When re-reading some texts about Goldin+Senneby in preparation for writing my own, I noted with interest that a conspicuous number of them were surprisingly anecdotal. The writers’ personal details and experiences, albeit in fictionalized form, were woven together with their reflections about the artists’ practice as if compensating for the lack of bodies in Goldin+Senneby’s work by inserting their own – panting, peering into the dark depths of the Atlantic, feeling light-headed – where the artists should have been. It seemed as if engaging with Goldin+Senneby’s work had provoked a need in the writers for anchoring their thoughts in concrete experiences, holding on to the details of the surrounding world to convince themselves of its, as well as their own, solidity. Turning themselves into objects of their own fiction, the purposeful embodiment of their voices also seemed to be a way for the writers to convey (or combat) the unnerving feeling of manipulation one tends to get when entering the vertiginous world of Goldin+Senneby, where you can never be quite sure of the boundaries between the real and the fictitious, or indeed of your own role in delineating them. But perhaps, I thought to myself as I scrolled through the documents on my computer, this anecdotal compulsion is really something much more than that. Tracing its emergence across the pages of the artists’ past chroniclers, a ritualistic pattern began to emerge; as if the writers had subconsciously been willing the magic of the mirror to be reversed, attempting to reveal the true face of that which was animating them by turning themselves into images.
Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of artists: those who make no explicit connection between their subject matter and their working methods, and those for whom this connection is entirely fundamental. Goldin+Senneby, whose message is best understood through their methods, most definitely belong to the latter category. Importing strategies from the world of finance into the sphere of art and back again, the duo has made the intrigues of capital the central driving force and subject matter of their work. Simultaneously appearing as complicit and questioning, Goldin+Senneby do not personally offer any explanations of their practice beyond the practice itself. Consistently emulating the structures of the phenomena they set out to explore, their personal politics or position is consequently hard to pin down. The artists rarely appear in public, choosing instead to deploy a number of official spokes persons – not unlike representatives of global corporations. This strategy also extends to the making of their work, for which a roster of designers, curators, writers, economists, magicians, sociologists and so on, are engaged.
Their working method could be described as outsourcing, or as a distribution of agency, depending on the angle from which you are looking at it. This dissolution of the authorial position corresponds to the broader dissolution within capitalist society between object and subject, as well as between reality and image. Performed in a variety of ways throughout Goldin+Senneby’s work, this is perhaps most clearly expressed in the recurring feeling of uncertainty their work tends to generate, making everyone who comes into contact with it doubt the stability of their own perceived position as protagonist, motif or audience.
Their long-term project Headless performed this methodology to perfection, staging, as the title implies, a process of production without any easily identifiable, central, authorial subject. Initiated as an investigation into the possible connections between Bataille’s secret society Acéphale (literally meaning “headless”) and its possible contemporary counterpart, the company Headless Ltd registered in the Bahamas, the project appropriated methods and maneuvers from offshore finance with the aim of producing a novel. Pulling various protagonists into its plot, and populating it with characters both real and fictional, the ghost-written novel became a machine of its own making, devouring whatever came in its way and using it for its own purposes. In this self-perpetuating cycle of production and documentation, a character could suddenly become an author and vice versa. Likewise, literary plot devices were used to generate events with real life consequences, which in turn would affect the course of the narrative in the book – not unlike the way money and everyday life interfere with each other.
This performative enactment of the double nature of both capital and art, as both concrete and abstract, both real and symbolic, recurs throughout the artists’ practice. The strategy of comparing and conflating how the spheres of art, finance and magic make use of illusion and narrative to generate value is used both metaphorically and concretely by the artists in their work. For the series Trading Strategies Goldin+Senneby acquired confidential trading strategies from a number of specialists in exchange for art works. The strategies were then put to use algorithmically on the financial market to generate funds later used for actors’ salaries when taking part in performance works by Goldin+Senneby, as well as transformed into discreet art objects for the commercial art market. For Zero Magic the starting point was the practice of ‘short-selling’, whereby a publicly traded company’s predicted loss of value is invested in, then actively engineered and profited from by a third party. In collaboration with a magician and a financial sociologist, Goldin+Senneby developed a magic trick performing this same function. Through filing a US patent application for the work, the reading of short-selling as a magic trick is put to the test: whereas investment strategies are considered ‘abstract ideas’ and cannot be patented under US law, magic tricks – which absurdly enough are evidently considered less abstract than financial transactions with the power to wipe out entire communities – can. Should the patent go through, I presume Goldin+Senneby in theory would become the only actors allowed to perform short-selling strategies on the US financial market. How they would deal with this position remains to be seen.
By transposing a set of actions from one sphere to another, Goldin+Senneby alter our understanding of their meaning and consequences. This transformation of perception is fundamental to the making of art, as well as to the process of generating financial value. In the financial world, it is considered illegal to hire freelance writers to boost the value of a company through spreading affirmative narratives about it. In the art world, it’s how we make a living. Moving between these two positions, the practice of Goldin+Senneby manages to be uncompromising in relation to the logic of its method, simultaneously appearing as elusive yet sharply articulated.
After a long day at the computer, I go down to the neighbourhood bar and read back the paragraphs I have just written. Mildly perplexed at the persona emerging between the lines, I order a glass of wine. It is the first spring day in Berlin. The trees are beginning to bud and the evening air smells sweetly of promise. The withdrawal of Goldin+Senneby and the subsequent multiplicity of voices employed in their absence suddenly seems unnecessarily laborious to me, myself included. Why all these games and players? Why the elaborate illusions and mysticisms? I finish the wine and read through the text once again. Retracing the steps of Goldin+Senneby in my own writing, the proliferation of their practice begins to make sense to me. Taken as a readymade from the financial system, the artists’ methodology–like the market–requires its own self-expansion. Writing this text is of course a part of that process. The authorial subject occupying the void strategically left by the artists has now become clearly recognizable. Staring back at me from just beyond the edge of the mirror, devouring whatever comes in its way and using it for its own purposes, appears to be nothing but capital.