Gallery 400 Blog

Readinglenin1

Global is the New Local: The Butterfly Effect of New Economies

In Istanbul, with the 1980s coup d’état, I had the feeling that I was born into a city of ceaseless transition: from state control to privatization, monopolies to free market economy, and local to global. These were times in which tales of globalization were being narrated both positively and negatively. My parents and their left-wing friends were blaming the neo-Ottomanist, conservative, but equally neo-liberal policies and Americanization for the possible decline of our nation and culture. Thus, in my childish opinion, globalization was something a country should avoid to be economically, politically, and culturally stable. Believing in nation states and independent, self-sustainable economies, I even felt guilty when eating an imported and expensive Chiquita banana, since import meant debt for a nation state. Certainly, throughout the years, as I have read about nation states and learned that they are as problematic as today’s globalized entities, I have changed my opinion toward globalization, while at the same time holding onto my doubts and suspicions about how it creates new forms of imperialist spaces, cultural hegemony, loss of memory, dissolution of identity, and vicious capitalism. Thus, it is no surprise that I feel attracted to every work in the It’s the Political Economy exhibition at Gallery 400, curated by Oliver Ressler and Gregory Sholette.

It’s the Political Economy, Stupid critically addresses the global capital economy by focusing on the 2008 crisis and its aftermaths. With a wide range of media, such as video, photography, installation, and drawing, the artists reflect on the outcomes of the financial crisis which resulted in stock market downturns worldwide, the bailout of banks by national governments, and ultimately threatened to collapse large financial institutions. The exhibition analyzes how the global flow of money, information, images, narratives, and ideas affects the conditions of our being. The artists in the exhibition examine an era in which nation states are in a phase of dissolution, and in which popular trust of a global system has evaporated.

The artists in the exhibition draw attention to the heterogeneity of the art world, seeing that art culture, and the economy, politics, public market, heritage, production techniques, consumption trends, and audience which often dissociated from it are, in actuality, interrelated. With content ranging from narrative surveys of the 2008 crisis, to fictionalized dystopias and utopias, the videos that make up It’s the Political Economy, Stupid depict how nation states are uncountable, and even culture, languages, and memory are uncountable to the same degree. Some of the videos observe media as a means of producing and disseminating a worldview, while others concentrate on the individuals and archetypes that constitute the shifting world, namely, immigrants, tourists, refugees, guest workers, students, and jet set artists and curators. The works in the exhibition are informative, as well as imaginative, inventive, enticing, and timely. Yevgeniy Fiks, Olga Kopenkina, and Alexandra Lerman’s Reading Lenin with Corporations is a documentary-style video of a weekly reading seminar, held in New York City from September through October, 2008, that aimed to bring together artists and corporate employees to discuss Vladimir Lenin’s Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1917) at the intersection of contemporary politics, art, and culture. 

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Image: Yevgeniy Fiks, Olga Kopenkina, and Alexandra Lerman, Reading Lenin with Corporations, 2011–2012, video, 60 min. (still).

The group, including employees from major corporate establishments (ranging from investment banks to an art foundation), discussed Lenin’s book in the context of modern philosophical and political debates on Imperialism. In the video, the artists attempt to ignite understanding of the current state of imperialism in light of Lenin’s account of this phenomenon. What is interesting to me is that, rather than concentrating on the nature of art, or the state of art in the capitalist world, the artists instead focus on the conditions framing their ability to produce art. While the original goal of the project was to discuss the implications and limitations of Lenin’s book, the focus of the discussions naturally shifts to the global economy due to the 2008 economic crisis, making Lenin’s text more relevant than the artists may have anticipated at outset.

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Image: Yevgeniy Fiks, Olga Kopenkina, and Alexandra Lerman, Reading Lenin with Corporations, 2011–2012, video, 60 min. (still).

On the other hand, The Revenge of the Crystals by Field Work is a fictional account of the aftermath of a crisis. A five-act play recorded in a garden on June 18, 2012, the video critically reappraises contemporary society. Set in a post-capitalistic future following a financial crisis around 2012, the majority of the work takes place in a garden which, although suggestive of paradise, represents neither a sacred space, nor the universal nature of gardening and the basic human needs it fulfills: to cultivate, master the wild landscape, and bring order to it. Instead, we encounter something uncanny, an ambiguous state, a space between inside and outside, a phase, an entrée; it is as if the garden is a portal from the capitalist world to somewhere else. We witness a moment in which nation states and the monetary system that supports them have collapsed. The first two acts narrate the financial crisis and subsequent failure of the capital system, and the characters’ adaptation to this a new life in which they must rely on each other to survive, while the remaining three acts illustrate the uncanny, tracking the individual and group identities that emerge from this scenario, and the unknown future. The tension escalates when they start arguing about the basics of communal life. While one urges for system, structure, and schedules, the other supports the flow of “free love” and social pliancy. Artists Lise Skou and Nis Rømer comment, “In The Revenge of the Crystals we witness the historical outcome of the fatal regimenting of citizens caused by hegemony,” making a latent critique of contemporary society and the default capitalist system.1 Straddling the real and the unreal, the work is akin to Ursula K. Le Guin’s novels: the story is too familiar, too possible to happen in the near future, and yet the setting is alien.

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Image: Field Work, The Revenge of The Crystals, 2012, video, 25 min. (still).

Whether we are watching the professors in Reading Lenin with Corporations video passionately support capitalism, or the people in Revenge of the Crystals arguing about the very basics of social life, we must ask: What is real? Is the global capitalist world so vehemently defended by vicious corporate people and business professors the same world we live in? Where do we belong? Do we belong to the fictional aftermath of the crisis, where we no longer are the 99%? Is equity, fair pay, a better world possible, and if it is, can art help to get us there?

by Pınar Üner Yılmaz, who is currently a PhD student in the art history program at UIC and a Gallery Assistant at Gallery 400.
1 Anna Ankerstjerne, "The Revenge of the Crystals," Lise Skou, November 22, 2013, http://www.liseskou.net/txt_by_Anna_Ankeerstjerne.html.