The Swedish artist duo, Goldin+Senneby are exhibiting a number of recent works at Nome Gallery in a show entitled Secrets of Trade. In the exhibition, which opens immediately prior to Berlin’s Gallery Weekend, Goldin+Senneby present works across a variety of genres and media. The artists have been working together since 2004 and have frequently considered the visualisation of financial data, institutions, and processes as an aspect of their work. Goldin+Senneby works could be thought of as creating spaces of interaction as much as specific objects, and, thus, questions of materiality, signification and performativity are central to understanding and examining the themes their work touches on. Samizdat spoke to the artists shortly before the opening of their Berlin exhibition.
William Kherbek: To begin, I would like to ask how the idea of aestheticizing finance and economics became such an overarching theme in your practice. In some ways I feel like it is a continuation of an artistic tradition that often centred depictions of labour as a means of aestheticising value creation, but in other ways it is a major departure in that processes are as central to the “content” of Godin+Senneby works as representation. Were there art historical precedents that you sought to address?
Goldin+Senneby: You are absolutely right. Throughout our practice it has been a key concern, how to make the process itself a central part of the meaning production. To varying degrees, this is true of many artistic practices, but might be articulated slightly differently in our practice because of our focus on the organizational level of production.
William Kherbek: As collaboration, or “integration” with the practices of other artists is often central to your work, I’d like to ask about the ways in which you choose or find artists and other creative workers with whom to work. Is there a process for Goldin+Senneby that mirrors the corporate headhunting process or are your collaborations more matters of chance discovery?
Goldin+Senneby: We think of our practice as creating frameworks in which others can act as themselves. How these people enter into the frame, as it were, varies greatly. In some cases we even receive ”spontaneous applications” for becoming a character in our work, such as the cultural economist, Ismail Erturk, who wrote an email to us in 2011, which became the starting point of our work The Discreet Charm.
In other cases, our collaborators are clearly unwilling, such as the short-only hedge fund that we spent three years infiltrating in order to develop our work Zero Magic.
William Kherbek: To speak about one collaboration in particular, I was interested in the way that enclosure, ownership and legal regimes are depicted in your work, The Plot, which was created in part in collaboration with the British playwright, Pamela Carter. The assignment of “exchange” value (as opposed to intrinsic value) to land and territory is an increasingly complicated one, both with regard to onshore and offshore financial dynamics. Could you speak about the ways the work addresses territorialisation as a process, speaking about the physical, economic, and psychological consequences of how land and money interact in your view?
Goldin+Senneby: The Plot was originally developed within the context of a commission from Storey G2 in Lancaster and part of a longer-term project exploring land ownership.
At the time we were reading Catherine Ingrassia’s book Authorship, Commerce, and Gender in Early Eighteenth-Century England, and Mary Poovey’s Genres of the Credit Economy, and were very interested in the period of the South Sea Bubble, and how the female gendered speculative economy came into collision with the aristocratic and patriarchal land owning class, and how these new forms of paper credit coincided with new literary forms such as the novel.
Of course, today, land ownership has become thoroughly financialised, and the very notion of the timeless value of real estate seems to be at the core of its speculative value.
The Plot came about when we found a curiously small plot of land in Kent (8 x 10 m), without any building rights, on offer from a land trader in Bahrain. We acquired this plot, and the proposal of the work is to stage an act of theatrical property development. Pamela Carter’s “ownership drama” dramatises the material impact of shifting ownership on this plot, where the re-selling of the plot as art adds another scene to its ownership drama. In this sense it also points toward the contradictions and perversions inherent in art collecting and the territorialisation of artistic value, to borrow your wording.
William Kherbek: As your work often addresses the tension between materiality and non-materiality, I would like to ask about some of the themes developed in “Objects of virtual desire”. The work materialises digital objects from Second Life and integrates the narrative of these virtual objects – the narratives themselves being virtual objects. I would like to hear your thoughts on the increasing financial significance of “digital identities” – identities created from the data individuals produce online which are compiled, organised and traded (often on digital exchanges as well).
Goldin+Senneby: When we started working together in Second Life in 2004, we were seeing how a certain optimism around free/open source software was being captured in new value layers. Our publication, Flack Attack on Autonomy, produced as a month-long performance inside Second Life in 2005, was very much occupied with the notion of the social software and the commodification of community (issues which have obviously only become much more pronounced today). This was at a time when this question of the relationship between online and offline identity was very much at stake, before Facebook had come to dominate with their model of socially verified online identities.
For us the experience of being inside of a continuously traceable space, producing meta-data, was what led us to become interested in strategies of withdrawal.
William Kherbek: One of the themes in your works that I find of interest is the ways in which jargon and technical language come to define experience. Is there something you would like to say about the ways hyper-technical, often extremely anodyne or alienating jargon – often cultivated on MBA courses – is shaping the way individuals and societies interact politically?
Goldin+Senneby: In general it would seem to us that jargon is a part of how any discipline constitutes itself, and in that sense is performative. But it is not something we have focused extensively on.
That said, the idea of Headless — as a novel — came to us at the Frankfurt Airport in 2006, noticing that all best-selling books on offer were either crime novels or management literature. After which, we started researching book packaging companies, and the production models of these kinds of writing. But more fundamentally, questions of performative writing practices is a concern that runs through much of our work: Headless was dealing with the operational fictions of offshore, written in legal code. Not Approved looks at how the bureaucracy of agricultural policies reshapes landscape. The Nordenskiöld Model took as its starting point the performativity of mathematical and financial models from the early 1970s as a sort of alchemy.
Currently we are exploring synthetic biology as a performative writing practice, shifting the entire field of biology from an analytical one – reading and classifying forms of life — to a performative one, where genetic inscription produced new life forms as proofs of concept.
William Kherbek: As your work often entails creating a task for a collaborator, could you speak about the ways you view the role of the artist, or artists’ collective, as a “commissioning entity”? Where do you see the lines between creation and curation and how do you consider those when developing a work?
Goldin+Senneby: As already mentioned, we produce frameworks in which other people can act as themselves. However, we do not regard this as curating. We generally try to avoid including other artists in our work, since we do not want to instrumentalise artistic practices. Our experience is that when working with professionals from other fields, our method allows for a distribution of agency; when successful we do not need to direct our co-producers, but simply to establish the frame. They ”act as themselves” within our frame, but we also play a role for them, within their institutional frame or professional role.
That said, we recently made our first curatorial experience, co-curating the exhibition Manipulate the World: Connecting Öyvind Fahlström at Moderna Museet in Stockholm together with curator Fredrik Liew. This was a really valuable experience, drawing on experiences we’ve made as artists, but also decidedly different from our artistic practice.
William Kherbek: As artists who are interested in the ways in which performance is manifested, both in aesthetic contexts and outside, I would like to ask how you view the ways in which performativity is being integrated into working life. Examples of “affective labour” being integrated in the service industry are already quite familiar, but given that your work so often deals with finance, and even the post-human economy, could you speak about the ways in which performance and performativity are central to creating value in an economy based on virtual interactions?
Goldin+Senneby: We are currently developing a public art work that tries to address some of these issues. It’s for a train station in Gothenburg called Korsvägen (opening in 2026). Our proposal, Eternal Employment, is to create a full-time employment contract, of indefinite duration, without any specified duties or responsibilities. Whatever the employee chooses to do constitutes the work. The idea is to leverage the fact that money pays better than work – the average return on capital is substantially higher than increases in salaries – in order to make possible job security without productivity: An anti-performance of indefinite duration. A single person with no script, no climax, no crescendo.
The non-productive is of course a central trope of art. Some would argue that the use of art is precisely its uselessness. In the face of mass automation and artificial intelligence, the impending threat/promise is that we will all become productively superfluous. We will all be “employed at Korsvägen”, as it were. Some suggest that this transition has already begun, that more and more jobs are producing meaningless output. Or as an artist colleague once put it “everyone is an artist, but only the artist knows it”.
Secrets of Trade
Until 9 June
Cover image: Goldin+Senneby, Zero Magic, 2016, Installation view at NOME Gallery, Berlin, Photo by Gianmarco Bresadola