A beautiful Monday morning in late August and the financial district around the Chicago Board of Trade building is a ghost town, like something out of a post-apocalyptic zombie movie or perhaps just peak-COVID-shutdown Chicago. The infrastructure is present, security guards are at their stations, the coffee shop is open, but I see only a total of three traders in their signature colorful shirt-jackets with identification badges on their chests in my entire time walking around. This area used to swarm like an ant colony in a rainbow with traders in all their bright jackets and colorful swagger, but that swagger and color has all gone to gray.
The landmark Chicago Board of Trade building, a bedrock colossus that anchors LaSalle Street with its majestic statue of Ceres standing sentry forty-five stories over a financial district where Bentleys once one-upped Porsches, is being reimagined, perhaps even as a low-income housing area. The streets around it are filled with eye-level vacancy signs, though some nearby businesses that have catered to a less-well-heeled crowd for more than a half century, like Boni Vino Ristorante & Pizzeria, Sky Ride Tap and Americana Submarine, seem poised to last forever.
As you walk down the stairs near the entrance to the Chicago Board of Trade building, you’ll see a sign mounted into the wall for the “Chicago Board of Trade Grill.” Now called Cellars Market, it’s a sprawling cafeteria with multiple food stations, but I am one of less than a half dozen customers at nine o’clock on this Monday morning. The cook working at the grill says he’s been there forty years and things are really different now, ever since COVID and the Board of Trade closed its trading floor right before the pandemic. As he makes my eggs, he tells me there used to be lines for breakfast, lines for lunch, even lines for the bar.
It was not that long ago that this was one of the most thriving parts of Chicago, with traders everywhere. This was where the American Dream could appear fully realized on any given day for some swashbuckling bro who would boast about his conquests with drinks at Ceres and smokes from Jack Schwartz Importer – Fine Cigars Since 1921. Both are still open, but the bros are mostly gone.
The Chicago Board of Trade opened in 1848, one of the first futures exchanges in the world, and became a central part of Chicago’s business identity, as well as a driving force in the fattening agricultural heartland of the United States. By 1930, when it opened its present-day limestone-clad Art Deco headquarters, designed by Holabird & Root, the entity established itself as the tallest building in Chicago, a title it held until 1965.
Its six-story trading floor was a mysterious marvel of American commerce, the scene of colorful, noisy, frenzied activity by traders buying and selling in a chaotic chorus of open outcry while pages and human assistants and machines scurried and cranked away to serve them. Visitors to its observation area would gaze incredulously at its scale and pace of activity, even while understanding almost nothing of what was transpiring. But everyone in Chicago knew that this was a place for rags to riches, sometimes overnight.
Inevitably, open outcry would give way to soulless, colorless computer trading, and the Chicago Board of Trade would succumb to the insatiable appetite for global consolidation, joining forces with its younger rival, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, to form the CME Group. The once-landmark trading floor was closed down (a small floor on another floor remains open, trading only financial futures), dismantled and its pits were filled with concrete to convert it into private, leasable space.
In 2018, Marissa Lee Benedict (Newcity Breakout Artist 2013) and David Rueter, former Chicago artists now partners in life and work in the Netherlands, joined forces with Brazilian artist Daniel de Paula to acquire the last remaining trading pit from the Chicago Board of Trade. It was a formidable undertaking logistically, made even more challenging due to their location thousands of miles away, across the ocean.
But at the 2021 São Paulo Biennial, they debuted “deposition,” the first of eight planned iterations of the trading pit in its new identity as an art object. In 2023, the French art-book publisher Mousse issued a 352-page book about the project.
The São Paulo Biennial is the second-oldest such exhibition in the world, after Venice, and its prestige is so high that artists who’ve shown there list each iteration they’ve participated in, by number, on their biographies. It’s held in the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion, designed expressly for the biennial by iconic architect Oscar Niemeyer and his collaborator Hélio Uchôa in Ibirapuera Park, a green space that might conjure up New York’s Central Park to American visitors.
The wooden octagon that once organized traders who likely gave it little regard as they stood on its stair-step platform, takes on an entirely new identity as a work of conceptual art. Where the space was once motivated purely by unbridled capitalism, now installation and social practice exploring themes of capital, food and agriculture, and even the process of being a public art project, are its concerns.
This undertaking offers a fascinating perspective in all the scope and minutiae that a conceptual art endeavor like this might entail. It started with the very physical and logistical complication of extracting this large structure from a downtown Chicago building, storing it, then arranging for it to be shipped, temporarily, to Sao Paulo, Brazil, nearly 8,000 nautical miles away.
But there is so much more at work here than if it were simply a straightforward logistical problem, the kind of challenge a business might undertake and try to accomplish in the simplest, most cost-effective way. As detailed in the book, the artists did extensive research into the history of the Board of Trade but also the pit itself, even obtaining the original patent application from 1878 for the octagonal object, and modifying it to suit their purposes.
Their interest in “the business” of this artwork continues from there at great length, including a detailed contract between the artists and the biennial, that stipulates details such as payment for its use, and in what form that payment must be made, as well as a very specific way in which it can be displayed.
In spite of the history of the Chicago Board of Trade and its trading pits, the artists do not allow any descriptive wall text or historical photos. However, they have created an “Enunciation,” a barebones statement of history, issues and principles that contractually must be read out loud in public before each event, whether that be a panel discussion or musical performance. And the pit cannot be restored by assembling its parts into its original octagon. At the biennial, it was set up in the high-profile center of the pavilion, in two facing semicircles in a way that resembled bleachers, with a three-month series of regular public events in its space. In this way, this onetime cradle of capitalism became a temporary vessel of democracy, a public space.
In the summer of 2020, the artists mounted an exhibition in the garden of the Arts Club of Chicago, entitled “Repose,” in which fragments of the custom wooden shipping crates created for the trading floor were arranged as a work of art in themself. The Bienal de Sao Paulo was the first of eight imagined iterations of the artwork itself.
I conversed with the artists at length when they visited Chicago in 2023 and an edited version of that interview follows. One of many intriguing facets of this project is that it is a collaboration between three artists of varying degrees of personal familiarity. But even given those differences, they’ve already established a collaborative comfort among themselves that comes through clearly in conversation.
Let’s start with your personal stories, and how collaborations began and evolved between you?
Marissa: I originally went to school to study painting and drawing, and have become interested in all these other areas and disciplines from that position, which is interesting, since I haven’t presented any painting or drawing in about ten years or more.
I did undergraduate on the East Coast and then came to Chicago to study sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and then stayed for about seven years, and really feel like Chicago taught me a lot about the arts, about collaboration and about camaraderie, about making it work in a city where we have to share resources and think about art from spaces and really engage in the community here, so I feel very kind of created by Chicago, in a lot of ways. And that’s also where I met David.
David: I studied political theory at Oberlin College and then found my way into the arts through performance. I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I met Marissa in the art and technology studies program, and where I discovered an interest in technology that was not about the latest technologies, but about thinking about older technologies and how they might structure space. Marissa and I met at a show here in Chicago. Our first collaboration was in 2014 at CAC. And since then we have just been making videos, drawings, sculpture together.
Daniel: I did my undergrad at an arts school in São Paulo, Brazil called FAAP, and besides my studies I was also an assistant for a few years for a couple of artists, and that was also a very formative experience. But besides my formal background in the arts, mostly in sculpture and installation, I’d say my practice is informed as well by human geography, of which I began a master’s program in the University of Sao Pãulo, but I interrupted that.
I felt that architecture and urbanism weren’t quite capable of addressing the issues that I was concerned with in the sense of how certain social and political vectors inscribe meaning into space—material, physical space. And my master’s was interrupted due to a selection for an artistic residency in the south of the Netherlands in Maastricht, the Jan van Eyck Academie<, where, in that context, our collaboration began. That’s when we meet, in 2018, if I’m not mistaken.
Daniel: And that’s when we began this colossal endeavor of salvaging the trading pit and working with it.
Marissa: It was not long after we met that this project kind of hit.
Marissa: So a pretty brief introduction to each other: It was after my presentation, which was only a few months after being at the residency, that we started talking about the work. Daniel was in touch with the real estate manager at the Board of Trade at that time, and so it was, I would say, a highly energetic, charged period of slightly impulsive decision-making, which might also follow with the trading-pit kind of energy.
I imagine being thousands of miles away helped, too, because it kept the physical challenge of what you were getting into at a distance.
And more abstract.
Marissa: And needing to find someone who can help you move it.
Once you decided to do this together did you have a plan from the start, or has it organically evolved?
David: Organic. Marissa and I have always been interested in collaboration, and we’ve invited other artists into our exhibition spaces.
But then when we met Daniel, it was originally his research interest that really piqued our interest, and we started talking about this trading pit really extensively. At some point it became clear, after we got the object, you could probably speak to this better, but…
Daniel: Something that was almost indissociable from this object in itself, is that it does suggest a collaborative approach, or at least it is an architecture of social gathering. And in that sense it’s almost as if, in order for you to be capable of addressing it critically and also being able to lift this weight, you also have to respect its vocation, you know? And this is something that was not necessarily even thought out extensively amongst us, it was just kind of a gut feeling that we had, and we went for it.
We also don’t see ourselves as a collaboration that has one hegemonic view and perception of what this work is. We don’t go under a title that is a name of this collective or something like that. We respect our individualities and the friction that might bring about eventually in our discussions, in our conversations, our desires.
And that’s something that is quite important to mention because that later on informs the work itself with our intentions of what can this object host, and in what ways can other bodies, other collaborations and groups manifest without also entering this logic of one singular vision, and having multiple voices being agents to the construction of this body of work.
Marissa: I really appreciate, Daniel, it was a phrase that you first said, that this work is too heavy for just us. David mentioned an interest we have in acts of hosting others, and for myself the word collaboration really refers to the first inner circle of the three of us, or the two of us, David and I, at times, that are intimately involved with the conceptual production of the work, the managing of the work.
And this is where the roles that you mentioned, I find it actually difficult if there are too many collaborators involved [in] other artist spaces, ten-person artist collectives, and those decision-making processes are quite different than with two or three people and the kind of discourse that we can have, the disagreements that we can have, the three of us being equal parties to that and figuring out how to work around this object, how we come up with the certain conceptual frameworks the object relies on, for myself, a two- or three-person structure.
David: In terms of division of responsibilities and how we work through doing this, there’s one core part that we share pretty much equally, which is looking at the pit itself and trying to describe it in all of its ways, and to try to really deeply understand what we call the grammars, and to then think about how that actually is translated into things like the contract, things like how we speak about it publicly. The consideration of what this thing is is something that we all talk about extensively and work together on.
In terms of what we do separately, it’s more some of the technical implementation tasks. I’ve done some of the drawing-related things. Marissa’s done a lot of administration, contact emails. Daniel worked extensively with a lawyer developing the contract and some of the concepts in the contract, and a bunch of other things, too.
Daniel: We also oscillate, and that’s a beautiful part about collaborating and having just more human resources in order to tackle the amount of labor this work suggests. Each of us has their own personal lives, and we have our ups and downs, and the great part of this collaboration is that before clicking as artists, is having that gut that we can trust each other. That’s something that’s revealed itself to be true throughout the process, so whenever any of us have had hardships, another one was there to help out, be it supporting in an emotional sense or even practically in terms of getting things done that had to be done while one wasn’t able to.
And the fact that this is a long-term project—we have the intention of showing it eight times, and we’ve just had one iteration of the work—also allows for a certain balance of this labor throughout the course of the work.That’s something that we see as also a positive thing, just being capable of respecting each other’s time and so on. So in that sense there’s nothing but love and admiration for this kind of sensibility, which is quite important.
Dan Peterman, was/is involved on some level…
[Peterman, the co-founder of Experimental Station among many other things, is a well-known Chicago artist who, according to his bio, “explores intersections of art and ecology, frequently focusing on networks of recycled, or discarded materials that function interchangeably as stockpiles, sculpture, functional objects, and critiques of environmental oversight and neglect.”]
David: We call him the godfather of the project.
Marissa: I think he prefers uncle. [Laughs.]
David: Uncle, yeah, right.
Marissa: I originally reached out to Dan Peterman—he’s an artist, but I had met him through Mary Jane Jacob in one of her special-practice conferences at some point—
David: I met him in Brussels.
Marissa: Yeah, in like 2011, and I’ve always admired his work, his thinking, and he’s a well-established artist, and when Daniel originally was talking to us about salvaging this object I had contacted kind of everyone I knew in every position of power in the city to think about how we might salvage this object. But Dan, as we were discussing it, made an incredible amount of sense in his personal interest working with salvaged materials, floors in particular, and really understanding this materially as well as conceptually.
And as a really generous kind of artist himself who is also interested in hosting practices, like the act of making a floor to host people to dance on, or this kind of interest in social and material structures that really allow others to operate. Dan stepped into the project to facilitate this process, knowing that it was probably impossible for us to do it from the Netherlands, as he discussed within his interview in the book.
And since then we’ve asked him multiple times would he like to curate, would he like to be involved in this or that way, and he continues just to be an integral part almost of the thinking, the life, the energy of the work, in particular in its relation to Chicago, and his interest in it as Chicago’s relation on the international global stage. I know Dan has a great interest in how this work positions Chicago in terms of global movements of agriculture, finance, forms of power and—
David: Cohering in materials and… yeah. He instantly saw the value of what could happen, and he was also very interested in Daniel’s work. And so that was just a very natural connection for us. And he was there and was able to kind of pull off what he described, a kind of minor miracle. I was able to visit the pit in September of 2021?
David: That’s right. I’m getting years mixed up. Yeah, 2018. I was able to visit the pit in storage out there with Dan, and—
Marissa: And Greg Lane.
David: And Greg Lane, who was also integral to the salvage operation. Dan described this as a kind of succession of minor miracles that allowed this thing to happen. He knew exactly what to do, and I don’t think there was anybody else who could have done the job.
Was it moved from the Board floor to the storage? And were you here at all?
So he really was your logistics sort of—?
Daniel: We had very limited funds and resources, and paying a ticket from the Netherlands to Chicago would have made our resources even more limited, so yeah, we had to rely on Dan and his expertise, and on Greg.
Marissa: We went into debt to salvage the object, and pooled a bunch of resources we had, and, as Daniel was saying, had a very practical limitation on where’s the money and where’s the labor.
Moving the pit was a very blue collar job, right? It’s like guys moving stuff. And I just was wondering if they were like, “What are you guys doing?” [Laughter.]
Marissa: From what Dan and Greg have told us, there was an understanding through the lens of architectural preservation that this object might be worth salvaging. It’s quite interesting the way it came apart, as Dan discusses in the interview. Out of necessity in the space of finance in the Loop it wasn’t a demolition project, and the pieces had to come apart. And the guys who took it apart, you know, it’s almost a special demolition and a specialized project.
Right, because we do have a very strong preservation ethos here.
Marissa: Yeah, exactly. It did get transported in dump trucks, to my understanding, so in some ways, once it transitioned out of the Board, it might have another understanding for a moment as just more dump material. But in the exiting from the Board the workers, they seemed to, from what Dan narrated—
David: He told me, too. He told me that there was a kind of cushion of goodwill that everything rode on top of. The demolition or the extraction operation was well-funded, it seemed, and people wanted to get it out of there, but they were also not in a hurry to cut corners and maybe destroy parts of it and keep it preserved.
Daniel: Even though it was destined to the landfill.
Marissa: This was the last pit standing for a while, though, I believe, because they had been demoing slowly over time to clear the room, to show real estate people the options and possibilities, so this one stood there alone for a while, right, Daniel?
Daniel: I think it was like a week.
Marissa: Was it just a week?
Daniel: I think it was a week. We had a one-week window of time or else they said it was going to the landfill.
David: Yeah, and they were very—
Daniel: Maybe that’s a lot for them.
David: They were very patient with—we were just toward the very end where we would have missed it. It was very, very close.
Did any other pits get saved?
Like at all? Like no rich trader bought one for his…?
Daniel: I remember us kind of thinking about why none of the other pits were salvaged. There was also a more formal aspect about that material which is a material that, when you look at it, you’ve got these rubber-studded flooring panels, and it’s not quite appealing in terms of preservation in the sense of an ornamental fragment from the 1930s or something like that. It is kind of robust and awkward, and a little bit maybe vulgar in terms of how it looks. And I don’t think that called a lot of attention, especially also because it’s from the 1970s, eighties.
Marissa: Maybe 1982.
Daniel: Even though it has layers of history in it that are older, I don’t think anybody was like “Oh, we need to save this.”
David: Yeah, like nobody’s going in saying we need to salvage these drop-ceiling tiles, you know.
David: It looks like this kind of seventies office equipment.
It was a very functional thing. It wasn’t ornamented like the rest of the building, and it was meant to be stood on, and replaced when it needed replacing.
David: Underneath the surface, though, the more you look at it the more you can see that there is something kind of compelling about it because underneath the rubber layer on top there’s actual wood—we think it’s oak—that was originally the surface of the trading floor before they covered it up with some sort of non-slip coating. It was probably some sort of occupational safety kind of thing.
What are some of the most interesting things you found in what you call the excavation process? Was it almost like they just stopped trading and left the floor?
David: Yeah, exactly. As we learned, there were tremendous amounts of paper trash produced during the course of a day of trading but then all of that would be swept away. A lot of it found its way into the ventilation ducts, and it was just there, so when we started excavating the stuff we found a lot of trading cards with trades marked on them, but also some kind of strange things, right? Like Marissa, you like to talk about the evidence of oral fixations, people chewing sunflower seeds and—
Marissa: Gum wrappers.
David: But the most interesting thing we found was a single piece of corn. This is this commodity that’s supposed to be treated as an abstract item in large quantities, but here it is in this one singular piece. We’re wondering how it got there. Perhaps a kind of day of looking at samples, bringing samples to the pit sometimes.
Marissa: But they really never intended to have any corn in the corn pit.
What was your relationship with the Board of Trade—now owned by CME—were they cooperative? And has it evolved?
Daniel: It’s quite fascinating how we actually came across the object itself. We were interested in locating specific dimensions or a floor plan that had the size of the trading pit for research purposes. And that information was quite difficult to come through. So we attempted calling universities, the Graham Foundation, many locations, and eventually we called the Board of Trade and we got a hold of a real estate manager, Kevin Lennon, and he sent us this 3D floor plan with very precise dimensions of the grain room. And he confided to us that, even though he was sending those dimensions and that floor plan, it would become irrelevant because they were demolishing it.
And that’s when we came across the information that that’s what’s going to happen with all the trading pits. And then we asked him about the possibility of salvaging the trading pit and he said sure. So he was very cooperative and generous. Of course constantly busy and very succinct in his responses through email. We didn’t get to talk on the phone. And that’s also when Dan Peterman and Greg Lane show up and are able to mediate this whole situation in person. So during that process they were very responsive and quite cooperative.
But since then I don’t think they’ve really cared much about what has happened to the trading pit or the project or have followed up. And we also understand they’ve been having, of course, a lot of institutional changes within the structure. We tried to get into the empty floor, the empty grain room, for several years and were never granted access. They always kind of delegated that permission to someone else in the hierarchy who never replied to us.
And fortunately, while in Chicago in the context of a workshop and a few classes we’ve been teaching at UIC, we went to the Board of Trade to do a field trip with the students, and trying to also make them think about the necessity to be present, to ask questions, to see things, to sniff things out like a dog and the importance of field research for an artist. And while we were at the lobby of the Board of Trade, another kind of real estate—he wasn’t the real estate manager for the CBOT, he was working for another company that’s now kind of…
David: In charge of leasing the building.
Daniel: …in charge of leasing the building, and he granted us access, so last week we were actually able to go to the floor, and that was a quite fascinating experience.
Marissa: The more time we’ve spent around this work, thinking about this work, there’s a really fascinating tension between an erasure of history and an interest in history. So speaking for the same workshop, UIC had a trader come speak to the class and he was talking about the interest in the moment, in the present, that there is no past, just now, and the future is what happens in this kind of transaction, much like sports, as he likened it to.
But then the Board of Trade— the CBOT—itself, as we’ve spent more and more time in the archives, which are an official kind of self-narration of their history held at UIC as well, they were also self-historicizing, creating their own libraries, their own archives. So there’s a part of the building and part of the CBOT that is very much engaged in their own historicization. At the same time they have these floors where their traders, who are just living in the present, have no interest in this kind of relationship with history.
There’s a kind of interesting energy that this pit falls under where it was under the feet of the traders, so very much made in this world of the present, throw it away, moving on algorithms now, and electronic trading, more speed.
It sounds like you’re describing it as more of an attitude of indifference than antagonism.
They didn’t interrogate you about your intentions?
Do you have any concern that their cooperation in any way co-opts the politics of what you’re doing?
Daniel: That’s a great question.
David: We were thinking about this when the CME Group allowed us to reprint some of the historical images from the archives. The more we spend time in the archives, the more we learn about how invested they are in a particular image of the trading pits and what happens in those pits. And I don’t think that any of the images we show, these historical images, at all could conflict with that because they’re actually coming out of the archives. They show the pits in the state that they want them to be shown.
But I don’t think that our critical posture has anything to do with the operations of the CME Group specifically. Perhaps what we’re more interested in is a layer of a critique of the way that abstraction finds its way into ruling lives. And I don’t think that we can pin any of that in the CME Group or traders or any of that kind of thing. It’s a level of critique that doesn’t register at the level of the day-to-day of an organization like the CME Group.
Daniel: There’s no interest in generating a critique that focuses on the individual, on personifying a critique through the trader himself or herself, or the individuals that constitute this institution. But it is something that we are aware of in the sense that it is an object that also requires a certain level of funding and investment and support that we are very careful also where is that support coming from, in order also not to necessarily allow that to become a monumentalization of the object or just a positive look into this history.
We’re quite critical in regards to this system, and that’s something that the trading pit allows us through that specific object of study to elaborate a critique that is more universal, thinking about sometimes how a fragment is able to speak about a totality, rather than just focusing on this specific kind of historical framing.
Daniel, you talked about some of the origins of this coming out of your interest in the relationship of the system to the plight of people in Brazil. Fifty-eight percent of Brazilians have food insecurity, although ironically thirty-two percent of Americans do too. Most people think of us as this very rich country, and yet a third of our people! I’m very familiar with the farming myth now in the United States, which is this idea of the family farm. It really drives a lot of politics and everything. And in my family, going back a few generations, that was my heritage, from North Dakota.
David: Mine also, from Nebraska.
When I go to North Dakota, the farming ethos is powerful. And it’s not corporate. Even though if you strip it down we’re probably mostly a corporate farm system now. What is it in Brazil? Do you have that at all, the family farm idea? I know you have a very different relationship to land there than we do.
Daniel: It’s a foundational dilemma for the constitution of Brazil in its identity and in its politics and so on, because we could go back to the process of colonization and so forth, which is a little bit distinct from what occurred in the United States. But it seems that the family-driven agriculture and farming has diminished quite significantly throughout the last decades in advance of agribusiness and monocultures and so on, which have been stimulated by a commodities boom that has occurred and that sees Brazil as a kind of farm for the world.
And like you mentioned the food insecurity, it’s this enormous contradiction, which is likewise in the United States, you have this country that is basically producing food for the world, but at the same time people that live there go through not only food insecurity, but the incapacity of even having a patch of land to produce their own food just for existence. And that has been accelerated by speculation not only in terms of the commodities themselves, but as land as an asset.
So many of the endeavors of agribusiness actually hide and conceal the truth of the matter, which is property, and the primitive accumulation of transforming land that was valueless in the sense of a market, land of communal use, land that belonged to the state or land that is part of native, indigenous territories and transforming that through land-grabbing practices, through forgery of legal documents, and through a lot of physical violence, ultimately leading to death and assassinations that transforms the land that is of common use, that is public, into a private asset.
That is a system that is basically financed by transnational companies. There are pension funds related to universities in the United States that invest in practices in Brazil that, further down the sequential order of events, are related to these procedures. That’s very frightening. And it’s not only in the Amazon; it’s in the north of Brazil in this region called the Matopiba, which is a series of states in the north of Brazil where the vegetation is called the Cerrado. It’s a different kind of geography of smaller bushes, a little bit more arid. But that’s been devastated by these practices.
Just to illustrate, they have a practice which is called the correntão, which is the “big chain.” You get two tractors, you get a naval chain, you tie one end of the chain to each side of this practice, and you just swipe through land, destroying all of its vegetation, all of its fauna as well. And this is something that has been incentivized by our last governmental administration. And even governments that are opposed to that aren’t capable of necessarily addressing that institutionally and through legal terms. So it’s a quite complex and violent situation.
Marissa: I was just curious, Daniel, because as you were talking something occurred to me, that a lot of what’s happening in Brazil also relies on there not being claims or the paperwork or contracts that create deeds and forms of property that would be given to a community or a small family farm, as compared to the United States, where, although it was clearly part of a frontier mentality and colonial history, is that there were all these deed granting and government programs for people to settle the [land] and a whole system to really name and describe property and contract forms that produce agricultural land and—
Daniel: And it’s also tied to this project, first a colonial project, and later a project of modernity, of settlement and occupation of the land toward the interior of Brazil. So if you think about when Brasilia becomes the capital, which before that was Rio de Janeiro, that was a clear kind of positioning of Brazilian politics as a forefront to this occupation and progress and kind of a negation of what existed there before, as if what was there before, be it the indigenous communities, be it the flora and the fauna and those ecosystems were actually a great nothing, something to be conquered, something to be transformed through these processes of the territorialization of capital into what we’ve come to agree in a Western society that is something. So that’s how it’s been perceived.
Which is parallel to the “Go West” mentality here.
David: It seems the history is very similar.
Genocide against the indigenous people—
David: Happened in the nineteenth century instead of today.
Marissa: This might be a tangent, but there’s a fascinating essay written by Carla Zaccagnini as one of the correspondences for the 34th Biennial where she really does compare this—or the role of the horizon in this, that in Brazil the forest actually obscures a sense of horizon, although the colonial project is to try and create a horizon through that forest. But I find it very interesting in the United States that much of the West is prairie land, and there is this horizon that extends and a system that serves to map that horizon in a really particular way, so it’s something.
Daniel: Yeah, it’s quite complex. If we take one of Bolsonaro’s arguments, for example, of this occupation and this violent advance in this agricultural frontier is that the countries in the center of capital, Europe and the United States, they did that in the past, and he claims that their advantage in a global market comes from the fact that they were able to modernize their countries completely. So you do see a part of the population of Brazil actually being in favor of that rhetoric in the sense that they feel it’s related to progress and to an idea of actually being able to make an existence for themselves. Because there are also a lot of people that are struggling that are in that line and that are reiterating the violence through the extraction of gold, through all of that. So it’s very complex also. It’s not simply just black-and-white.
That’s also what makes this work fascinating in the way we approach it, which, we’re not necessarily also just pointing to these sources of violence in a form that is also detached or not implicated in them. We’re aware, for example that the [now-past] president of the Sao Paulo Biennial, José Olympio Pereira, is the president of Credit Suisse in Latin America. And if you go down the sequence of events, Credit Suisse has been attached to certain funds and companies of the agro section that have been caught in situations in cases where land-grabbing has occurred.
So it’s not as if we are not aware of these implications, that we’re not aware of these complex fabrics that construct the world. And our position is that we are part of the world, so we’re not bringing a solution with this work, we’re not trying to claim a resolution to these conflicts, but we want to talk about them, and we want to talk about them from the standpoint that we are participating in this logic. We need to be critical about it, but that doesn’t mean we’re being… We’re working through simply a contradiction, but it’s—
David: The criticality comes from examining the details of what’s actually present to what we call the grammars, but then really trying to assert those as foundational to the floor and to what it represents, and to see what can be worked out within those. As we say, we don’t want to treat it as a blank slate that can be overwritten and contradicted and opposed with something else, but it’s more like what happens in this phase of negotiation with the reckoning with the materiality, with the history of the object.
When I was younger and visiting family in North Dakota, you would hear a lot of grousing about Chicago because there was a perception that Chicago was somehow the source of their problems because of the market here. Was that what led you here, too, that sense that Chicago was somehow driving some problems in Brazil?
Daniel: Not originally, but you end up in Chicago. If you do your research properly into finance and agriculture, you can start anywhere in the world, you will end up in Chicago. So that was the trajectory. But there wasn’t—and once again, it’s not necessarily about demonizing finance and traders or the Chicago Board of Trade, but it’s like David was mentioning, it’s about abstraction, it’s about value, it’s about property, it’s about capital, it’s about labor, these things that are embedded in the system rather than just pointing at this particularity of the system.
David: Yeah, and how the rules are written and how those are mobilized with forces of violence to create an accumulation.
Marissa: I do think this work, though, strives to think about the geographic specificities of those maybe more abstract forms and forces. Yamila Goldfarb has a really lovely essay in the book. She’s a geographer that sees all these complex relations between Chicago and Brazil, and not only the agricultural ones, but the Chicago Boys, the economic, there’s these different layers and strata of what are these different forces in Chicago that seem to affect the Midwest more generally, but then also Latin America, South America, Brazil. And she uses this metaphor of the wheel, which is quite interesting, a kind of grinding wheel that’s turning between these countries.
Daniel: it’s not a pit, it’s a wheel.
Do you feel like you’re taking a position on capitalism itself?
David: I have trouble with that because I feel like nobody’s asking me whether we should have capitalism or not. That’s not to say that I can’t take a position. But I’m not a policy person. And we’re also not really activists, either. I have deep respect for activists who engage some of the worst excesses of capitalism.
Often when we start talking about it so broadly we lose sight of some of the smaller pictures of how things operate, and what is property, and what is debt. All these things are implicated in capital, what is value, all these things are implicated in what we talk about when we say capitalism, but they’re not identical with capitalism. We can start having more interesting conversations when we talk about these things as they come together to form a big picture that’s existed all throughout history. Debt has existed far before capitalism, for example.
Marissa: I have felt strong anti-capitalist sentiments throughout my life, but also a really complex contradiction of what the world is. The more time one spends describing, absorbing, thinking about the world, the idea of an overthrow or a strike or a system that completely sheds capitalism in its entirety to me feels like an impossibility. So then what is there between these? Because to be anti… it’s interesting because being anti-something, attempts, perhaps, a position diametrically opposite, and I always feel somehow compromised, or like it’s not possible to just completely discard everything that has come before.
And this is where I’ve also gotten far more interested in history and in all the complex stories that form certain kinds of histories. And while still wanting to push it in a certain direction, in a certain trajectory, because capitalism is very strong as a logic, as a political mode, so it needs energy against it, to move it, as any form of power does, or any logic that seems to be totalizing. But I’m also suspicious of totalizing logics that presume totalizing solutions in relation to them.
Daniel: That’s a focal point in the sense that many anti-capitalism claims have been dismissed for not presenting solutions and answers and here, this is another mode of existence that is possible and that is better, as if we had to also just settle for one.
But something that at least informs my thought in regards to this work, and this is a sentiment that we share, is that this distinction between practice and theory is not something that diametrical and that separate in the sense that we can be critical about capital without providing any answers; and engage in a critical stance and understanding that we might necessarily need to debate further and be critical and engage in this kind of dialectic movement, and everything that’s happening in the trading pit, in the work, in the friction that we’re trying to generate, in order to come up with questions rather than answers. And that is practice. That is not simply theory, that is not simply talking nonsense and not being practical, and not bringing forth something that is effective in the world.
So that’s something important to understand, that, like we mentioned in our manifesto, people have to talk things out. Maybe they won’t reach an understanding, but that shouldn’t produce immobility, that shouldn’t produce a sentiment of hopelessness. On the contrary, that is fuel to keep striving to produce a better world for us to live in, modes of existence with foundations on these abstractions that dominate our lives. That’s something we are quite invested in, but not in this kind of idea, which would be very capitalist in itself, to present a final product: This is it, this is better. We’re not interested in that.
David: Also one thing just came to me. We could be considered anti-capitalist to the extent that we think of capitalism as an aesthetic or as a set of historical practices or rather anti-historical practices that are about isolating things, about disconnecting things, about erasing histories, about making things illegible in their broader context. And in that sense we go against all of those kinds of dynamics without necessarily being against capitalism itself, but against these processes that serve to aid practices of forgetting.
You have a mantra of land, labor and capital. I was fascinated by the absence of food, because it seems so integral.
Daniel: I don’t know. Maybe it is a bit embedded in thinking about land and property and labor somehow. But it is an interesting question. Especially looking at the archive we’ve seen that the CBOT has portrayed itself as this kind of agent of helping out the world food crisis. That’s something that they’ve kind of propagated as a consequence of their work.
Daniel: Yeah, that makes sense.
Marissa: —these concepts of land, labor and capital, which are somewhere between the three of our work.
David: Land, labor, capital could be a way of prying into the operations of the pit, but it’s not the only way. Thinking about through the lens of food directly is probably something that we really need to explore in a future iteration.
David: The primary interest in Brazil at the Sao Paulo Biennial was, we had the corn pit, but soya is one of those crops that has been industrial, like soya for industrial purposes, primarily, so it’s not just food, but food is something also that’s of course central to what we’re talking about.
Marissa: It also comes from a focus on the grammars of the trading pit, though, because the trading pit itself excludes food as a category it wants to talk about, right? The discourse of traders is not about food. They trade commodities. This is a kind of reactivation for the people who step onto the trading pit to bring food back into that discourse as something that was absent. And even—
Daniel: There were some talks and there were some programs about food security and—
Daniel: —access to food in the peripheries of São Paulo that were activating the pit. That occurred a little bit through the programming, but it’s not something that we state or mention in the manifesto.
Marissa: It’s a wonderful friction with what has happened on the trading-pit floor before because the buying, selling, and receiving of commodities was the concern, not who got fed in the end from the pits. That is the pleasure of seeing this object and having to host a relationship with food or sort of discourses that it did not before.
Most people think of art as photographs, or paintings, or sculptures. With your work, where do you see the line between gathering anthropological artifacts and artwork? Or between journalism and storytelling, which is what I do, and artwork, in your practice?
Daniel: You guys take that one. [Laughs.]
Marissa: That’s a good one.
David: This is great because this actually came out of a talk at UIC. Ömür Harman?ah, the head of the School of Art & Art History, he’s an archeologist, so he’s very much interested in artifacts, and he had a really great question about the possibilities of having an object that extends far beyond what you can do academically. And no academic could ever throw this thing into the center of an exhibition and manipulate it and recontextualize it and use it in this way.
But this is the very practical, hands-on approach that Daniel was talking about, this questioning the bounds between theory and practice. As artists we have the ability to do things, to actualize things in ways that we just can’t get at through writing and through standard academic means. There is a strong element of the archeological and perhaps anthropological in our interests, but at the same time we are interested in opening up the object and its history to much broader fields of inquiry that aren’t in any way bound by a sense of academic discourse, but happen in a much more open and non-institutional frame.
You are historians, journalists, anthropologists, archeologists in your research and everything leading up to it, but then when you exhibit it you shed all of that and you do the antithesis of what journalists do, because as journalists we try to tell stories. We would not create artificial rules like you have, right? The rules of engagement you’ve created are the opposite. If it was a scientific exhibition or a historical exhibition there would have been photographs and history along the sides, which you explicitly prohibited. So is that kind of where the line is?
Marissa: Absolutely. That’s always been something that I vacillate between for myself as an artist. One cannot simply stand in the position of critique. And although I’ve struggled often with how to move from critique to an object-making or a productive practice, one that needs to put something into the world, or do, there’s a tension always there with the desire to kind of step into the role, or one can be an observer, a storyteller. And not to say these are passive disciplines, but as artists, you step into a role as almost, from a tradition of sculpture I’m thinking, but like object-making, right, something happens, and you are the person facilitating that and putting that forth.
And so it implicates you as a productive force as well, which is where we also get interested in how we have to align with an institution that is also producing these dynamics in the world, that artists produce dynamics, or we deal in not just observing the dynamics, or noting and writing about the dynamics, but actively kind of engaging them. Which is always complicated for myself, but it’s what keeps drawing me back to art because I have to deal with both.
In the introduction you talk a lot about abstraction and speculation in the financial realm, but, you know… [Laughter.]
Marissa: Also, of course, institutes of art, and—
Of all the arts, the visual art world is by far the most like that world.
Marissa: That’s no accident. I’ve seen a discourse currently in the realm of painting, where there’s quite a return from abstraction, but abstraction that ties it to historical specificities, forms of landscape, of violence, the things that we’re doing. So although we’re working in more of a tradition of conceptual art, and installation, and sculpture, and social practice, there’s also, within painting itself, a re-dealing with these terms of speculation and abstraction, et cetera, in a manner very similar to how we’re tying these to historical forces and contemporary forces that are operating in the world.
Daniel: The overlapping of a critique of finance and art for us is also fundamentally producing a critique of what occurs in terms of speculation, validation, proprietorship and so forth that also are mechanisms of the art world. So it’s also not only about finance in terms of an object of study closed and encased in that specificity, but bringing that into the art world produces a critique of the art world, and of our roles in the art world as well.
Marissa: [Don’t] turn your life into a commodity. It’s not just finance, but it’s artists as well. Or the art market.
Daniel: The art market, yeah.
I wanted to ask you to comment on your rules of engagement for the work. In No. 7, “a visit to a trading pit would yield a bodily metaphor for the gendered and racial violence endemic to the financial system, but electronic price feeds appear more innocent of such implications.” Why are electronic price feeds more innocent?
David: Why do they appear more innocent? It’s a question of appearance. We’ve heard stories of the energy in the pits as being just dramatic and confrontational. You would not be surprised to learn that on the other side of these transactions was something perhaps connected to violence.
However, we’re conditioned through a set of historical circumstances around technology, screens and print that these things operate at some sort of level of remove that, because they’re allowed to be connected through a much more distant causal chain of events, that somehow the numbers that are flashing on a screen may not be really directly responsible or related to something happening in the rainforest of Brazil. But we all know that’s not really true. Yet it’s hard to connect those things aesthetically.
Marissa: In my experience in the world, I often understand something through a mode of encountering it bodily, physically. Even if I address something visually or through language, there’s something about being present in a space together that it’s almost like an act of witnessing, right? If one witnessed a form of violence directly, it has a very different impact than being told about it, which is one layer of remove, versus seeing it abstracted into a number or seeing it on a news station, et cetera, so the mediation or the intermediation, and the growing mediation.
There’s just another step of mediation put in, and these systems seem to also deepen themselves through putting more distance between things and excluding a possibility of actual encounter. It becomes impossible to even imagine what an encounter with the financial market would be other than through a screen, right? Whereas these forms, the older forms, still imagine the bodies and the human, the people, both a specific and a large-scale level involved, and how they might affect each other through that process.
David: It’s part of an ongoing logic where parts become more and more standardized and connectable, while creating a whole that behaves in a certain way that can’t really be reduced to the operations of its parts. And so in any part of it you can’t trace its direct connection to what the whole is doing, but the system functions for a very particular end.
Daniel: And in that sense, being interested in the slow violence that it has produced elsewhere and that’s not immediately perceived becomes even more necessary in the sense that somehow the colonies or the peripheries reveal the secrets of the metropolis at the center of capital. So we might not see the violence embedded in a data center in the suburbs of Chicago, but if we go elsewhere, something might reveal the violence that is embedded in that materiality.
David: Extending a centuries-old process of—One might walk the streets of London and grow up there your entire life and not be aware of what’s happening in the remote reaches of England’s colonies.
I’m going to ask you now about No. 9, that the expansion of global production, especially soy and corn, conceals an interest in rural real estate. Consequently, in countries such as Brazil, the accelerated territorial occupation of agribusiness, which we’ve talked about, leads to such recurring violent practices as land-grabbing, deforestation, et cetera.
If you were an economist, you might say that all that back and forth in the trading pit is really just about liquidity, about finding the price in a more democratic way than, say, somebody imperially imposing a price. And it created a mechanism for even small farmers to hedge, right? The classic story is “I plant in April, but I don’t know what the price is in September. Well, I can sell it at the current price now and then I take that risk away.” It’s like an insurance policy. Do you feel this leads endemically to scale?
Daniel: It’s a good question.
And then unethical land practice?
David: The mechanism you describe of the futures contract enabling stability for farmers is something that farmers did benefit from. And this was also something that the Chicago Board of Trade, we see in the archives, is very interested in spreading this notion, that this is the prime purpose of the financial markets. But what we find also, though, is that there’s tremendous amounts of value that comes in through… in a much more speculative sense.
And you can say that that liquidity, it’s trying to find the correct price, but at the same time there’s this part of the puzzle that is also connected to system-wide upward redistribution of wealth that occurs on every little transaction, every little dime. And so it’s not that the actual trading practices themselves are directly responsible. This is a unique feature of the system, that you can’t point at any one component of it and say here’s the problem. It’s not like we have a car and the engine is capitalism, and we can just swap it out and put in a hybrid socialist engine or something like that. It’s not the same.
Daniel: Something that informs our practice in this work also, is this relationship between global and local. And thinking about global markets, which are based on the currency of the dollar, for example. When you’re thinking about Brazil, where you have all of these enormous pieces of land owned by single transnational companies that understand that if they sell in dollars they will make a bigger profit, then why would they reduce that price in order to help out food insecurity in Brazil if people can’t pay that?
So that produces a valence within the country which ultimately is seen as an ideological thing as well, because if the state tries to intervene and tries to nationalize certain production or tries to subsidize certain things it’s seen as a socialist, communist government, and then you have intervention, and then you have… There is something about this global financial market, like David was saying, which is related to a class struggle as well. Who reaps the benefits of this production in the sense of its speculative mode, but also materially, at the moment that you decide that a country is going to produce primarily for export rather than for their own goods for their own use, you, through land, you’re not allowing them also to produce something for them.
Marissa: I might also say that—and this is from a very artist-metaphor perspective—liquidity that imagines there are no whirlpools is for myself very strange, like there are no forces that would suck in, eddy, or power structures that, like David was talking about, create a certain accretion or accumulation of the forces of that liquidity within a certain area or position. And for myself, at least, I’ve been very interested in histories and ideologies that imagine that the system is self-balancing, and that it—almost a cybernetic philosophy—-that it will all work itself out in a natural order.
But the more we know about natural orders, it doesn’t necessarily self-balance, right? There’s not a natural state of things that goes to equity. It’s often the inverse, that violence and forms of power create incredible inequity. So what are these other forms? The state in some ways requires—and this is very Keynesian of me—the imposition of regulation or something that pushes against these forces of liquidity, right? I don’t think it’s “natural” that liquidity just eases or smooths things, or creates greater equity in the world.
Well, yeah, rules. [Laughter.] Which, you know…
Which, you know, the markets had to have discovered since the crash of 1929. Having rules actually makes it more liquid, and makes it more prosperous.
Do you ever feel, especially if you have the last trading floor, any obligation to history? Which kind of relates to that idea of anthropology. This somewhat relates to that idea of art and capital, that this trading pit is more valuable as an art object than it is as detritus. It certainly is more valuable than it is as landfill. But even if it was just in someone’s backyard or whatever, it’s more valuable because you’ve now made it an art object. So I wanted you to talk about those concepts, because they’re both byproducts of your work here.
Daniel: We’re quite critical about the possibility of this becoming a monument and being preserved throughout a bigger time frame, and also aware about how the art world creates fetishes out of objects, out of things, out of materiality and further speculates, produces wealth, profit, which usually also is in a certain class. So that’s something that we’ve been aware of and critical of since the beginning.
But at the same time we’ve stumbled upon some practical issues. For example, if we want to ship this work somewhere, somebody needs to own it, somebody needs to claim it, somebody needs to sign off the documents, so for now we are the owners of this object. And we are aware of that. But we’ve made a statement in the manifesto that it cannot be collected, it cannot be sold. That’s something that we’ve stated since the beginning. And we seek to follow this position. We’re not absolutely sure what we’re doing after its last iteration. We’re showing it eight times. We’ve shown it once. And that’s also a moment for speculation for ourselves.
It’ll be about thirty years, right? [Laughs.]
Marissa: In response to that question, I see an interest in this object for myself in its relationship with desire. Many art objects trade in conditions of desire. And this object as well. For as ugly as it is, it seems to generate forms of desire from everyone around it. When I start to think about, what does one desire from something? Is it about owning it, is it about its potential?
And I feel very much that there’s always a contradiction in this object for myself, where I am drawn to it, like there’s something desirous in here, but at the same time—so is the desire for preservation. But then once I notice that I’m feeling that way, then I feel this anti-preservationist impulse in response to that, or it invites a certain desire for a form of critique, a form of anti-capitalism, like anti-capitalist speech. And so then I’m always trying to think about well, what is the counteraction to that implicit desire?
This is how I relate to art and art objects generally, but I’ve always walked into a museum and felt kind of an intense kind of experiential pleasure. It’s hard not to discuss desire. I can’t have it. It’s always at a great distance to me. It’s always somehow mysterious to me, and yet I’m continuously trying to relate to it. And so there’s something about these impulses for preservation and art objects.
David: The preservationist drive is strong, but there’s something we want to try to complicate, like Daniel was saying. We don’t want to monumentalize it in this way. And we’re aware of the problems in preservation, where perhaps the chief problem is that you, to what extent are you preserving the social order that built this thing by preserving this thing? And to what extent are you excluding other possibilities from emerging by historicizing this object.
So we’re trying to, at some level, be open to what might come out of it from the present moment, knowing that this present moment also will become a historical moment because what happened in São Paulo is something that also will last longer than the material quality.
Daniel: And the material qualities of the pit are indissociable from a logic of property and a logic that we live in, in which we breathe life into objects and we remove life from bodies in this world in which that’s something that is… The art does that. Art museums, they do that. We have museums with a bunch of great artwork that is sold for I don’t know how many millions, even though the world socially is a catastrophe. By activation of the pit, we see life occurring. Like David said, that’s something that, even though it’s not collectible, you cannot necessarily own that, it is something that we are interested in even more so than preserving the object forever.
There’s an obvious reason why you went to Brazil, given Daniel’s role in the project, but it is fascinating, because Brazil is famous for bureaucracy, and there seems to be an embracement of bureaucracy in your work. Your interest in the contracts and the minutiae of bureaucracy and process, was that always present, or did that amplify because you were dealing with Brazil?
David: I wouldn’t characterize what’s happening in the pit as bureaucratic, exactly, but there are really important bureaucratic structures that surround what’s going on in the exchange. Thus our interest in contracts and specificities, because when you look at the actual contract for corn, it’s very detailed about this definition of what the commodity is, how it’s to be traded, what the terms are, and so there are, of course, really strong rules that surround this. Our interest in those bureaucratic procedures emerged, really, directly from looking at the pit and the bureaucratic structures that surround the pit itself. It’s an object, it’s a space, it’s a forum for trading, but it’s also this nexus of a huge set of bureaucratic regulations that have been built over a century.
Was your contract one that the Biennial started with, and then you just added to it, or did you start with a blank contract and present it to them? Do you anticipate a complete reinvention of the contract each time you…?
Marissa: No. In the book, the English form is what we are calling the template for it. And we did the contract as not a modified contract from the Biennial. It’s one we wrote based in land-lease agreements, property-rental agreements. So it takes its form actually not from the [artist] contract, but from a property contract.
Daniel: The bureaucracy that you mentioned in the question was revealed even more so in the logistical process of it rather than through the contract and that mediation with the institution. That’s also something that we could spend the whole afternoon talking about with the work, this relationship between the work when it’s in storage and sitting still and when it’s in movement and like the logistical circulation of this object and so forth.
Marissa: That was actually when—another word we contemplated for that land, labor—
Daniel: Yeah, logistics.
Marissa: Logistics was actually a word we were thinking quite a bit about.
This enunciation, which is really important to the whole experience at the biennial, is that something you anticipate now being a template?
Or was that specific to the Biennial? And did you three negotiate?
Marissa: The enunciation I feel actually came out of the manifesto. We spent about a year-and-a-half writing the first impulsive manifesto document. That’s also an addendum to the contract. It was a fairly straightforward process for us to debate, but to pull out the main energies from that, from those first discussions and a year-long process of negotiating that from the manifesto into the enunciation. But the enunciation will be read wherever the trading pit goes. I think it was most odd when read in Chicago. It seems to function very well outside of Chicago, the kind of tying it back to what are you standing on, what are you sitting on, what is its history, and then expanding from there.
David: We didn’t negotiate any of that with the institution.
Daniel: And they read the enunciation before every single program, and actually, it relates to this responsibility of contextualizing the object for an audience that might not be familiar with the history of that material without having to also utilize aids, visual aids, images around the object that we might feel would kind of be conflicting with the presence of the material itself. And also it was a means for our voice to be present through a representative of the institution. So somehow requiring the institution to enunciate, to say and to almost confirm our desires as artists through an oral language which is actually reminiscent of the traders at the pit yelling and screaming and so on.
Marissa: Yeah. It’s interesting that you say, like, our voice, because I also think we were writing, and in some ways I know I was thinking a lot also about the voice of the trading pit itself. It’s strange, us and this object. Like a lot of the enunciation or a lot of the language of the manifesto, it is about us almost imagining the energies of the object, its histories, but also then kind of pushing it into what its other trajectories might be.
Such as a theater in the round, the kind of idea that it became at the Biennial. You talk at some point about really wanting to have fights on the floor, because it also is the shape of an arena. And the thing that’s interesting about the trading process, in its day, they called it open outcry, right? Like it literally was like a forum for anyone who was a trader. There was no control. It was literally, just go. And it would go. And it seemed to very organically yield itself to this similar manifestation of ideas, or performances or whatever.
Marissa: Cameron Hu, in his essay, makes some very interesting analogies to the form of the agora, that there’s some kind of sense of democracy, right, like you’re saying. We just all go. And in that cacophony or in that fighting process something emerges.
So yeah, there’s something that is interesting to us, but it’s a “go” that does have all, again, these rules, regulations behind it, so the language, the hand signals that were happening, all these very specific forms of communication within what seems like an incredibly cacophonous process. That clearly has interested us and interested the people we invite to program on the trading floor, and that’s also like democracy, right? Ideals of democracy. It’s complicated. There’s always something that doesn’t work within that forum.
David: Our interest in agonism is not exactly utopian, as some people might think of it, but it’s really to reinforce what we see as one of the core logics of the pit, of the programmers of the pit, as you were mentioning, this idea of a kind of synthesis that develops out of antagonism, that might be that the best price comes out of this battle of traders. And in the ideas of democracies it’s that the best policy comes out of opposing ideas. I don’t think we subscribe to the virtue of either of those, but we’re interested in trying to replicate that process in the pit.
There was a bit of a disappointment—and this is something that Jacopo [Chief curator Jacopo Crivelli Visconti] describes in the interview—that there was a desire to host a bit more confrontation, perhaps. And it’s actually not as easy as it might sound. We really rapidly realized that you can offer an invitation to someone, but they’re not necessarily going to accept because it’s not like a finance minister is going to show up in an art institution to defend policies.
Daniel: And they also revealed how the political climate of Brazil during that context was also somehow producing a certain fear of what could take place actually if the environment was more confrontational in terms of what were the ramifications of certain events that could transpire in terms of also a world where just engagement through hate and all of these forms of dissemination of disinformation through online platforms and so forth, what could that mean for the biennial as a whole? So they were quite worried about that. In the end they told us that they thought it was a success in terms of not producing anything that would be harmful for the institution, and that’s something they were quite afraid of.
There was one moment of a spontaneous occupation by the Movimento Sem Terra, the landless movement, which is the biggest social movement of Latin America of disenfranchised farmers that don’t have land and claim for their use unproductive huge pieces of land. They occupied the trading pit and produced a sort of protest through a theatrical performance. And that created a little bit of institutional friction, but within the institution and not something that was leaked to the outside.
Had they been invited to participate, or did they literally just do this on their own?
Daniel: They did this on their own. There were people invited to participate that were affiliated with them, but they weren’t invited to participate.
David: And it was just weeks after they had occupied the actual functioning stock exchange in São Paulo.
Is there a commercial activation for you to help raise money from this?
Marissa: I thought about this because, yeah, the ongoing issues of storing this work, the material weight of it, the transition of it. We’ve actually spoken about this project to many people in the art world who have advised us to sell shares on the storage, if we’re not selling the object or the procedures or processes. And we’re still working on this. The book is the closest we’ve come to having an object that we are selling.
Daniel: But we don’t get a single cent from the selling of this book.
Marissa: And mostly, actually, interestingly, the lectures—
Unless it’s a bestseller, right?
David: Yeah, who knows?
Marissa: Which is unlikely. Shouldn’t say that on the record. But interestingly, the lectures and the talks and us actually kind of speaking about the work have been the only fundraising efforts that we’ve done so far.
Daniel: But which by no means amounts to what we’ve spent until this moment with the work.
Marissa: In terms of the debt.
Daniel: We are aware about the cultural capital the work produces and that somehow validates our careers in the way this kind of system works, eventually might be monetized, but it’s not anywhere in our horizon.
David: It might be indirect, as things work in this kind of economy.
What’s the future? I know you want seven more implementations. Do you have anything lined up, or do you have dream scenarios? Where would you like to do it?
Marissa: Definitely in Chicago. There’s ongoing discussions about the presentation of this work in Chicago. But interestingly, what form that takes, and which institution desires to participate is an open discussion at the moment. Europe is another place.
Daniel: The Netherlands, potentially, since it’s a place that we’ve got ties. You are both living there now. And it also relates to a local history of commodity trading and mercantile empire through the Dutch East India Company and so forth. And we’ve had some close calls, some kind of desires that didn’t pan out, from Athens, to Lyon, to…
Marissa: China. What’s interesting is we could name probably one hundred different cities, contexts that this work for us would draw different aspects, different histories. As Daniel mentioned, the Netherlands, the histories of the stock exchange and the kind of very foundational elements of trading come forth. In China another discussion would happen.
We’re in some ways, through this book and this moment really just, this first iteration has occupied us so intensively that I feel like we’re starting to close a chapter on this, and feel like we’re looking at and reflecting on and have a bit of time to understand what happened in São Paulo to begin to identify institutions, partners that would make sense. But also a lot of this project does seem to rely on chance and interest or desire from institutions that…
Do you dream of mounting it in farmland or other possibilities?
Marissa: We do. And we spent, actually, so much, again, desire in this project, and we spent a long time discussing, and I know at least myself, I imagine many kinds of performances on this work, sculptural installations for the work. Like oh, wouldn’t it be amazing if it did this. And every curator we talk to is like oh, mount it on a wall vertically as like, you know, Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, or throw it off a cliff into this setting. So there are these kinds of very wild, speculative desires, but then the actual kind of practice of it is something that we’re running up against, the practicalities of real finance, real production cutbacks.
David: That might be its final destination because we are interested in putting it into conversation with other forces, and putting it in conversation with the forces of nature might be its last battle.
Or send it to space. [Laughs.]
Marissa: Yeah, to space. That was another proposal from someone. And [to add it] to space junk. Industrially shred it.
David: Yeah. I like the shredding. I’m all for that.