Words don’t come easy – money doesn’t either.

Juan Pérez Agirregoikoa, Isabella Fürnkäs, Hanne Lippard, Eric Peter

A poetic Anthology of Capital

Do words do more than simply describe the things around us? Does language actively shape our material existence? A capital-oriented world order leaves irreversible marks on our planet and affects our every waking moment. Words don’t come easy explores the possibility of altering our experience through language. In the exhibition, verbal and written testimonies of western capitalistic experience serve as a testing ground and as the basis for an investigation of collective sentiment, allowing the reader, listener and visitor to relate or disassociate with personal reflections.

The artists presented in the exhibition use language in a multitude of forms, from poetry to tongue twisters, testimony to songtext. Together, they form a thought-experiment, questioning the impact of capitalism on our everyday life.

Without moralising or attempting to grasp all our economy’s many complexities, the artists involved in Words don’t come easy invite us to collectively rethink the systems of language and capitalism through the mediums of poetry, video and visual-and-performing-art.

Taking a playful approach to words and meaning, labour and leisure, allows the artist to potentially challenge and shift our preconceptions of capitalism, producing pictures of both hope and dystopia.

Without doubt, the capitalistic system affects us all; no matter if you are a part-time jobber, nine-to-five office worker, temporarily employed, freelancer, job seeker, young entrepreneur, someone waiting for a work permit, pensioner, civil servant or millionaire, or if you are a producer or consumer in this global system.

Eric Peter (1989, NL), Economy as Intimacy (2017-ongoing)

The project Economy as Intimacy (2017-ongoing) by Dutch artist Eric Peter, which started at the Karachi Biennale 2017 in Pakistan, comprises of a series of poems, performances and installations. Economy as Intimacy explores the possibility of transforming economics into something intimate, using poetry as a medium of speculation.

Economy as Intimacy (2017-ongoing) is derived from a previous project, Familiar Strangers: Conversations on the Near Future (2015-2017), which investigated the potential of positivism through undertaking and documenting conversations with strangers from diverse backgrounds. Even though participants did not directly address the subject of the economy, Peter realised that the conversations very much connected to capitalism and how economic structures affect the human experience.

His choice of expression is the poem. Peter’s practice enacts the idea that language is a currency of speculation. The resulting poems do not romanticise the economy but instead provide a means to approach intangible economic concepts like debt, wage and labour conditions.

He borrows from Viviana A. Zelizer, who in The Purchase of Intimacy (2005) puts forward a vision of a warmer, positive and more affectionate economy, steering away from the pessimism of the present. Intimacy is a significant part of Peter’s vision too. “Intimacy builds worlds; it creates spaces and usurps places meant for other kinds of relation” , says Lauren Berlant. Peter attempts to capture these worlds and translate them into language.

Hanne Lippard (1984, GB), The Myths and Realities of Achieving Financial Independence (2015)

In The Myths and Realities of Achieving Financial Independence (2015), Hanne Lippard explores the precariousness of retail work through the well-known tongue-twister, “She sells seashells by the seashore…”. After repeating it several times, Lippard starts amending and elaborating on the famous lines. Transforming the tongue twister into a absurd narrative, she speaks about financial independence while the protagonist is trapped in a downward spiral of precarious work and exploitation, suggesting parallels to Amazon employers, who allow similar forms of corporate exploitation. Lippard’s voice, the rhymes, the struggle with certain syllables, enacts

the inconceivable nature of the contemporary economic apparatus, as well as the difficulty of successfully navigating within it; while the market’s inflation is echoed in the inflation of language.

The closing sentence “Time for a change” suggests the failure of a mechanism that inappropriately directs the human experience of labour. Without suggesting a solution, Lippard presents language as an auditory space of common ground.

Isabella Fürnkäs (1988, JP), In Ekklesia (2015)

Isabella Fürnkäs presents a dystopian techno-economic future where there is no space for human language or human labour. Fürnkäs’ video installation In Ekklesia (2015) offers a speculative vision of labour in the era of robotics. A projection screen, resting on a pile of kinetic sand, depicts industrial machines at work. Footage of different industrial machines and robots is interspersed with images of ballpoint pen drawings by Fürnkäs, as well as documentation of rave culture. The mix of industrial imagery and party culture echo each other as the robotic movements seemingly move in time with the technoid sounds.

The growing automatisation of unskilled labour leads to a rise in unemployment and work precarity. What started as the Fordist dream of a growing economy turned into a nightmare. Today, job insecurity, worklessness and financial instability preoccupy a generation of anxious and disassociated workers. Fürnkäs grasps the discrepancy between intimacy and productivity, labour and leisure, between euphoria and anxiety by layering image, sound and lyric in this moving image installation. The fast images are interspersed by moments of stasis and dreariness.

“I am so sad”
“I am transparent”
“I am losing my language”

The loss of language the vocalist refers to here, invokes a loss of power and control. The kinetic sand, framing the projection screen, suggests the quicksand-like quality of a system that once it grabs you, won’t let go. As Mark Fisher wrote, capitalism is “a monstrous, infinitely plastic entity, capable of metabolising and absorbing anything with which it comes into contact.”

Isabella Fürnkäs, Unpredictable liars (2018)

Mysterious veiled figures linger in the exhibition space; they could be from past decades or maybe the distant future. Mumbling under their cloak, they tell the story of The Raft of the Medusa, an oratorio by the German composer Hans Werner Henze, the tale of the French frigate Meduse, which ran aground off the west coast of Africa in 1816. Some castaways saved themselves on a raft, but in the end only fifteen of the hundred and fifty mariners survived.

Translated through sculpture, a story of desperation, existential crisis and cannibalism unfolds. While Hans Werner Henze’s oratorio originated against the backdrop of left-wing thought in the 1960s, Fürnkäs’ work situates itself very specifically in the context of contemporary economics, referencing isolation and the struggle for survival.

Juan Pérez Agirregoikoa (1963, ES), Culture Lovers (2012)/ ERASED (2012)

Juan Pérez Agirregoikoa draws lively scenes of rejection and frustration in response to work culture and the capitalisation of culture.

In the animation video Culture Lovers (2012) Pérez Agirregoikoa adopts skateboarding as a symbol for the way subcultures are appropriated and consumed by capitalism. Skateboarding originated from the anti-establishment movement, a subculture that positioned itself outside institutional structures. Since its beginnings though, skating has been increasingly capitalised, appropriated and fetishised, particularly in fashion and film, as well as other cultural institutions.

Capitalisation induces a loss of artistic and cultural innocence. Positioned within the context of the art world, the work is an act of self-reflection and institutional critique. Pérez Agirregoikoa ironically draws parallels to the loss of innocence by appropriating the stylistically infantile format of the comic film.

The second animation video, ERASED (2012), explores the limits and the very definition of culture through its radical rejection. Pérez Agirregoikoa presents a parallel between two forms of iconoclasm, both involving the destruction of idolised imagery in an attempt to redefine ideological structures. In 1953, Robert Rauschenberg erased drawings by artist Willem de Kooning in an attempt to redefine art through its erasure. Pérez Agirregoikoa visualizes a contrast between Rauschenberg’s bold artistic intervention and the destruction, or rather erasing, by the Taliban of Buddhist sculptures in 2001, which was an attempt to erase ideology by destroying its symbolism. While one is perceived as cultural pioneering, the other is perceived as a violent act of cultural vandalism. The potential evil of culture itself however is not addressed in both cases.

Juan Pérez Agirregoikoa (1963, ES) – La Langue Lavion (2011)

During the Anglet Biennial in 2011, Pérez Agirregoikoa flew two banners tied to the tail of an aeroplane through the sky. The artist decided to hijack the advertising medium as a satirical gesture. “Marx, will you marry me?”, read the message, presenting a playful marriage between Marxism and contemporary consumerism, at first glance, incongruous but upon reflection, reveals deeper connections.

Marian Stindt + Youri David Appelo