What are the aspects that make it possible to understand money? What are the mechanisms behind generating and perceiving values? These questions rock the very core of the organisation of our society and our social order while touching on subject matters that seem to be more relevant than ever before. Times in which money had securities in gold are long over. The value of money becomes more complex and evolves into more abstract forms which, similar to root systems, are more and more impossible to comprehend. Giant, artificially created financial “bubbles“, filled with hopes, dreams and foundations of lives burst within matters of seconds – for some people it is just playing a game with numbers, for others it means life or death.
Philipp Valenta (*Hattingen) uses aspects of value,the mechanisms behind valuation and value creation as fundamental components of his artistic practice. In the environment of centres of power and of prosperity he finds matters that are equally fascinating and insane and combines both with demotic proverbs and the cultural conglomerate of Greek and Roman history. He interweaves those myths and traditions subtly into his works of art and creates symbols and allegories that often need a background of information. In his work he is not fixed on a single artistic medium or material, instead he uses different techniques, for instance drawing, frottage, collage, object, installation and video.
Working with stock charts, foreign exchange and price developments produces a strong temporal component which can be found in Valenta‘s recent works. Serial works, works within a day, temporal restrictions within a body of work – as well as the concentration of the most recent, the “now“. Valenta’s work “Vector“, for instance, shows openness towards new techniques and possibilities of visualisation: a momentary snapshot/a snapshot of one moment of one stock index is translated into a graphical work. Different arrows in green (ascending), grey (stagnating) and red (descending), printed out on reprographic paper, describe the stock index of the country the exhibition is set in at a certain time. On the day of the opening the data of the index is retrieved online at a pre-set time and all changes are translated into arrows. The installation manifests this fluid moment and shows a status quo of the stock market that has already become obsolete by the time of its documentation and is therefore without any economic relevance or content. The work can (therefore) be seen as a reference to the unpredictability and rapid pace of change in the financial world and to a seemingly both fatal and disturbing absence of meaning in the stock markets.
During his several weeks long stay for the International Artist-in-Residence- Program on the island of Guernsey Valenta dealt with the special position of the island as a tax haven for the global financial sector. He for instance broaches the issue of intransparency of banks, trusts and investment funds in his work “Behind The Curtain“ by applying onesided mirror foil to the windows of the gallery building – the former gate house to the school grounds. Valenta refers to the ubiquitous darkened and mirrored windows of the many banks in St Peter Port, which look far more out of place in this picturesque, small harbour town than in big cities. Yet also the gallery and with it the art inside of it seals itself off against a closer view from the outside and is often only accessible to a small, elite group of people.
During his stay in Guernsey Valenta furthermore picked up a just recently abandoned corrective method at local schools that had been used if a student had broken the rules in his work “Writing Lines“. This form of punishment had the student concerned copying the “Code of Ethics“ of the school. This method did not lose any of its symbolism – to write something again and again until it “sticks“. The video installation shows nine student of the Elizabeth College in St Peter Port, Guernsey, for the duration of one lesson as detention and “writing lines“. All got carefully chosen excerpts from the Codes of Conducts of nine different banks that have broken their very own rules in recent years. These were copied during the lesson and are shown alongside of the documentary video. In the last years there have been consistent accusations and charges against almost all of the major international banks, some of which subsequently had to pay millions of dollars in fees. Yet the question arises: who is really responsible for these actions, and who ends up getting the short end of the stick? In “Writing Lines“, the wrongdoings of the banks against their own rules are linked to the now out-dated, but but still deemed effective,
form of behavioural correction. The misdemeanour of the banks is followed by a punishment for the students. Besides looking into the importance of the island as a financial location with focus on offshore-banking, Philipp Valenta found typical and partially bizarre proverbs and sayings on the subject of money within his cultural field investigations on the island, which he integrates in his own work. This is shown in a performance titled with the proverb “Making A Mint“, which has, taken literally, a clear connotation towards making sweets. It is also used in a figurative sense to indicate that someone is making a fortune and therefore earning a lot of money. For the performance Valenta made mints himself which he served during the opening of the exhibition. The guests were invited to take a mint by casual sentences like: “Do you want mints? I made mints.“ or “Can I offer you some of these? I made some mints tonight.“. Here in the catalogue as a conceptual extension to the work no photographic documentation of the performance can be found, instead one will find a photo of the handwritten recipe: An instruction on how to make mints – or earn a fortune.
The appropriation of rhetorical figures and linguistic features especially in the titles of Valenta‘s works are consistently of relevance. This becomes also clear in the work “Silver Lining“, a series of silver drawings with daily titles. These drawings represent the price of the global silver market value during one day – shown by a simple, silver line on white paper. Next to the conceptual link between material and content by using an old technique of drawing with pure silver the title refers to hopes and dreams that are to be found in the movement of stock charts – sometimes hidden, sometimes obvious – silver linings, rays of hope. Hopes and dreams or the search for joy and serendipity are also the theme of Valenta’s fake four-leaved-clover that represent the “Illusion of luck“. Referring to the superstition that four-leaved-clover is a symbol of luck, the artist attached a carefully chosen fourth leaf to the threeleaved clovers, which are commonly and abundantly found on the British Islands,
to achieve the perfect illusion of the lucky four-leaved specimen. This work is connected to the earlier work “Rainbow“ from 2014. The popular folk tale, especially common in Ireland, that one can find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, forms the link between both works. The rainbow as a symbol of something ephemeral, illusive, builds the apparent bridge to the desired gold – or fortune. Yet this fortune remains an illusion: who has ever really seen the end of the rainbow?
The mechanisms of valuation and value added present itself in Valenta’s artistic works in both a humorous and a subtly nuanced way. The definition of money is fanned out and highlighted from different perspectives so elements of absurdism in finance become visible. With his work. Valenta contributes in making the com-plex and often hidden structures of generating or adding value comprehensible in a sensuous way.
Julian Obertopp, cultural scientist