If the oft-cited antipodes of modern economics, John Maynard Keynes und Friedrich August Hayek, agreed on one point it was that of the destabilizing effect of absent trust. When this fundamental quality is bathed in harsh light through its very loss, as it has been in the financial crisis for some years now, the impact of social relationships manifests beyond economic parameters: lack of trust is the barrier that makes the climate of capitalist exchange relationships dry up.
Axel Stockburger’s intervention in public space drew our attention to such a situation and thus referred to a change in climate in the fabric of the global economy, whose present crisis is not any longer characterized by scarcity but by abundance.
The artist enriched Vienna’s Graben with a sculptural object whose intrinsic value revealed itself to passersby only through its performative quality: From May 27, 2014, an ostensibly gilded column ejected money in the form of one euro coins in one of the most liquid places of the city. The horizontal stream of pedestrians was accompanied by a random stream inviting participation for the duration of the act. Quantitative Easing (for the street) did not exclude anybody but rather allowed all people passing by—strollers, tourists, consumers, business men and women, beggars, and neighbors—to pick up and distribute the coins.
Curated by Muntean/Rosenblum, the project highlighted the instability, volatility, and inequality of economically defined values on the probably most traditional upscale shopping street of Vienna. Quantitative Easing (for the street) took its place in the long tradition of artworks dedicated to the social phenomenon of economic dominance and money as its quantitative form of appearance. Like in his earlier works in which Stockburger had explored present-day media such as films, videos, and computer games and their linguistic, gestural and material conventions, his interest here centered on social fictions created by both economy and art, which are both based on agreements and are subject to change. They inform our view of the world for the very reason that they are constructs.
Economic and artistic fictions are fragile and speculative. While art uses the present in order to reflect reality in its appearance, financial markets produce an appearance that has to turn into reality in the future so that the speculative house of cards does not cave in. Hence, what we call an economic or debt crisis is the reality of a “world” that went down.
Stockburger’s art project premised the devastating event that has determined our global world since 2008. It set out from where a new fiction—that of “quantitative easing”—reconstructs the world as a purportedly economic one. Quantitative Easing (for the street) was conceived as an artistic investigation into a financial-policy construction intended to save an already collapsed system. What this means for the thereby changed social reality, to what extent money and art, as fictions, spawn the world, and in what we trust, or in whom we place confidence are the questions that Stockburger not only asked himself but also brought up for all people bustling around the Graben.
The artist transferred “quantitative easing” from financial markets to the streets—to the terrain of the general public whose social climate mirrors its indebtedness. The coins he threw in the casino of an economized public space were not much more than random drops in the ocean of a social reality whose fundamental values are based on pricing probabilistic states of the world with automated transactions.
Stockburger’s intervention in the public realm raised the burning question what money, creation of value, and fair distribution of wealth mean to us. What are their social, economic and artistic fictions based on? Which desires do they bring about? What does participation mean? The political horizon of the street on which the coins came to lie finally emerged at this point: Fragmented into derivatives of economic “necessity,” representative democracies create the climate for extremely volatile forms of politically-legal “quantitative easing” by invoking a social liquidity that is gambled away and liquidated at the same time.
Quantitative Easing (for the street) offered an opportunity to think about “crisis” as a dizzying scam that has seized and swept away a now defunct social reality. At the same time, however, the artist reminded us that streets are venues of “social transactions” (Stockburger) where capital is not everything that matters but where aesthetic, social and political wealth is realized and provides room to move.
Text (abridged): Gerald Nestler
Kunstplatz Graben, at Graben 21, 1010 Vienna
* 1974 in Munich (DE), lives and works in Vienna.
Quantitative Easing (for the street)Axel Stockburger
May 27 to October 27, 2014
Iron structural tubing shape frame, sheet steel, distributor cone, coin ejection control, random generator, metal leaf gilding
277 cm, diameter 100,6 cm