[Andreas Gursky, Chicago Board of Trade II]
Perhaps the best-known visual document of finance capital’s contemporary ascendance is German photographer Andreas Gursky’s Chicago Board of Trade II (1999). An icon of contemporary photography, which enjoyed a long spell as one of the most prominent exhibits at London’s Tate Modern gallery, the image is part of a series of shots of trading floors — in cities ranging from New York to Singapore to Kuwait—taken by Gursky since the early 1990s. While works like Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Diptych (1994) display spaces entirely given over to desk-bound, computerized exchange — oversize versions of the open-plan offices that are now the standard trading environments in financial districts across the world — Gursky’s visits to the Chicago Board of Trade (first in 1997 and then in 1999) allowed him to capture scenes of traditional open outcry trading in all its drama, dynamism, and energy. As such, Chicago Board of Trade II recalls nineteenth-century illustrations of stock exchange panics, in which human passion and frenzy are seen to animate the market. At the same time, though, one can hardly ignore the massive presence of technology in Gursky’s image: technologies of representation, recording, calculation, and transmission — descendents of the stock ticker that already, in the late nineteenth century, endowed the functioning of the market with an impersonal, placeless air.
[Mark Lombardi, World Finance Corporation, Miami, c. 1970–79 (4th version), 1997.]
Comparable attempts to provide what Fredric Jameson calls “cognitive maps” of the occulted realities of global finance were made by the American neoconceptualist Mark Lombardi in the 1990s. From the early years of the decade until his death in 2000, Lombardi used a carefully archived file of news reports (eventually running to some twelve thousand entries) to produce meticulous pencil-on-paper diagrams of financial and political scandals ranging from Whitewater and Iran-Contra to the savings and loan and Vatican Bank affairs. World Finance Corporation, Miami, c. 1970–79 (1997) (fig. 8) charts the hidden webs of influence, investment, money laundering, and embezzlement that linked this company, founded by a CIA-backed anti-Castro Cuban, to Colombian cocaine smugglers, Floridian realtors, and banks and to government departments in the United States, Latin America, and elsewhere. Also produced on a large scale (World Finance Corporation measures about two feet by five feet), Lombardi’s drawings, like Gursky’s prints, enact an interplay between proximity and distance that may well be integral to representations of finance in general. For the viewer confronted with work of this kind, to focus in on the details of individuals or institutions is to lose sight of the whole, while to survey the whole is to allow signifying detail to blur into formalist abstraction.
A further point of commonality between Gursky and Lombardi is the ostensibly neutral, impassive quality of their images. Here, though, the two artists also diverge, for if Gursky’s stock exchange images carry a “critique,” then it remains “implicit” and “inscrutable,”25 while behind the scrupulous, methodical tabulations that make up Lombardi’s work there clearly lies a critical, activist impulse. Like the charts produced by the Pujo Committee, Lombardi’s images use the resources of abstraction to reveal patterns and connections that are indiscernible at the level of direct personal experience.
Ran across a 2008 project called Chang Chun Dong: Memory, Dialogue, Scape in which residents were asked to draw their individual maps and tell their specific memories of a particular neighborhood. The documentation-as-book includes both their maps (pixelatedly scanned) as well their photos and interviews. Onebluepenguin pointed out the boy who only plotted out four spots, including the corner store and his hagwon, as well as the girl who denoted her favorite restaurants. On the inside back cover is the quotation “I experience myself in the city, and the city exists through my embodied experience. The city and my body supplement and define each other. I dwell in the city and the city dwells in me.” (Juhani Pallasmaa, 2005)