Magazine article Art Monthly

Falling to Earth

Magazine article Art Monthly

Falling to Earth

Article excerpt

In 2008, architect of choice for the art world, Zaha Hadid, teamed up with Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel to create a futuristic mobile pavilion designed to travel for two years throughout Asia, the US and Europe (see Artnotes AM323). The legendary Mademoiselle Chanel herself, publicity reminded us, had in the past supported the likes of Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Jacques Lipchitz. Now, 20 contemporary artists, including Daniel Buren, Sylvie Fleury, Sophie Calle, Yang Fudong, Subodh Gupta and Yoko Ono, had been commissioned to collaborate with the fashion house to make work 'conceived in relation to one of Chanel's most emblematic accessories--the quilted handbag', revealing 'the multiple facets of this mythical bag and its universe'. However, the plug was pulled three stops into the global tour: it had been launched in Hong Kong and took up residence in Tokyo then Central Park New York, but never made it to London and the other global cultural--and financial--capitals of its tour.

'The producers of the abysmal 1998 movie Lost In Space should sue for copyright against the spacecraft, Jupiter II,' wrote Rob Dawg on Zahahadidblog of the plans for the Chanel building, and Hadid's design does closely echo the weird organic shapes of futuristic alien technologies as imagined by Hollywood, probably due to a convergence of computer software. And the ship's sudden grounding makes it an early manifestation of the space-debris that we can expect to crash to earth as a result of the spectacular break up of 'Planet Finance'. It is a Roswell moment: Hadid's sci-fi pavilion, its 'propulsion to create surprise' suddenly exhausted, is the junk of an alien civilisation, stranded, earthbound, with its corpses and culture laid out before us.

'Planet Finance' is the name given by groovy right-wing academic Neil Ferguson to the vast financial sphere that has loomed over our own planet Earth for the last few decades. He describes how, in 2006, the measured economic output of the entire world was some $48.6trn, but the total market capitalisation of the world's stock markets was $50.6trn, some 4% larger, while the total value of domestic and international bonds was $67.9trn, a whacking 40% larger ('Wall Street lays another egg', Vanity Fair, December 2008). Planet Finance was not only bigger than planet Earth, it was faster, too; every day $3.1trn changed hands on foreign-exchange markets and every month $5.8trn was traded on global stock markets. In this swampy atmosphere (made up, it might be hypothesised, of gaseous testosterone, cocaine dust and Porsche exhaust fumes) new financial life-forms evolved. The total annual issuance of mortgage-backed securities, including the seductive new 'collateralised debt obligations' (CDOs), rose to more than $1tn. The volume of 'derivatives'--contracts such as options and swaps--grew even faster, and by the end of 2006 their notional value was just over $400trn. With its growth, the structures and logics of this new planet increasingly became the dominant ones here on earth. 'The market' became the paradigm that shaped every activity and undertaking.

Contemporary art had a particular and precious place in this fantastical new culture, and its artefacts provided a bridge between the previous values and narratives of the older, smaller planet and the ideals and aspirations of this new stellar civilisation. Art has always had an intimate relationship with the rich ruling classes, both temporal and spiritual, and its attraction to our new extraterrestial masters was precisely its occult intimacy with power. Contemporary art helped validate and sanctify these new electric structures. Art was the symbol that spoke of the mystical power of the uber-commodity: a special sort of object--or action--that transcended the mundane to transport us into glorious heavenly vortices of Platonic value. Which is why artists--possibly after being abducted and their brains scrubbed clean of primitive ideas of worth and value, not to mention a sense of the ridiculous and the unseemly--found themselves happily making work about a padded handbag in a pavilion designed for space travel. …

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