch artist Rob Hood - he is easily one of the most interesting and eclectic artists in the country. His contribution is When the mountains bow down and become valleys (2013) a big installation of office furniture and electric pedestal fans arranged on desks and flow charts scrawled on whiteboards. The stiff breeze from the fans animates this monument to the ennui of bureaucracy by keeping the pivoted flip lids of the waste paper baskets in continual motion. This upending of normality is a three dimensional objet trouvé/readymade interpretation of economic modelling partly inspired by the ‘black swan theory‘, where every unexpected event is artificially and retrospectively rationalised in hindsight - economic models being based on the illusion of a definitive system. The work reminds me a lot of Hood’s 2003 Physics Room collaboration with Simon Lawrence Through my repeated attempts to repair the window, I have developed pneumonia, which had a similar theme, but was more simulacra than minimalist sculpture.
Amsterdam-based designer, David Bennewith‘s installation Continuities of Forms in Space (2013) is a rather lovely cut acrylic facsimile of an old wrought iron spiral staircase threaded with red flow chart-type arrows imbedded with Euro coins. The coins are the artist’s collection of Italian twenty euro coins while the stair case (with them) is intended to evoke Italian Futurist artist Umberto Boccioni’s famous sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (MoMA, New York, 1913). The sculptural forms of the work represent the fluidity of the exchange rate between the Euro and New Zealand dollar over a week and alluding to both the ongoing relationship between art, culture and money, and Bennewith’s own painful awareness of the effects of the exchange rate on his student loan repayments.
Amy Howden-Chapman‘s What Depressions Look Like (2013) is a chilling video work with sound by Yek Koo, and accompanying artist book, documenting a large pit dug as part of a construction project in Los Angeles, but now dormant and abandoned due to the global financial crisis. The work, as much allusive and elliptic documentary as straight work of art, brings home to the viewer the juxtaposition of titanic corporate and human scale in relation to The Great Recession.
Kim Paton’s Documentation of Free Store (2010-2011) and Deadweight Loss (2013) - designed by University of Canterbury design lecturer Matt Galloway - presents economic modeling intended to account for and correct the wastefulness of our production systems, extrapolating on her experiences from her earlier Free Store project which took surplus goods from various businesses and offered them to the public for free.
The non-site documentary wall work depicts economics equations every bit as impenetrable to the average viewer as some of the philosophical theories self-referentially favoured by other artists. Unless you are an economist, you are forced to just appreciate the aesthetic interest of numbers, letters and mysterious symbols. Essentially here economic theory is simultaneously rendered concrete as an object and utterly abstract as an idea. This is perhaps one of the works most difficult to get one’s head around.
UK-based Anja Kirschner and David Panos’ Ultimate Substance (2012) is a lush and fragmentary video installation anchored in the history and cultural legacy of the silver mines in Lavreotiki, Greece, which in antiquity made Athens rich and leading to the introduction of coinage in the ancient Greek world. This beautiful work incorporates references to archaeology, philosophy, mathematics and ritual, working outward from the theory that the introduction of coinage brought about a cognitive paradigm shift important to the emergence of the humanist traditions of the west.
Ultimate Substance departs from the hypothesis that the introduction of coinage in the ancient Greek world effected a profound cognitive shift that was key to the emergence of western philosophic, scientific and dramatic traditions. Filmed over a year in Greece in and around the Numismatic Museum in Athens and in nearby Lavreotiki, the popular imagery of classical Athens is counterpointed by vast mining galleries - a trick well used by Piranesi in his depictions of Rome.
What Supply + Demand reminds us is that what is often presented to the public as inevitable rules of cause and effect in neoclassical economics, are in fact all theoretical assumptions. The interesting parallel is that both art and economics are essentially attempts to represent speculative abstract aspects of a dynamic reality, and indeed both art and economics have been entwined in this way since their beginnings.
Andrew Paul Wood
Comprehensive online access to contemporary art & leading galleries around the world
To read a transcript of the panel discussion “Whose Oceania?” held recently in London, and more on NZ arts abroad, CLICK HERE
Love to hear orchestral classical music live?
CLICK HERE to follow this orchestra’s adventurous performing programme