Saturday, March 30, 2013

Dow Jones, 1980-2009

I am not sure how many artists are currently working in the micro genre of landscape photography digitally altered to incorporate charts of financial data, but two are represented in the Somerset House exhibition 'Landmark: the Fields of Photography'.   Michael Najjar has created mountain scenes based on the NASDAQ, Dow Jones and Nikkei indices, inviting us to see their dramatic peaks and valleys as unnatural and unstable.   In the video clip above he points out a geographical feature corresponding to 9/11 and the precipitous slope that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers.  Mathieu Bernard-Reymond takes a slightly different approach in his Monuments series, converting these data series into imaginary land art sculptures.  "I use financial charts and statistics as basic shapes to produce photographic representations of global economic and ecological concerns. ... My purpose is to underline their fundamental link to landscape and thus, to human and natural history."

William Playfair, The Universal Commercial History, 1805

Of course line charts have been read like landscapes since their invention by William Playfair and presumably make use of our atavistic ability to judge relative scale when looking at distant hills.  Mountains are also useful metaphors - see for example the Information is Beautiful chart about media scare stories: 'Mountains out of Molehills'.  Some of the Mathieu Bernard-Reymond's charts remind me of the skylines and tally marks Hamish Fulton uses to record his walks.  There may well be artists inspired by Richard Long's conceptual walks who have made zig-zag journeys across a landscape, tracing the exact shape of a financial chart they have superimposed onto a map.  A more challenging project would be to physically climb and descend according to the dictates of an economic series, following the data's upward trends and downward dips (or double dips).  But the ultimate challenge would be to set up a business or run a stock market in order to replicate the mountain profile of the Rockies or the Alps.  Somewhere in the world there is probably a financial trader and accidental landscape artist whose transactions have followed such a path already.

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