Introduction – Brady Cranfield & Jamie Hilder

This publication is part of the exhibition Due to Injuries…, which was held at 221A in Vancouver from September 14 to October 19, 2013. The exhibition included a collection of artworks, which were offered in the space of the gallery and one disseminated by mail; a reading and discussion group held in the offices of 221A; a talk by Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi at Simon Fraser University; and a two-part set of lectures, also presented in the space of the gallery, in response to Berardi’s talk. Available both as a print publication and online, this collection offers a transcription of Berardi’s talk and the responses to it given by Jaleh Mansoor, Enda Brophy, Cecily Nicholson, and Steve Collis.

The title Due to Injuries… comes from an anecdote we found during our research. We came across it in Donald MacKenzie’s ethnography of finance, An Engine, Not a Camera, in his chapter on how traders’ bodies operated in the pit of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in the 1970s, when options and derivatives trading—in part due to new computer technologies—exploded into what we now understand as the industry of finance. MacKenzie describes how pit-traders, who are increasingly rare these days as exchanges move toward the virtual, used to arrange themselves on bleachers, with the upper platforms reserved for the more senior traders and the lower for the more energetic, more frantic, greener traders. At some point in the mid-1970s, these young traders began to implement a technology of disco – platform shoes – to increase their visibility and flatten the hierarchy of traders. Because pit-trading was so physical, however, enough traders lost their balance and injured themselves or others to prompt the exchange to prohibit the wearing of platform shoes in the pit. Due to Injuries… Platform Shoes Will No Longer Be Permitted in the Trading Pit.

When we contacted the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (since rebranded as CME Group—“How the world advances”) about the memo, our email was met with an automatic reply informing us that we must create an account to communicate with the exchange. We asked again, via our new account, if there was an archivist who might be able to track down the memo limiting the height of traders’ shoes, and received a message from an algorithm asking us if our inquiry could be dealt with such web resources as: “I’m new to futures trading. What online resources are there to assist me?” or “I’m having problems accessing the online webinar; where can I find a list of access requirements?” When we responded, with diminishing patience, that none of the topics were even close to our request, and reiterated our wish to be put in touch with the exchange’s archive, we were told that the exchange “provides historical data for a fee,” and that a representative would gladly help us find closing prices on various commodities or derivatives over the past forty years, but made no mention of any pit traders’ handbook or memo. All future inquiries—a DataMine Product Associate informed us—should be directed to the customer service department, which, when contacted by phone, was equally baffled by our question. We understand that experiences like these are banal in their ubiquity. Even though we knew that our request was perhaps too hopeful, even ridiculous, we were still—perhaps naïvely—surprised that there seemed to be no internal attempt to archive the cultural history of the CME. This kind of disconnection, where one person asks for a cultural document and receives algorithmic responses from both computers and humans alike, is something we consider representative of a new way of thinking and acting, one which has developed alongside the mathematization of economics and finance. It’s part of what we have been referring to as the “economist’s aesthetic,” a way of apprehending the world—what we are able to see and imagine and comprehend—that is inflected by metaphors of investment and quantification. Education, friendship, love, family, the future: if we pay attention to the language and concepts that increasingly determine these discourses, the overlap with academic economics and finance becomes obvious. Self-esteem is possible only through production. Confidence is something consumers and markets have. Happiness is for those who have figured out how to “do what they love” as a job. These thoughts are formed out of an aesthetic condition, one that composes psychic and material lives in various spaces.

We used our exhibition and curatorial residency at 221A as an opportunity to further investigate this aesthetic. Since we began working collaboratively in 2007, all of our projects have tried to work through various ideas of economy, using ideas of retreat, or production, or feelings to consider possibilities for thinking outside of financial language, outside the limits of contemporary speculation, and often—perhaps least successfully—outside the limits of art.

Brady Cranfield & Jamie Hilder