Tuesday, November 19, 2013

'Financial Statements' by Marc Blane at Gallery Petit

Our lives are governed by abstract, robot Gods.  Somewhere there's a chunk of silicon with an algorithm coded onto it that literally plots the course of your life.  Coolly dispassionate anonymous calculators govern how much money you have, the price of commodities and the security of your job.  On a macroscopic level these algorithms govern the financial status of countries and thus the world.  Can you imagine an army of virtual robots making millisecond trades against other infinite robots around the world?  Probably not, yet there are portals to this spectral plane floating through electromagnetic space, hubs in New York, London, Paris and Tokyo.  The byzantine financial sphere is so vast and so ethereal that it attains spirituality by default, traders becoming high priests with a window to the whimsy of the all-powerful free-market.

It's precisely within this soft space between cold financial logic and spirituality where we find Marc Blane's Financial Statements.  These are mixed media works that demonstrate the links, stastics and pie charts caught in the act of morphing into mandalas, dreamcatchers and prayer rugs.  Using dollar bills as raw material Blane decapitates George Washington, suturing his head to wriggling, spermy tails.  Now we've got a three-way collision; finance, biology and anthropology smashing headlong into each other, the product simultaneously all of the above and new.

Bottle from Abandoned Buildings
Marc Blane was born in New York and has lived there ever since, now exploring the 'idea' of New York through the materials and symbols that make up an urban fabric.  He was involved in the 1980s East Village 'Downtown scene', occupying a cultural sphere with luminaries such as Jean-Miche Basquiat, Jeff Koons and Robert Mapplethorpe.  The scene sunk its foundations in fertile cultural soil, and Blane mined it extensively - his work composed of the over-looked detritus of city life: bottlecaps, crushed cans, empty bottles and lumps of street asphalt and tar.

Relics of his past performances litter the floor; green bottles containing photographs of the Bronx tenements the bottles were tossed from.  These are as good an example of Blane's oeuvre as you're going to get; trash teased up into high culture and impregnated with meaning.  Street-familiar chopped and screwed into unfamiliar configurations; signposts that leading you untrodden neural paths - impregnating you with new ideas.

L to R: Growth Portfolio, Open Ended Portfolio, Declining Portfolio, Value Portfolio
The centre of this exhibition is four pieces: Growth Portfolio, Open Ended Portfolio, Declining Portfolio and Value Portfolio. The curved lines and dollar spermatozoa stand out against the ancient, dark brown of the linen background.  It's the kind of aged colour you'd expect to see behind museum glass, perhaps some tattered relic of a forgotten Pharoah. Much like an archaeological dig, the work demands that the viewer do some decoding. But whereas in archaeology you might find a button from which a whole outfit can be extrapolated, this work thrusts us up against the bleeding edge of current financial events.

Representing money/capital as wriggling little spermatozoa is clever and totally appropriate. I shouldn't need to outline too much the similarities between biological and and financial systems - both rely on many complex systems seamlessly interacting, and rely that constants like exchange rates or protein folding will hold true.  Blane shows an impressive pragmatism in treating money as a potent creative fuel.  It's easy to play at being 'above' such vulgarity as money, but as far as I'm concerned a person behaving like money isn't important is like a car pretending not to run on petrol.  

In choosing the sperm, an invasive, masculine creative symbol, Blane positions money as a zombie slave to genetic and economic programming. In every piece on display the eyes of Washington are obscured, the obvious inference is that the creed that founded the United States has been perverted by the modern economic systems.  This feels a bit on the nose, my reading is that Blane is showing us that currency is divorced from morality, existing as a man-made force of nature, uncontrollable, unaccountable and all-powerful.  Why does money need eyes anyway?  We all happily submit ourselves as guide dogs.

Black Mandala
Given this focus on finance it's perhaps unsurprising that the work was produced from a studio on Wall Street in New York.  This is art produced from within the belly of the great beast and brings with it a confident authority.  Economics and financial markets are a difficult subject to approach in art, firstly because the objectivity of hard figures and the subjectivity of creation interpretation are at odds with each other and secondly (and more simply) that the world of finance is unwelcoming by design, stuffed with jargon and practically inaccessible to the layman.

Here though, the theory is stripped away and the crucial essence remains.  These are still graphs of sorts, but shorn of context they become emblematic of all graphs.  Simple lines trend up and down, potentially changing the lives of millions of people at the stroke of a pen. That these curves can be both utterly abstract and loaded with social importance feels a paradoxic; I found myself asking what I'd think if I was told these had been discovered etched on the wall of some forgotten cave, accompanied by ghostly faded mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses.

This intrinsic humanity is also on display in Genesis Mandala, Copyright Mandala and Black Mandala, works containing similar elements to the Financial Portfolio series, yet reconfigured in subtly different ways.  They're prayer mats showing symmetrical pictograms with s the George Washington sperm design intruding and escaping from them. Blane explains that the typical function of a mandala is to focus the mind through deep fractal detailing, but these mandalas are voids that terminate in abrupt full stops.  In a sardonic twist, it's only after careful reflection and appreciation of the beauty of Copyright Mandala that you realise it's composed of the © symbol; the might of codified law busting a ragged hole right through any meditation.

Copyright Mandala and Genesis Mandala
I appreciate the ways in which Blane has tried to bring together past and present, art and finance, chaos and order within the same space.  I like art because it gives me new eyes, filtering the familiar through new prisms, sparking off new connections and trains of thought. So, what I took away from this was that for all the misery and havoc they cause, the current global financial problems aren't unique, rather they're a recurring phenomenon that echoes through history; the South Sea Bubble; the Overend Gurney Crisis; the 1929 Wall Street Crash; Black Wednesday; the 2008 crash - all symptoms of a universal human condition, reverberating through civilisations past and present.

On the other hand it's perfectly fine to view these works as 'simply' pretty pictures - yet as with all the exhibitions I enjoy, the more thought you put in, the more you get out.  Blane's Financial Statements acts as a kind of catalyst in the audience, lighting a mental touchpaper and throwing up a shower of brilliant sparks.

Mark Blane - Financial Statements is on display at Gallery Petit, 46 Harcourt Terrace, SW10 9JR,  from 20 November - 6 December 2013.  To arrange a viewing please contact Sandra Higgins via email at info@discoverartnow.co.uk or by phone on 0207 244 7194

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