A conversation with Mark Curran

Created Engaged Practices

A conversation with Mark Curran

© Mark Curran, Financial Surrrealism (World Trade Center II) Zuidas Financial District, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2015

ARCHIVO The Economy of Appearances is a project about the consequences of power and finance in society. You work with diverse material and media in a complex work process. Could you share your view about it?

© Mark Curran, Untitled, Gowning Room, Building 711 / 02 a.m. Monday, November 11th 2003 (Leixlip, Ireland) from The Breathing Factory

MARK CURRAN The title, The Economy of Appearances is inspired by the work of anthropologist, Karen Ho (drawing on the work of Anna Tsing) and her study of the culture of Wall Street. Her argument is that banking culture consciously nurtures the very​​ production and construction of crises – building on characteristics such as fear, anxiety, exhaustion, high risk and high ​ rewards, capitalising on humanity’s limits and weaknesses while simultaneously constructing the means for it’s survival. If we think how the financial crisis of 2007/08 was constructed and our understanding of how profit has been privatised and risk has been socialised. Hence, continuing state policies of austerity to save the financial sphere in addition to the current actions of the world’s central banks. My use of the term manifests itself in two-fold. It exists, first, as part of the larger project, THE MARKET (curated by Helen Carey, funded by the Arts Council of Ireland and central supporters being Gallery of Photography, Belfast Exposed, Centre Culturel Irlandais (Paris) and Culture Ireland) – this part relates to work undertaken in the new financial district, Zuidas on the periphery of Amsterdam in 2015.

This was the result of a joint commission from the Noorderlicht Festival (Netherlands) and NEPN, research centre for photography at the University of Sunderland (UK). The focus in Amsterdam was on the role of High Frequency/Algorithmic Trading (HFT) which the Netherlands is a global centre and the countries central role in the Shadow Banking System. Since the financial crash, both these spheres have grown dramatically.​

A 2012 UK government report forecasts that within a decade there will be no human traders having been largely replaced by these systems. It is important to understand the application of algorithmic technology was innovated by the markets beginning in the 1980s. And this is where it can become rather dystopian as one thesis is that the markets seek everything to be recreated in its image and in such a scenario, it is largely a future about peoplelessness. This in addition to the role of tax avoidance systems/Havens and Shadow Banking systems where as much as half the money circulating the planet flows through these networks daily remain largely unregulated. So we already have a degree of Statelessness. So, as an artist researcher, how to represent such structures.

Secondly, in the Autumn of 2015, I had the opportunity to install all of the projects undertaken to date beginning in 1998 at the Limerick City Gallery of Art in Ireland. I decided to use this title as it alluded to how the global economy has become primarily about optics and performance – we witness the disconnect between the real economy and the functioning of the markets, in particular, financial capital.

I would argue it borders now on capitalist surrealism. In addition, to the context of what happened in Ireland and what had happened in the former East Germany, a region which was economically devastated after the fall of the Berlin Wall and so offers prophetic experiences regarding the functioning of capital, the title became transformative and seemed to frame the projects, as a whole. They seemed, in their entirety, to have become about and of each other. It also alludes to the role of optics and performance in the functioning of capital.

ARCHIVO I would say that research methodologies are a strong part of your work, which I find extremely important towards the construction of meaning, when working with images. We don’t see that so often in today’s overload of picture making... what is your opinion on today’s production of images?

MARK CURRAN I would make no claims regarding process and its documentation being a central part of a practice. Major personal influences have been the early work of Lewis Hine to the late Allan Sekula, who both not only made photographs but the level of documentation, engagement and sophistication of how they disseminated that work to others, including the contemporary photographers, like Trevor Paglen, Lisa Bernard and Edmund Clark. In many ways, it is also about a slowing down when really our experience of late capitalism demands speed. So having started working as would be defined as documentary photography, my practice has evolved to a more expanded multi-media practice, in response to and informed by ethnography. This is for a number of reasons. First, in the context of ethics and representation and historically, photography’s ideological role in the construction of identity. As someone who centrally incorporates the portrait and representing people, this was and remains a central consideration. Ethnography puts the human subject at the centre and in a way that demands time, is immersive and thereby brings understanding and insight – a critically reflexive approach. This evolved into formulating an expanded practice and ‘montage/ multivocality’ as critical representational strategy in the context of the politics of representation. Therefore, in addition to photography, the projects incorporate, audio-digital video, artefactual and archival material and sound and centrally, text/verbal testimony - the person/citizen as witness. I would just like to acknowledge that there is much discussion of ‘post-representation’.

However, in the context of contemporary financial capital whose key function is abstraction (this is witnessed in the impact of algorithmic technology/machinery, which financial capital has been, and is, the central innovator), and evolving how Marx stated, Capitalism seeks everything to be recreated in its image, I would observe that Financial Capital seeks everything to be recreated in its image – therefore, to embrace such a position opens the possibility of practices which, intentionally or not, align themselves, ideologically with the functioning of financial capital...

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Interview published in ArchivoZine 16 / Society, In the Age of Visual Culture

Mark Curran lives and works in Berlin and Dublin. He completed a practice-led PhD at the Dublin Institute of Technology (2011), lectures on the BA (Hons) Photography programme, Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dun Laoghaire and is Visiting Professor on the MA in Visual and Media Anthropology, Freie Universität Berlin. Incorporating multi-media installation informed by ethnographic understandings, Since 1998, Curran has undertaken a cycle of long-term research projects, critically addressing the predatory context resulting from the migrations and flows of global capital.


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