Mergers and acquisitions of art and finance

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Goldin+Senneby, M&A, 2013. Installation view, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, UBC, 2017. Photo: Michael R. Barrick.

The current Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery exhibitions M&A and To refuse/To wait/To sleep provide frameworks for thinking about belief and prediction in economic models, about precarious labour and about illicit and marginalized markets. While the artists critically investigate concepts of productivity, debt and indebtedness, value and investment in their work, they also recognize the situation of their own practices within “economy” and are attuned to how art chronicles, performs, pictures and is made to feel its effects.

The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery exhibitions M&A and To refuse/To wait/To sleep provide frameworks for thinking about belief and prediction in economic models, about precarious labour and about illicit and marginalized markets. The speculative nature of both art and finance—and the often troubling relationship between the two—is placed in direct relation in M&A, using the gallery infrastructure as a laboratory. The work is both fiction and fact, set in the relentless present of globalization and its local consequences. The speculative and precarious conditions of art and finance are embedded in this operation: both the actor and the gallery perform this work until its undetermined conclusion.

For the durational performance M&A, artists Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby worked in collaboration with New York-based investment banker Paul Leong of Blackstone to develop a trading strategy that detects early signs of mergers and acquisitions. Leong’s Merger Prediction Strategy (2013) is an algorithm implemented in the stock market, using the exhibition production budget as the investment. In the Belkin Art Gallery, actor Sebastien Archibald (and later Milton Lim) repeatedly rehearses his part, based on a script by Jo Randerson. Interacting with gallery staff and the public, he checks his watch and takes calls on his cell from his broker (or perhaps it’s his agent). Archibald’s expression and gesture explore the uncertainty of his actual predicament: the duration of his contract is tied directly to the results of the investment. Should the market perform badly, his performance will cease. M&A begain its run at the Blekin on January 13, 2017 and will continue until the trading budget runs out.

Goldin+Senneby, M&A, 2013. Opening reception, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, UBC, 2017. Photo: Michael R. Barrick.

In advance of the exhibition, a Peter Wall Institute Arts-Based Initiative Award funded the November 2016 residency of the artist team Goldin+Senneby, whose work explores juridical, financial and spatial constructs through notions of the per­formative and the virtual. Through the residency the Belkin brought together writers, scholars and artists for an interdisciplinary exploration of the exhibition themes and provocations.

While in residence Goldin+Senneby worked with the Department of Theatre and Film to hold auditions for an actor to participate in the exhibition and then worked closely with the actors in preparation of the exhibition. Goldin+Senneby also ran a workshop for students on performance aspects of their artistic practice and topics concerning performativity and the gallery. The visit culminated in a public symposium, Speculation and Performance in Art and Finance. Moderated by Jaleh Mansoor (UBC Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory), the event gathered Goldin+Senneby and Marianne Nicolson along with SFU geographer Geoff Mann for presentations and a panel discussion. Mann, author of Disassembly Required: A Field Guide to Actually Existing Capitalism (2013) and In the Long Run We Are All Dead: Keynesianism, Political Economy and Revolution (2017), contextualized the discourse of political economy; artist Marianne Nicolson shared her current research on an early experiment with capitalism on the part of the Kwakwaka’wakw people of the Northwest Coast in collaboration with “Boston men” (Americans) for markets in China. Since 2004, when Goldin and Senneby started working as a duo, they have speculated around the layerings of contemporary economics, analyzing and employing different dimensions of financial markets. Their collaborative strategies have engaged interlocutors from across academic disciplines and professions, from various theoretical and narrative registers. Their projects contain archival, contemporary and pedagogical components and suggest just as much about the artists’ real-world inspirations as their ex-nihilo creations. They do not allow documentation of their presentations as it operates as a performance aspect of their project that may not be disseminated.

Visiting UBC to work with faculty and students from the Vancouver School of Economics, the Department of Theatre and Film, the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory, and the Department of English provided an exciting opportunity to forge meaningful connections across existing research as well as develop an active interdisciplinary discursive space for making sense of the relationship between the worlds of art and finance, against the backdrop of globalization and its local consequences.