BY João Laia in Reviews | 07 SEP 13
Featured in
Issue 157


BY João Laia in Reviews | 07 SEP 13

Goldin+Senneby, ‘VWAP’, 2013, detail

Goldin+Senneby define themselves as a ‘collaborative framework exploring juridical, financial and spatial constructs’. The elusiveness of this description is somehow apt. Since 2004, when Simon Goldin and Jakob 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 Their collaborative strategies have shaped a withdrawn approach wherein the artists are akin to puppeteers; their production mostly comprises choreographing the labour of others.

Goldin+Senneby’s show at CCA is part of a new project inspired by August Nordenskiöld, an 18th-century alchemist employed by King Gustav III to fund the Swedish war against Russia. However, Nordendskiöld intended to make the secret of transforming base metals into gold widely available, which would have rendered it worthless: a plot that never materialized. In ‘VWAP’, the acronym of ‘value weight average pricing’ that gives the exhibition its title, Goldin+Senneby worked with a group of sociologists and political scientists to develop a trading algorithm aimed at discovering a gap in the market and creating a permanent stream of profit, which would destabilize the circuit as Nordendskiöld tried to. The £3,000 budget made a profit of £430 in 15 days.

Upon entering the gallery, one encountered a plinth with a book containing the algorithm used for actual trading during the show. The intangibility of the financial markets finds a parallel in this display as the algorithm is never to be seen: the book is protected by a glass case and only its cover with the words ‘Value Weight Average Pricing’ can be read. The slickness of this set stood out from the rest of the exhibition, in which low-quality photocopied illustrations and pound notes were shown alongside used toilet paper and chocolate gold coins, some of which had been rubbed against the walls and floor.

In a corner was an arrangement of an old Barbour jacket, a pair of rubber boots and a plastic tiara. These props were used by actress Eleanor Methven to play Elizabeth II while rehearsing The Queen’s Shilling (2013), a commissioned play by artist and writer James McAleavey. The theatre play describes Elizabeth II chatting with Elizabeth I while eating gold coins as a means of pain relief. By using these specific monarchs, McAleavey alludes to Derry~Londonderry’s history of conflict: the Troubles took place during Elizabeth II’s reign, while Elizabeth I represented the feeble period of peace in Ireland before James I came to power. These mentions to the local history are further enhanced by the toilet paper and the chocolate marks – allusions to the dirty protests. The artists use oblique similarities and acute oppositions as speculative materials. For example, the play decodes the illustrations of the exhibition as representing Elizabeth I, one of which is a picture of alchemist John Dee performing an experiment before her court, linking the queen to the 18th-century Swedish story.

Both their use of the exhibition budget to speculate on the market and their referencing of the current post-conflict situation contrast the specific location of the show to the abstract space of international trading. Similarly, the immateriality of the algorithm confronts the city’s present aim of becoming a centre for digital technology.

In this sense Goldin+Senneby’s complex web of references produces an insightful comment on how external dynamics are incorporated into local specificities. In what was arguably their most directly political exhibition to date, ‘VWAP’ successfully related far-flung topics such as alchemy, theatre, performativity, finance and precarious labour, mimicking but also unpacking the functioning of contemporary neo-liberal markets and their interaction with local realities, here specifically focusing on a context marked by a prolonged period of conflict. In doing so, they formulate a sharp comment on both Derry~Londonderry’s situation and the broader political landscape, making their first UK solo show a remarkable introduction to their work.