A scene performed in tandem with an algorithmic trading model created by a Blackstone group investment banker
Goldin+Senneby, the Swedish artist duo whose work focuses on finance, are best known for their ongoing project Headless. Since it was initiated in 2007, Headless has involved a series of more and less self-conscious collaborators, among them an offshore management firm called Sovereign Trust, the mystery writer John Barlow, Angus Cameron of the Leicester University department of geography, Kara Donnelly, Sovereign Trust’s client service manager, the possibly-fictional author KD, Sovereign’s lawyers, and Alex Provan, the editor of Triple Canopy. Headless defies description—to the extent that Provan could write 10,000 words about it last year only to leave the reader convinced that no one but a fool would claim to know what it was really about. Yet Headless is also simply an art project whose aim is to investigate Headless Ltd. and its possible links with Georges Bataille’s société secrète Acéphale.
“Huge sums of virtual money floating offshore make an apt metaphor for the symbols and ideas that compel people to action and set events in motion,” writes Brian Droitcour. Goldin+Senneby’s endeavors often share the qualities of Headless: They implicate multiple collaborators, with uncertain identities, in an ambiguous authority structure—whose interactions “set events in motion.” Whether they do any more than that is unclear—and the ambiguity is important. “The recent financial crisis has not made anything more or less clear regarding our investigation into Headless Ltd, nor regarding our wider research into strategies of withdrawal and displacement,” the artists explained, rejecting a question posed to them in a 2009 interview.
Like finance, Goldin+Senneby’s work has a rabbit-duck aspect, shifting with one’s perspective. Is their work created by an uncoordinated cast of characters pursuing independent agendas? Or is it just a matter of generating the activity a system demands? No matter its guises, finance by definition shifts risk. Artists make works.
The following is a “speculative scene” that Goldin+Senneby have some relationship to producing. It was authored by the New Zealand playwright Jo Randerson as part of an overarching Headless-style endeavor. This one seeks to complete the 18th century work of August Nordenskiöld—an amateur alchemist who tried create gold with the ultimate aim of devaluing it—within today’s financial markets. The performance of the script below varies in tandem with the performance of an algorithmic trading model created for the artists by a Blackstone group investment banker and implemented by an anonymous programmer.
There is a desk with several drawers in it. On the desk is a large ’70s telephone. A machine in the corner.
A rubbish bin nearby.
The Actor enters the gallery space, in a light gray suit, tie, with his shirt hanging out. His jacket is hanging off his shoulder, his shoelace is untied. OR he enters calmly and suavely, full of confidence. He carries a shiny new briefcase.
He is glancing at his watch.
ACTOR: Sorry, guys, sorry.
On the way in he trips over his untied shoelace, almost falls and re-gathers his balance. Looks around to see if anyone is watching.
He takes a bow. He picks up the script and reads his instructions.
He looks around the room. Surveys it. He knocks and taps on the walls.
ACTOR: (reading off the script) This wall is better than this wall. It has a lower value. Today I’m going to show you how to successfully ascertain the value of something. But things of course could change.
He checks the script again.
ACTOR: I’ll put the machine on.
He turns on the machine. This is a reliable and internationally renowned machine for fiscal improvement.
ACTOR: It shouldn’t take too long. It’s very fast these days. We’ll get some results through shortly. Then you know things will start … you know things that were previously (he gestures downwards) will start (he gestures upwards).
He plays with the gesture a little until it turns into a little bit of a dance. He watches his arm happily. Gets lost in the arm movement (this becomes an Arm Dance to be repeated later).
ACTOR: Sorry, sorry, I don’t know why I was doing that.
He takes a deep breath, smiles at the audience, and bows again. He flicks his coat behind him like a cape.
He lifts his briefcase onto the desk and it spills open:
play texts, magic tricks, sheets of graphs, bouncy balls, clown noses, a wig, syringes, watches, money, a cape and a rabbit
ACTOR: Someone must have given me the wrong bag.
He scrambles to get all the items back in the briefcase. They fall out again, going everywhere, he pushes them into the case messily then pulls open a drawer in the desk and shoves everything in there.
He locks the drawer, and swallows the key.
He holds his arm up in a theatrical gesture, staring at the audience. With great poise and slow, dramatic intent he approaches someone in the audience and pulls the key out of their ear. If no-one is watching he pulls it out of his own ear.
He shows it to the audience, if there is anyone watching. He looks confused.
He checks his script which is lying on the desk. He returns to the script.
ACTOR: We are currently looking for people who believe in us. Who believe that what we are doing is worthwhile. We need brave young men and women who are prepared to enter into a totally safe and reliable scenario which will see them sitting at the top, the t-t-t-top of the world. Which is where ladies and gentlemen, we all want to be.
He goes over to the machine which has stopped working and kicks it. It starts working again.
ACTOR: And now. Ladies and gentlemen, does anyone have any money? Seriously though, you can totally trust me. Does anyone have any money?
If someone gives him some money, he puts it in his pocket, and then tries to pull it out of someone’s ear. Nothing comes out.
ACTOR: Sorry, I don’t know what happened to that. Sorry it’s just the luck of the draw, it’s beyond my control. I’m not really sorry. It’s quite complicated the process, you probably wouldn’t understand it. Does anyone have any more money?
If anyone gives him more money, he pockets it.
The gallery attendant comes over and directs his attention to the script. The actor reads the script.
ACTOR (off the script): We apologize if the
outcome differs in any way from the intended results. What does that mean – intended? Like – that I really
hope something would happen but if it doesn’t… if it doesn’t, then…
The gallery assistant dials the actor’s cellphone number.
His cellphone rings. He walks to the corner of the room and discreetly takes the call, hiding from the audience.
ACTOR: I can’t talk now. I’m acting. I don’t know. Maybe another day? (Pause.) How much is it? (Pause.) I’m not interested. Are they American? (Pause.) How much are they selling? Are they like going up or like going down? (Pause.) No I’m not interested.
He hangs up.
He turns back to the audience – did they notice he just took a phone call? How intelligent are they?
He looks at the phone on the desk.
He looks at the audience.
He checks his watch.
He looks at the phone.
He looks at the audience.
He smiles and bows.
He sits down at the desk with marvellous physicality, as if he is a magician doing a trick.
He looks at the audience for 30 seconds.
He acts happy and positive, like things are going well.
He acts sad, like someone has lied to him and he believed they were being honest.
He alternates between these two expressions several times.
He checks his watch. Sighs.
He opens a few drawers. There is nothing in them.
He eventually finds a black hat.
He taps the hat with a pencil, and swirls his hand around it as if this will make magic.
With great aplomb, he reaches into the hat for something, but there is nothing there. His trick has failed.
He tips the hat upside down and taps on the bottom in case it is stuck but nothing comes out. He is upset.
He smiles. He checks the machine.
ACTOR (off the script): We apologize if the outcome differs in any way from the intended results.
He waves the pencil over himself.
He smiles at the audience. He has regained his confidence.
He bangs his head on the desk, hard.
He takes out a typewriter from the drawer. He types a letter, talking what he types in a loud voice.
ACTOR: (typing) Hey guys, how are things going where you are? Stop. Over here, it’s mad. Stop. M.A.D. Stop. We are just run off our feet right now, things are so crazy busy. Everyone wants us right now. I am just like totally flat tack. Stop.
He thinks for a few moments.
ACTOR: (typing) It’s madness! M.A.D.N.E.S.S. things sure are totally mad round here right now.
He looks around again.
ACTOR: (typing) How are things going for you? Do you have any like good ideas? Like does anyone have any good ideas?
He looks around.
ACTOR: (typing) I mean I have heaps of good ideas. Heaps of really great ideas.
He takes the Strindberg script out of his drawer. Flicks through it. Throws it in the bin.
ACTOR: (typing) Yeah, like I say, it’s really going great here. We’re smashing it! Do you guys need any tips? Like if you need any help, just let me know. If you want help to get out of the black and into the red. I mean, sorry, no, you know, out of the red and into the black. Into the black, yeah. Black man, that’s the side to be on. Black! Not red. If you’re in like red like just try to like flip it over to the other side. Just like swap it around. Just like start saying the opposite of how it really is.
He acts positive for 15 seconds.
He acts negative for 15 seconds.
He acts half and half, somewhere in the middle.
He taps the hat again to see if something will come out. Nothing does.
The gallery attendant comes over and points at the script to draw the actor’s attention back to it.
ACTOR: (Typing and talking) Hang on I just have to take a call.
He takes a tube of red paint out of the desk.
He squirts a handful of paint and throws/wipes it on a wall. OR he draws a graph with it. He steps back and considers it.
ACTOR: This wall is now an improved wall. It is better, it has a higher value. I mean lower value. It now has a lower value. (Pause.) OR higher.
He squirts another handful of paint and wipes it on a different wall. OR he draws another graph. He steps back and squints at it to see if it is ‘working’. He is not sure if it is working.
He checks the machine to see if it is working.
The gallery assistant dials the actor’s cellphone number so that his cellphone rings.
He goes to the corner of the room to take the call, again trying to hide from the audience. He tries to avoid getting red paint on the phone but it is difficult.
ACTOR: (answering the cellphone) What? I told you not to call me. I’m acting. (Pause.) I don’t know.
He looks at the desk-phone.
ACTOR: I just do it until they tell me to stop. (Pause.) I don’t know! Another three days? A week? (Pause.) No-one knows how long it’s going to last. It’s an experiment. (Pause.) Is it a main part? (Pause.) I have to think about it. Is it profit share? Are they like going well or badly at the moment? (Pause. He looks at the audience and gestures to show “sorry, almost finished.”)
ACTOR: I realize it’s a great opportunity but I’m in the middle of a paid job. (Pause.) No I can’t commit, I can’t fucking commit to anything right now. They’re paying me! Don’t you get it? They are actually paying me.
He hangs up.
ACTOR: Sorry, guys, sorry.
He goes back to the typewriter, typing as he talks again. He reads off the script.
ACTOR: (typing) You remember when we talked last time. You were saying something important.
Over the next few sentences he gradually stops typing on the typewriter but keeps miming with his fingers while he talks, so the miming becomes like a weird physical tick.
ACTOR: (typing) that you I was talking to? That night? You were telling me something but I couldn’t hear it properly. Something about like… some kind of advice like when to… how to make good choices? Like when is a good time to … like when is a good time to do something… like or even like… what is worth doing?
He starts doing the Arm Dance from earlier, and is intrigued by the movement.
ACTOR: …I couldn’t quite get the hang of it…. but like… maybe how to get more … like get things more … (he gestures ‘up’ as he did earlier) ? I couldn’t really hear it at the time but it felt like… Like somehow like… a totally reliable way to … like to be able to stop worrying? Like to make things secure? Or an end to all my worries or something?
He is standing up by now.
ACTOR: Haha – not that I have any worries! Like I say, things are going great here, just super super like great. I’m just not sure exactly how much longer they will be going on for… like it could be any day now… things might have to change…
He looks at the phone on the desk. He reaches towards it. He stops himself. Looks around to see if anyone saw.
He reaches towards it again, then stops.
Then he quickly puts another red paint mark/graph at the top of the third wall, and traces a line down the wall with his hand, so there is a red splotch with a long tail that reaches to the floor. On the floor below the tail, he squirts a little splotch of paint in a pool.
ACTOR: (Talking to the paint.) I’m just searching for a very important piece of information that might be the clue to everything. Something that will lead to success. Like a secret code or something. Any help you can give will be rewarded.
He quickly runs over and pulls the desk-phone plug out of the wall.
He goes to a corner of the room, crouches like a sprinter.
He does the Arm Dance.
He checks his watch.
He waits for 5 seconds, then he starts running and crashes into the first wall, connecting his head exactly with the red mark.
The momentum of this crash sends him flying over to the second red paint mark, where he again bangs his head.
This crash rebounds him into the third red paint spot which he hits with his head and then keeping his head on the wall he trails the paint line down to the floor, placing his head carefully next the little pool of paint at the bottom, so it looks like it has come leaking out of his head.
The gallery attendant dials the actor’s cell-phone number.
His cell phone rings. He grabs it.
ACTOR: Hello? Yes? Yes? High or low? Great. D-d-d-debt? Great. And good valuation? Great! Yes! Do it! Right now! We’re on! Oh my God, it’s happening, it’s finally happening! This is the part I was waiting for!
A small hole in the wall opens and a huge pile of coins comes spilling out, like out of a casino machine.
An alarm bell goes off at the same time.
The actor quickly pulls a balaclava out of his pocket, puts it on and picks up all the money. He moves fast, like a robber, looking around, and when he has most of the money he runs quickly out of the space.
Gallery is re-set. Actor cleans himself up, has a quick break and then begins again.