catchingafallingknife.com

michael goldberg
Artspace, Sydney
17 October- 9 November 2002

From the high ceiling of the darkened gallery space, a man's voice explained patiently how one could prudently invest one's savings. To the right of an IKEA-style 'workstation' were black vinyl couches and chairs, a coffee table, and some business magazines-the notation of an office. A flipchart documented a series of transactions, buys and sells, the time at which they were placed carefully recorded. One wall displayed a large coloured chart: stock movements. It was not one of Michael Goldberg's scheduled performance times, and there were no lounging clients in this reception area, leafing through copies of BRW. It was quiet; there was nothing to see.

According to the catalogue, catchingafallingknife.com follows an earlier piece of Goldberg's on the subject of gold, in which he monitored and charted the price of Newcrest Mining Company shares and the gold price. In catchingafallingknife.com, Goldberg decided to focus on Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, a global media player well known to the average Australian 'mums-and-dads' shareholder, which, with a market cap (as of writing, 24 February) of $22,930 million and a weighting of over 3 per cent in the S&P ASX 100 index, 1 'exerts a major influence' domestically, and affects the international market. Goldberg was given $50 ,000 by a 'consortium' to play with-he would buy and sell News Corp, attempting to make a profit, during the period of the show. Buys and sells would be executed via phone call through a 'bricks-and-mortar' broker, not an on line discount broker.

Goldberg's website of the same name, www.catchingafallingknife.com, remains available long after the installation component has closed. The site features exchanges with the 'consortium' and the 'audience'. The audience 'conversations' are strikingly banal - lots of 'um-hmms' and one-word replies. The consortium update dialogue reads like a pacy script. Industry jargon yields key affective terms that Goldberg uses to structure and colour an unfolding drama. Goldberg 'cops a loss', becomes 'fair game' when the market 'retreats' and then 'surges', 'rethink[s] his strategy' and 'smarts' when he gets it wrong. After 'being whipsawed in and out of positions' (likely referring to moves suggested by interpretive mathematical models), he gives himself 'up to fate' and 'gamble[s]' on 'more profittaking tomorrow'. NCP, the ASX code for News Corp. is a wily, capricious beast: it 'falters', 'utters a death rattle'; and then, surprisingly, 'rallies' and 'heads back toward $11 heaven'.

Capital is invisible, but it is everywhere, and the movements of its equally dematerialised instruments, shares, become the subject of a profusion of metaphors conflating human action (as potency) and natural inevitability. The sharemarket is the fickle, alluring medium that lures a man into thinking he can balance atop its surf for a charged moment, before he topples into the breaking foam. The language Goldberg uses is, not surprisingly, that of the adventurer-'he' against nature, the deliverer from the far side of the sea.

How is money made in a day? Whose hands does it pass through? There are many corporate middlemen in the market, most of them invisible to the day trader, each of whom takes a cut of the action. The trade is the promise undertaken; flows of capital and units move as a result of the settlement of this promise, three days later. All of Australia's major banks, brokers, and financial institutions are connected to one large ASX system, CHESS, that centrally facilitates such flows  between these entities.2 Right now, within the sharemarket, recommendations provided by the G30 advisory group are being circulated and considered. They promote, above all, a model of global 'interoperability' for these post-trade and settlement flows. Funds and dematerialised securities must pass between corporate bodies and the ASX with greater and greater speed and efficiency. Errors made by human intervention are often said to result from 'fat fingers syndrome' and require costly 'exception processing'. Systems are designed to maximise automation, and therefore 'STP', straight-through processing. Greater automation between systems means money and securities can be moved onward, through more middlemen, and then out again for another transaction, more quickly.

There is a desire for flows to circulate units without weight,3 without ever slowing, without friction. Goldberg speculates in an interview on the website (and in conversation with me) that the flows of capital suggest Deleuze's rh izomatic structure. I imagine instead a model of a hubbed wheel turning to the rhythm of accepted protocols, where the spokes effectively shrink toward the core under the impetus of greater speed, because portage of the weightless becomes unnecessary and the movement from here to there almost simultaneous. While these corporales do connect in a way that might suggest the rhizomewhich Deleuze contrasts in A Thousand Plateaus to the 'arborescent' model favoured by hierarchies of all kinds-there is no possible opening in this circulation of capital and weightless entities for 'lines of flight' which restore avenues for desiring-production. Dematerialised flows pulse according to expected regimes, known channels, and regulated controls, because efficiencies rely on the purging of the unexpected before it can ever occur.

This wish for planned evanescence at the macro end of the scale becomes, through the vain wish to ride capitalism and not be ridden, the micro-experience of the small, exciting conquests and failures of the day trader. Significantly, for whom is this fantasised inversion an adventure? It doesn't matter if Goldberg is asking these questions or participating in their collegiate expression. Either way, the shell of an office in the gallery space suggests that just as the drama of the day trader counterpoints the larger, near-instantaneous flows of corporate capital, it requires the banality of the corporate day-to-day world for its enactment. Goldberg's innocuous office set-up, equally a self-assembled SoHo workstation or an office-block cubicle, evokes the keen enthusiast, trading in his private study at home before or after work hours, or even perhaps secretly while at work; simultaneously alone and shoulder-to-shoulder with all the other traders. Catchingafallingknife.com succeeds precisely where it is most vacuous.

notes: 

1. Thanks to my business analyst colleague Tim Nolan, for clarification of these statistics.

2. While Goldberg could rightly regard gains or losses as his at the time his order became a matched trade in the market between two brokers, he would not receive his funds until this later settlement date, or whenever his broker finalised the client leg of the settlement.

3. Securities in the Australian market are now completely 'dematerialised': that is, securities are no longer issued as paper certificates, only electronic records kept in databases of securities ownership.