Goldin+Senneby review by Maggie Gray
‘The Decapitation of Money’ is not your regular exhibition. It’s an exit point, an initiation almost, into the wider world of Goldin+Senneby. The show marks the end of their residency at the Kadist Art Foundation, but it brings nothing to conclusion, and it will take more than a trip to the gallery to appreciate the full scope of the artists’ ongoing investigative project.
Goldin+Senneby have been examining the abstract nature of money for years; here they introduce the central premises fuelling that research. You enter into a room laid out like the lobby of a bank and, after picking up the pamphlet and paperback book accompanying the exhibition (more on that later) move to a second room for what turns out to be a rather interesting lesson in economics. The artists have creatively, tenuously linked two events of the last century. The first is the formation of Georges Bataille’s secret, anti-sovereignty society ‘Acéphale’ (‘Headless’) which met in Parisian woodlands in the 1930s. Bataille later wrote ‘La Part Maudite,’ an essay on economies of excess and their inevitable expenditure on luxuries or warfare, consumption or destruction. The second event is the formation of the Eurodollar in the 1950s, when Soviet banks deposited stockpiles of dollars in Europe, evading US financial jurisdiction at the start of the Cold War. This was an important stage in the development of modern finance, where money operates in an elusive, abstract and essentially made up economic space, removed from territorial sovereign boundaries. This uncharted monetary territory remains dangerously difficult to navigate; current global crises demonstrate how easily financial systems can end up out of our control. All this is explained, with surprising deftness, in a half-hour recording of a walking-tour lecture given by Goldin+Senneby’s economist/spokesman/emissary Angus Cameron, in the same woodland that sheltered ‘Acéphale.’
I left the exhibition mulling over that economic theory, read the accompanying book commissioned by the artists, and realised that ‘The Decapitation of Money’ is the tip of a very elaborate iceberg. Behind the show lurks a multi-headed, mushrooming and self-sustaining monster of a wider project, the whole course of which is charted in ‘Looking for Headless’ - a serial, ghost-written, trashy detective novel.
The backdrop is the shady world of offshore finance, where secretive companies offer tax evasion strategies to the very rich. A host of characters, all personally employed by the elusive artists Goldin+Senneby, investigate the company ‘Headless Ltd’ run by ‘Sovereign Trust,’ - both so aptly named in light of the artists’ Bataillean interests that I assumed they were made up. Some detective work of my own on the internet, however, suggests that they might be real. So are most of the protagonists and the string of events and documents through which they present their findings. Before long, the current exhibition will be written into the plot, too. The ‘author’ KD, however, is apparently a fiction and so (hopefully) is the menacingly punning plot twist involving a murder by decapitation.
This all makes for a rather sinister (and very readable) web of truth and fictions, questions, answers and evasions, with Goldin+Senneby bewilderingly untraceable within the tangle, like leaders of a crime ring or, more to the point, the key beneficiaries of a shady off-shore bank. The whole venture, with its deliberate out-sourcing, about-turns and obfuscations, operates in precisely the same way as the companies it critiques. And the semi-reality of the resulting novel, I suppose, mimics the semi-reality of modern money, where speculative deals with assets that don’t yet exist can have lasting effects on our real-world wealth. I never imagined an economics lecture and a detective story would be the starting point for such a fiendishly intelligent, completely confusing commentary on the virtual, fictional spaces in which our world operates.