Events and Special Projects

18 Jan 2011

The Medium of Contingency

Thomas Dane Gallery, London

In an unprecedented overlapping of the contexts of philosophical, financial, and art worlds, this event brought together in discussion Robin Mackay (director of Urbanomic), Reza Negarestani (author of Cyclonopedia), Elie Ayache (author of The Blank Swan), and Matthew Poole (freelance curator, writer, and director of The Centre for Curatorial Studies at The University of Essex).

On the basis of contemporary philosophies of contingency, options trader-turned-philosopher Elie Ayache proposes that we think the market outside the terms of probability and prediction. The mathematical instruments used to value exotic financial derivatives, he argues, do not calculate price on the basis of a range of future probabilities, but directly and effectively write price as the contingent reality of the market now. The market is not a set of probabilities, but the medium of contingency—a regime of events neither probable nor improbable (Nassim Taleb’s ‘Black Swan’), but effective without prevision or reason—‘The Blank Swan’.

Philosopher Reza Negarestani has written that, although one can instrumentalise and impose authorial intention within a medium, a work will always itself be ‘worked’ by its materials, which influence and interfere with it, pursuing their own contingent tendencies and conspiracies. Negarestani suggests that the ‘chemistry of openness’ required to engage with this contingent reality proceeds not through artistic decisions concerning expression or ‘sensitivity to materials’, but through a ‘rigorous closure’ of the work that lures the outside in.

Matthew Poole’s recent work has focused on the concept of ‘human capital’ as a reality of neoliberal politics and post-fordist capitalism that deeply problematises a humanist conception of the sovereignty of the private individual self and the sovereignty of art. The role of the curator under the conditions of neo-liberalism is a fascinating conflation of guardian and lawmaker within the various markets of art, such as the commercial, intellectual, and social markets, where we see a total collapse of distinctions between these categories. In this state of affairs it is argued that art loses its sovereignty and becomes a radically contingent object of exchange, or indeed it becomes a currency, where its very being is simply the fragile momentary manifestation or coagulation of a dynamic shifting set of values.

Edited proceedings of the event were later published as The Medium of Contingency.