Gerald Nestler

 

PROJECTS

TEXTS | TALKS

BIO | contact


contact: mail <at> geraldnestler <net>


 

I am an artist and writer engaged in postdisciplinary research: I combine theory and conversation with intervention, performance, video, installation, sound and speech. 

I also also develop and curate artistic-activist formats for collaborative practices between art, philosophy, science and other fields of expertise. I do this because I believe that the ecological, political, economic and cultural challenges we are facing today demand us to explore and create new bonds and alliances of resistance and intervention.

My research focuses on what I call the derivative condition of technocapitalism and its performative speech. In terms of practice I am working on an aesthetics of resolution that aims at renegade acticism. Examples of my work on these themes are below and in the project section.

My artistic work is often based on collaboration, especially with the artist Sylvia Eckermann. An example for this approach is the art series The Future of Demonstration. I am a member of the Technopolitics Working Group in Vienna and the Volatility Research Group in New York. I was a researcher at Forensic Architecture and was awarded a PhD at the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London (2017).

My work has been presented internationally in various format, such as exhibitions, performances, festivals, conferences, lectures and workshops. I have received a number of art and research grants, amongst which are the Austrian State Grant for Visual Art (2003), the Goldsmiths Visual Cultures PhD Research Bursary (2010), Austrian studio program grants to Beijing (2008), New York/ISCP (2016) and Herzliya/Tel Aviv (2020).

I have also published and edited widely on art, finance and technology. Books, journals and essays include "Yx," an artist book/reader on finance and economy as fields of artistic research (Schlebrugge.Editor, Vienna, 2007); KUNSTFORUM INTERNATIONAL 200 + 201 on Art and Economy (ed. with Dieter Buchhart, 2010); a research article in Forensis. The Architecture of Public Truth (ed. by Forensic Architecture, Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2014); the reader Making of Finance (ed. with Armen Avanessian, Merve, Berlin, 2015); the special issue "Art and Finance," Finance and Society (ed. with Suhail Malik, 2016); "A-Symmetry. Algorithmic Finance and the Dark Side of the Efficient Market," in Risk Equipment. Technosphere Magazine, #9, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2017); "Aesthetics of Resolution. A postdisciplinary approach to counter the technocapitalist black box," in Proceedings of SIGraDi18 conferance on Technopoliticas, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil (2018) and the essay "Art, Market and Finance" in Routledge Handbook to Critical Finance Studies (with Victoria Ivanova, forthcoming 2020).

In 2018, Finance and Society published a conversation with me by Christian Klöckner and Stefanie Müller with Gerald Nestler (Vol. 4/No. 1, peer-reviewed).

 

Notes on my research and practice

Since the late 1990s, I have focused on researching finance and in particular what I call the derivative condition of technocapitalism. (In a nutshell, this means that the application of metadata to speculate on the odds of risk has transformed form a quantitative innovation in finance to the paradigmatic model for dealing with uncertainty; i.e. the future.)

This exploration started in 1994 and the reason for this rather unusual enagement as an artist – I had studied art at the Academy of fine arts Vienna and subsequently worked in digital media and early Internet practices – was that we were entering a 'new world': after the collapse of communism the neoliberal turn and the New Economy boom unhinged a completely different playing field. I felt meaningful to me for an artistic practice commited to questioning the contemporary world to take these changes into account. To get a grasp on how markets operate, I decided to work as a broker and trader.

The main insights I took from these years was that finance does not only affect business or the economy as an abstract entity quite remote from everyday life. But that if deeply affects much wider social realms, including how subjectivity evolves (the in/dividual). And it can exert such an influence because it applies every avaliable knowledge and technology. Hence, what I have been exploring as an artist is how its models, technologies, operations, narratives and fictions transform social, material and ecological relations. (I use ther term technowledge to underscore the production of knowledge beyond human apperception, which in its current proprietary mode is highly asymmetrical).

Art has an outstanding position: as artist, we can look at a field of interest from all kinds of angles with the advantage that disciplinary boundaries are less of a concern. Art has degrees of freedom that can be made fruitful in many ways, also in exploring a field as seemingly remote from art as finance. But this still implies an engagement in making sense and therefore a crossing of lines between art, theory, technology and science (I call this approach postdisciplinary research).

Most operations in finance and other data-driven fields run in split seconds and therefore under the threshold of human perception. While invisibility is as such neither a surprise nor a scandal – we can watch TV without knowing how it technically works, for instance – the business models that exploit the digital domain have unleashed new levels of participation and competition. The collapse of visibility into immediacy has brought about a mainly proprietary agency and with it a new global reality: technocapitalism. The economic seachange from scarcity to abundance in the digital domain has not led to a social contract based on the idea of the commons. Yet, this promise is there, as are the means. But the invisible politics of algorithmic automation turn promise into claim. And they are thus steeped in hypercompetition whose principle claim, in contrast to neoliberal competition, is to monopolize the core function of capitalism: to own the future at present.

Hence, there is urgency for a radical analysis of volatility and leverage as tools appropriated by technocapitalist governance. This fight for survival causes massive asymmetries, burdens and injustices. The black box society, to use a term introduced by Frank Pasquale, ruptures (what's left of) welfare, trust and dignity. What complicates matters is that in its wake the language of (bio)power shifts from representative to performative speech. It undermines, and thus overrides, what we could call the dispositif of representation. As a consequence, we increasingly lack the means to decipher what's going on, as accustomed manners and methods become ineffective. We are loosing sight in the sense of perception (what we see) and in terms of prudence and truth (i.e. what we know). We have entered a dark realm whose computational phenomena are unmediated by expert resolution. Left with a void of contingency that produdes volatile states of exhaustion, we not only seem to be stuck for an answer but we also lack the question.

Epistemic inquiry and aesthetic imagination rarely grasp the full scope of what the derivative unleashed and what it exploits as resource: wealth and power deriving from volatility (risk) and leverage (debt). Most studies of debt neglect leverage as that other face of debt that takes advantage of volatility. But leverage and volatility are crucial to conceptualize how (bio)power operates between state and private interest. A point in case is technocapitalist class system: in a nutshell, I propose the read it as a framework of social asset classes in which the tiers of debt classes are dominated by the leverage class. This upper class performatively shifts between, and so secures, future potentials by recalibrating leveraged debt; in case of systemic default, it externalizes toxic assets by socializing them to the debt classes (e.g. by bailouts, public debt inflation, austerity politics). This regime change has not been fully acknowledged. To my mind, partly because the performative turn of the speech of biopower with its non-directional derivative regime is still relatively unexplored; but also, because at times even critical studies get distracted by neoliberal narratives – deeply entrenched myths that we need to debunk and resolve.

How can we act out (of) the black box? In my view, it affords taking risks, not in the individualized neoliberal sense of entrepreneurship but by inventing means of sharing the risk for acting outside the box. In the context of the derivative condition I am concerned with, this means to actually enter the (black) box. I do this by exploring the mind and the body for other imaginations and senses (aesthetics of resolution) as well as by engaging in affiliations and alliances (renegade activism) whose consequences exceed the typical notion of critique in contemporary art.

On the level of conceptual imagery, I work with a term whose semantic field combines many of the issues mentioned above: resolution means many things – it relates for example to visibilty, perception and visualization; and thus to acts of cognition, engaging with the obscure, impenetrable and even unknown; and hence furthering the acceptability of what is deemed strange, foreign or alien; as a consequence, the term signifies the affirmation of knowledge produced both in an empirical and tacid sense and crucial for problem solving; and last but not least, resolution is a formal expression of common accord concerning actions to be taken.

Resolution speaks of intellectual, physical and affective potentials but also involves technological properties, operations and the "distances" between them. Therefore, the term's conceptual differention lends itself to revealing how automated control predicts, curtails and exploits common potentiality; and at the same time the word's semantic wealth evokes the reality of an ecology in which all bodies communicate. Hence, I explore aesthetics of resolution as an an artistic-activist method to investigate and counter the asymmetries of non-transparency. Just like the tools we use for the tiers of micro- and macro-cosms invisible to the eye, resolution expanded accross the entire field of meanings could prove a socially powerful expression for how we sense, map, differentiate and support relations. Moreover, it holds the potential to access value in radical contrast to the proprietary logic of technocapitalism, without losing the performative edge necessary within complex sociopolitical contexts in flux.

But the data-driven black box is not just invisible and unpenetrable from the outside. Its platforms create an environment that expands its horizon of non-transparency by incorporating any field of social activity into its sphere. How then can we counter technocapitalist politics, whether exploited by political or corporate interests? How can we make the black box speak?

There are a number of ways, from data activism, forensic investigation to political dissent. My proposition, renagade activism, is a radical intervention into the black box. Rather than attempting to penetrate it from the outside, I link resolution to a resistance I call the figure of the renegade (e.g. a whistleblower, hacker with "skin in the game" or "those with two names"). The renegade act – essentially a violation of current custom, rule or law – produces a host of viable resolution materials across the semantic field of the term: visualization, discrimination, cognition, transparency, decision. In fact, the figure of the renegade constitutes an act that exceeds critique and dissent to concrete insurrection. The renegade, in all her ambivalence and marginality, is an expert who takes massive risks in the attempt to resolve injustice. By speaking out and sharing proprietary data or classified information, she discloses what was excluded from public debate and manifests noncompliance as an act of civil courage.

Renegade activism can therefore be described as praxis of alliance and solidarity with those who make the black box speak from the inside. The renegade – a whistleblower, for instance – is invariably declared a traitor by the sector, industry or entity she 'betrays'. At the same and despite the hostility, she is an indispensable educator in the general interest of the public. But renegade activism is not simply a form of approval, credence or consensus. I implies a compex web of conversations and translations to analyse, verify and communicate what is at stake.

To some, this form of activism might seem at the margin of technocapitalism. But it is in fact right at its core – it is the insurrection that unlocks the black box. Leveraged by solitarity-alliances it has the potential to access the wealth preempted by the capital-state nexus, finance conglomerates and data platforms, and to transform the acquiescent conditions of social automation and (digitized) labor. Crucially, renegade activism aims to collectively resist the false determinacy of the technocapitalist doctrin by transgressing conventional forms of critique and dissent. What it calls for is an emancipation as resolution and resistance as insurrection.

In terms of my practice, I have focused on aesthetics of resolution and renegade activism since 2013 and realized research and art projects, often in collaboration with experts and in particular the high-frequency trader and whistleblower Haim Bodek and the artist Sylvia Eckermann.