In my naive and poorly informed mind, the stock market breathes at the rhythm of men wearing dark suits, pressing an earpiece against their head and frantically raising and waving their other hand. Mine is however a very antiquated vision of trading. Investing and speculating, it seems, is now mostly controlled by algorithms. These computer programs speculate, send and cancel orders tirelessly, basically doing the job of a human trader. Just much, much faster. So fast that they can execute a trade in milliseconds and even microseconds. That's why we are now talking about high frequency trading algorithms.
The volume of trade goes far beyond human physical perceptions. These bots are so fast, they can flood the market with millions of fake information to confuse and hide their true investments. The process is called quote stuffing.
RYBN have been investigating the world of finance since 2006. Four years ago, they even launched their own trading bot on the financial markets. The autonomous program executes, buys and sells orders online, and its activity is mapped into real-time visualizations such as charts, soundscapes, and timelines. Its Twitter account even provides details about ongoing orders. Its performance will end when the bot reaches bankruptcy.
More interestingly, RYBN's program is distributed in open-source format. Unlike the black box of the algorithmic and high-frequency trading.
Members of RYBN were participating to refrag, a series of workshops, talks and performances that took place in Paris a few weeks ago and that explored Glitch Art. Their presentation looked at what happens when HFT algorithms slip, glitch and disrupt the trading system. Basing their research on a rigorous analysis of documents available online, the artists analyzed four famous 'flash crashes.' They mostly used the data compiled by Nanex, a firm that offers streaming data on all market transactions and distributes the data in real-time to clients.
The automated trade execution systems i mentioned in the opening paragraph might be sophisticated but they are far from flawless. Once in a while they act in unforeseen ways and trigger "flash crashes". A flash crash is a sharp drop in security prices occurring within an extremely short time period. And because algorithmic trading is disconnected from the economy, any variation is an opportunity for a flash crash.
The most famous flash crash is called... 'the Flash Crash.' It occurred on 6 May 2010, when the Dow Jones index dropped 9% in minutes. The loss was estimated at one trillion dollars. The US stock market then took a few more minutes to right itself back. During that short period of time, some trades were executed at extreme prices (either very low or very high) After the event, it was agreed that all transactions made that day between 2:40 and 3 p.m. would be canceled. No one knows exactly how the crash happened but many attributed it to some miscalculation of HFT algorithms.
RYBN made a sound work out of it. Flash Krach turns into sound the raw data of the day, recorded from the 9 stock exchanges routed on the NYSE.
Another important flash crash took place Aug. 1, 2012. Knight Capital, one of the biggest executors of stock trades in the United States, suffered a technical glitch in its algorithmic trading systems, causing stocks to be misquoted (the algorithm was apparently buying high and selling low which doesn't sound like a very lucrative formula) and costing the firm more than $440 million in 40 minutes.
An analysis by Nanex explains that almost all these trades alternate between buying at the offer and selling at the bid, which means losing the difference in price. In the case of EXC, that means losing about 15 cents on every pair of trades. Do that 40 times a second, 2400 times a minute, and you now have a system that's very efficient at burning money.
The computer-trading glitch was nicknamed, the Knightmare.
Another memorable flash crash occurred when the Twitter feed of the Associated Press was hacked and a false tweet announced that the White House had been hit by two explosions and that Barack Obama was injured. The Dow Jones dropped about 150 points in a seconds before bouncing back when traders realized that the tweet was a hoax.
RYBN also noted that algorithm trading is calibrated to work in 'normal' conditions. The system will work seamlessly until it meets a black swan such as this fake tweet. The black swan broke the system and the trading strategy had to be re-calibrated accordingly.
The last flash crash is the humiliating one that BATS (Better Alternative Trading System) suffered in March 2012. The company had to withdraw its IPO when, in mere seconds, its shares plunged to less than a penny from the $15 IPO opening price.
Some believe that the crash was due to a software glitch but others think that it was the result of a malicious, 100% intentional Nasdaq algorithm that purposefully brought BATS stock to a price of 0.00 within 900 millisecond of the company's break for trading.
What is sure that, as is often the case, the precise cause(s) of the flash crash remains unclear. The markets remain thus at the mercy of technological outages that cannot be predicted or even fully understood.
RYBN's concluding words were that these four crashes received much attention from the press but in fact, flash crashes, and the permanent state of instability they create, are now part and parcel of the way the market works. Nanex estimates that 18.000 mini flash crashs or Flash equity failures were reported between 2006 and 2011.
A few days ago, i was at Parsons Paris for reFrag: glitch, a series of workshops, talks and performances that address the multifold ways in which glitches manifest and/or are mobilized artistically in our lives. Participants talked about flash crashes in the financial market (more about that one soon), wacky operating system from the early nineties, Spinoza glitches, archaeology of bugs, etc. It was good, brain-stimulating and intense. We even watched the documentary of a fist fucking performance. Here's the project page if you're into that kind of entertainment.
I'll probably write an incomplete but enthusiastic post about the event in the coming days but for now, i'm going to kick out the reports with Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke's presentation of the 3D Additivist Manifesto + Cookbook. Rourke was in Paris. Allahyari spoke to us via skype.
Allahyari and Rourke's 3D Additivist Manifesto is an invitation to artists, researchers, activists and critical engineers to submit ideas, thoughts, and designs for the future of 3D printing. The submissions should reflect on the current state of additive manufacturing, identify the potential encoded into the most challenging 3D printed objects and push the technology to its most speculative, revolutionary and radical limits. Once collected, these submissions will form The 3D Additivist Cokbook.
The project started germinating in the artists' minds when Rourke interviewed Allahyari for her project Dark Matter, a series of 3D printed sculptures that combined objects, beings and concepts forbidden by the Iranian government. Most of these objects look pretty harmless to us. However, in her native country, a dildo, a dog, a satellite dish, a Barbie, or a neck tie (??) are frown-upon and in some case strictly forbidden. The work is both an archive of vetoed objects and an encouragement to those who live under oppressions and dictatorship to use the printer as a tool for resistance.
Allahyari and Rourke have recently teamed up for the 3D Additivist Manifesto + Cookbook, a works that brings together art, engineering, scifi and digital aesthetics under a mind-blowing and slightly weird umbrella.
The cookbook is inspired by William Powell's Anarchist Cookbook. Written in 1971, the manual brought together various readily available sources of knowledge and offered instructions on how to build bombs, make drugs, hack arcade machines, etc.
Other sources of inspiration for the 3D Additivist Manifesto include recent 3D printing projects such as the 3D printed gun, Julien Maire's (amazing) 3D animation that uses 3D printed objects instead of film and F.A.T.'s Free Universal Construction Kit.
One last major source of inspiration is Donna Haraway. Because the scholar is the author of the Cyborg Manifesto of course. But also because she believes that the Anthropocene is not a radical enough way to describe our era. Human beings are putting themselves in a situation similar to the one that the cyanobacteria experienced at the beginning the Earth history. They made life breathable for other other organisms by converting CO2 into oxygen, and they almost killed themselves in the process. Haraway suggests that we call our era the Cthulhucene.
reFrag:glitch, a collaboration between Parsons Paris and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago's Film, Video, New Media & Animation Department, is an international Glitch Art event that ran from the 19th to the 23rd of March 2015.
The musée du Quai Branly, my favourite Paris museum, has recently opened a fascinating show called Tattooists, tattooed. I haven't stopped telling people they should go and see it if they happen to be in town in the coming months. In town and french speaking preferably because a large part of the information in the gallery spaces hasn't been translated in english.
I was expecting the usual about tattoos: the criminals, the freak shows, the Māori warriors, the virtuosity of contemporary tattoo artists. I certainly found all of that in the show. I wasn't however expecting to be shocked by the way tattoos were used to mark women.
In the 1920s, thousands of Armenian girls and women managed to escape the Genocide of their people by feeling to Syria. They were kept in slavery and forced into prostitution. In order to identify them and prevent their escape, their pimps tattooed their face and arms.
The girl in the photo above had just been rescued from a Turkish house and was cared for by the Y.W.C.A. workers at Aleppo.
The significance of the tattoos worn by Ainu women couldn't be more different. In the Ainu culture of Northern Japan, only women tattooed and were tattooed. The traditional practice was a prerequisite to marriage and to the afterlife. Mouth tattoos were started at a young age with a small spot on the upper lip. The design would gradually increase in size over the years.
The exhibition looks at tattoo through ages and cultures. It also demonstrates that tattooing is an art in constant evolution that traverses all continents, even if its essence, acceptance and purpose differ from one culture to another. While in societies from the Oriental, African and Oceanian worlds, tattooing had a social, religious and mystical role, the West saw it as a mark of shame. In the past, only criminals, prostitutes, sailors, circus freaks and other marginals would wear one. Or many.
The exhibition displays 300 historical and contemporary artefacts, including photographs, prints, paintings, posters, short films, tribal masks, books, clothing, tattoo-making instruments (such as Thomas Edison's perforating pen) and even mummified samples of body parts and preserved tattooed human skin.
I was obviously drawn to the displays showing how tattoo was used by 'the underworld' to frighten, claim their belonging to a certain gang, parade their crimes or share secret codes.
Tattoos were of great interest to European criminologists during the late 19th century. Many scholars believed that the presence of tattooing in European culture represented worrying signs of atavism, criminal proclivity, or dangerous 'degeneration' within their populations (via.) French criminologist Alexandre Lacassagne, however, believed that the choice of tattoo offered an insight into the criminal mind. He catalogued thousands of images according to type and body location. In 1881 he published Tatouages: Étude Anthropologique Et Médico-légale, or Anthropological and Forensic Tattoos.
Lacassagne's archives offer an interesting parallel to the drawings and photos detailing Russian criminal tattoos.
Sergei Vasiliev worked both as a photographer for a newspaper in Chelyabinsk and as a prison warden when he encountered the work of Danzig Baldaev, the son of an ethnographer who was arrested as an "enemy of the people". Baldaev spent over 30 years working in the Soviet penal system. He recorded the horrors of the Gulag in dozens of drawings but he gained fame for his meticulous documentation of the tattoos etched on the skin of the inmates.
Nowadays, you don't have to be a criminal to wear tattoos. But the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gangs of Los Angeles and Central America wear their symbols and languages on their faces.
With the help of a priest working on the rehabilitation of gang members, Isabel Muñoz gained access to a prison in El Salvador where she made stunning portraits of the men.
More images from the show:
Marc Garanger's 1960 portrait of a woman whose village was destroyed during Algeria's war of independence from France. She clearly wasn't impressed by the French photographer.
You probably don't want to see this video but here is the Lizardman, i discovered its existence in one of the videos screened at the museum:
Tattooists, tattooed is at the musée du Quai Branly until 18 october 2015. It was curated by Anne & Julien, founders of the magazine "Hey! Modern Art and Pop Culture," in collaboration with tattoo artist Tin-Tin, anthropologist Sébastien Galliot and journalist Pascal Bagot.
Related: Russian Criminal Tattoo portraits.
I had forgotten to tell you about the work of Jérôme Zonder.
I discovered the work above at the exhibition Tous Cannibales at La Maison Rouge in Paris. Somehow, the show got lost in the frenzy of my last gallery-marathon in Paris. Plus, taking picture was a big 'no-no-!-get-out-of-here' which means that i couldn't document properly the exhibition. Yesterday, however, i was preparing my trip to Berlin (DMY!) and discovered that Tous Cannibales gets an Alles Kannibalen? reincarnation at me Collectors Room in Berlin. As its name indicates, the exhibition explores anthropophagy in art. Works by Goya and James Ensor are shown in dialogue with pieces by Wim Delvoye, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Pieter Hugo and Jérôme Zonder.
Zonder's work is provocative. Everybody loves provocative nowadays but he plays the provocative and offensive game with more panache and imagination than most. I thought he deserved more than just a photo on this blog:
Seizing on strong iconographic symbols taken from the Nazi aesthetics and the worlds of childhood and cartoons, Zonder revisits these forms of narration and the innocence they carry (children drawings, clear lines) as well as the cruelty (realism, caricature) through mise-en-scenes with a gory tone where sex and barbarity are more than compatible. (extract from the press release of the exhibition Pupper Show Dust at the Galerie Eva Hober Paris)
A few days ago, i was at La Cantine in Paris to cover and be a member of the jury of the second edition of the ArtGame Weekend. Artists, graphic designers, musicians, interaction designers, engineers, VJ's and coders were given 48 hours to develop a game for mobile devices.
On Friday evening, 36 participants - most of them had never met each other - submitted their ideas for a game. They had then 20 minutes to discuss what the 6 most exciting proposals were and built teams around these 6 winning ideas.
The remaining hours were dedicated to collaborating on a game that had to be playable, playful, original, suitable for mobile platforms and have some art credentials (although the definition of that particular point was rightly left to their discretion.) Participants were provided with food, sofas, coaches to guide them and a team of hosts.
The 6 teams worked day...
The winner last year was Générations, a game that a sole person will never have the time to finish since it has to be passed on from one generation to another and thus be played over several decades.
I didn't have particularly high expectations before the Sunday presentation. I had heard some interesting ideas on the first night but then i thought "how much can you do over 48 hours?" A lot as we discovered. I had a fantastic time reviewing the projects together with the other members of the jury: designer slash researcher slash developer Damien Djaouti, Sylvain Huguet, co-founder of Dardex-Mort2Faim, and of the festival GAMERZ and Fabien Delpiano, founder of Pastagames. Here we are during the public presentation:
After the presentations, we (=the jury) were led together with a great choice of antipasti in a room to play and decide.
The game we liked the best was "Gone" and if i tell you that it is simply about death and has the player run for their life until they ineluctably die, you might not find the concept highly exciting. But as developer writes "It really needs to be played to be understood. If I had to sum it up in a sentence I'd say "embrace the calm inevitability of death". The design was impeccable, the sound design was flawless and the game was extremely absorbing. It was an unpretentious game but there was nothing we wanted to change about it. Bravo to Claire Sistach, Romain Bonnin, Caesar Espojo Pham, Fabien Cazenabe, Lionel Jabre, Lise George and William Dyce.
Another game that deserves a mention asks players to keep a nuclear power plant in their pocket. As its name indicates, Fukushimagotchi was inspired by the Fukushima accident. The nuclear plant quietly grows and thrives inside your pocket but if you climb the stairs too fast, jump or let the phone fall, the nuclear power plant will suffer from the instability it immediately perceives and will start releasing radiations in the environment. The team explained us that they plan to make the game geolocative so that the radiations in Paris will not only be mapped but can also be detected by your device as you go through the city. The team members for the project were Lucas Grolleau, Cedric Liang, Josselin Perrus, Marc Planard, Johan Spielmann, Jet Ung with Cedric Pinson.
Then there was Baby Boom. The team have created a game that simulates a woman giving birth. Very graphic, very politically incorrect.
The game Colossus is very promising. Players use their index and medium finger to 'walk' on the screen. Like a Godzilla terrifying a whole city. You can chose to either destroy the buildings and crush people. The city will then rebuild itself slowly after your passage. Or you can decide to spare everyone but your stroll will get more difficult as the game proceeds since you will encounter more and more houses and people to avoid.
One thing that has puzzled me for years is the passion some people profess for the Louis Vuitton monogram. It's not that it's unsightly, it's just that the reason why some girls ruin themselves for the joy of sporting that insipid brown thing on their arm is beyond me. That prejudice against the brand has held me back from visiting the Espace culturel Louis Vuitton each time i was in Paris. I went a couple of times to the Fondation Cartier and to the Fondazione Prada in Milan but i couldn't get past the name of the Espace Culturel. Until last week when i decided that it was only fair to get rid of my narrow-mindedness.
It didn't start so well. I wasn't allowed to take any photo, not even of the artworks i had copiously photographed in other venues. When i asked why i wasn't allowed to take photos i was told "Because it's not allowed." The exhibition itself, however, made much more sense than the answer i had just received. The artworks selected makes you bounce from the poetical to the humorous to the downright dangerous. Plus, the LV cultural center team hands out hard cover catalogues of the show like other distribute b&w copies of press releases.
"Somewhere Else" showcases the work of eighteen artists for whom expeditions are the starting point of artistic endeavours.
Some try to relocate their creation in order to define them separately, some work on work installations while some others produce their creations outside of its conventional environment. Such undertakings have, in fact, led to a new artistic movement which is primarily based on encounters with new spaces and other human beings.
The title of the work that Joanna Malinowska presents in the gallery directly refers to Ader's last performance. In Search of the Miraculous, Continued.../part II is a continuous video shot of a solar-powered boombox playing Glen Gould's recording of Bach's 'Goldberg Variations'. The equipment was abandoned in the Canadian tundra, its sound fading in the wind. Notes of Bach and Gould might be forever audible if the installation survives storm, snow and winds. But this, of course, would be truly miraculous.
Fabrice Langlade was showing the plans and model of a porcelain bridge he hopes to build one day on the steppe of Mongolia.
Fernando Prats, who will represent Chile at this year's Venice Art Biennial, celebrates the expressive work of the physical elements. Sometimes he's there to nudge and help natural elements. Other times, such as in Acción Chaitén, he merely records the result of nature's endeavors. Acción Chaitén documents the destruction wrought by the Chilean volcano which, when it erupted in 2008, covered an entire region in ash.
Despite his wide notoriety, i confess that i had never heard of Marc Horowitz before. But did he make me laugh! In 2005, while working on a catalog shoot for Crate and Barrel, he managed to sneak in the words "dinner w/ marc 510-872-7326" on one of the pages of the catalog. The catalog was distributed, he lost his job but received more than 30,000 phone calls. He spent the following year driving across the country and having dinner with individuals he had never met. He documented "The National Dinner Tour" in charming pictures and blog posts.
The Marc Horowitz Signature Series is a set of 19 performances aimed at 'improving' the lives of the citizens he encountered. He planted an "Anonymous Semi-nudist Colony" in Nampa, Idaho, inviting passersby to shed some pieces of clothing and bounce around a park with him. In Craig, Colorado, he enticed people to bury their problems in a park plot. My favourite is the video he shot in Walsenburg, Colorado where he reenacted the techno viking dance session in a junkyard.
For Horizon moins 20, Laurent Tixador & Abraham Poincheval spent 20 days digging an underground tunnel in Murcia, Spain. They advanced one metre a day and sealed it up behind themselves as they went. Like moles.
Other artistic expeditions: Rentyhorn, making the legacy of colonialism visible, The Spice Trade Expedition - In pursuit of artificial flavoring, Biorama 2: the Moon Goose Experiment, Interview with Ulla Taipale from Capsula.