JP2015 Day 7

Day 7: The Johannesburg Pavilion at 56th Venice Biennale

Join us in following the daily activities of the Johannesburg Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In this, the daily entry for Day Seven of the 56th Biennale, Roelof Petrus van Wyk provides an overview of the work of Issac Julien.

JP2015 Day 7

Daily Report: Day Seven, Venice Biennale 2015

(Das) Kapital

Isaac Julien’s work, KAPITAL (2013), is the filmed documentation of a conversation the artist had with David Harvey – author of The Enigma of Capital, Professor of Anthropology and Geography and prominent in geography as a modern discipline – at the Hayward gallery in 2013. Other notable professors in the two-screen film installation are Irit Rogoff, Professor in Visual Cultures with a focus on Geography, and Stuart Hall, a professor emeritus, cultural theorist and sociologist dealing largely with race and gender, who sadly passed away in 2014.

The artist initiates the conversation by asking why capital is so difficult to render visible, to which Harvey replies, “In the same way you can only really intuit gravity exists by its effects, you can really only intuit that capital exists by its effects.”

PLAYTIME, a multi-screen installation by the artist, is not exhibited here but explores exactly this ‘making visible’ of the effects of capital through the relationship that five characters – The Art Dealer, The Houseworker, The Artist, The Auctioneer and The Reporter – have with capital through the art world. The individual films are set in two of the playgrounds of the rich; London and Dubai, and a third city, Reikjavik, which was hit first by the 2008 global recession. Some of the rhetorical questions the films explore are:

What commonalities and differences are there between the capital of today and that described by Marx? How does capital relate to the art market and what effect does it have on art’s attempts to depict capital and its effects?

The films are highly aestheticised and polished, but don’t really ask difficult questions, especially about the (disruption of) flow of capital into the pockets of the art world’s financial engineers. It also feels as if the esteemed audience members in the films, including Harvey, are used as props (why did they agree in the first place?) to feign a critical enquiry of the subject matter, in a play-play way.

Maybe the same can be said of this year’s Biennale, where the word ‘Futures’ refers to a contract between two parties to buy or sell an asset for a price agreed upon today, with delivery and payment occurring at a future point. However, this process allows for massive speculation – i.e. where a financial trader will predict the movement of a specific price – that will result in yielding a profit for the investor.