Weirder than Sci-fi: Speculative Practice in Art and Finance
This thesis aims to analyze a number of art projects in which I examine social organization, composition, and infrastructural footprints of neoliberalism, with a focus on economic justice in our systemically informal economies. Through reflecting on my practice as an art-subject implicated in the larger-scale cultural economy, I demonstrate the pragmatic and historical limits of regulation in art’s casualized structure. These limits warrant a search for alternative economic paradigms in distinct domains of thought and practice. I find this systemic analogue in the 20th century economic theory and history.
Tracking the transformation from cybernetic socialist planning to speculative finance, this economic history phase-shifts the question of political reform from a regulative economic approach to one under the reign of speculative capitalism. Specifically, and somewhat counterintuitively for received critical approaches, it is the current reputational hegemony of finance that provides the paradigm for redistributive politics. This thesis explores the capacity of the Weird to re-configure relationships between artistic and financial practice in this shift from regulatory to speculative modalities.
Marxian Art Theory thus far has described the antinomy of speculation-qua-negation in art, while providing an analysis of speculation as a shared mode of production rooted in the history of philosophy, art, and finance. The theory however lacks a perspective stemming from art practice, and from art practitioners as performative of this immanent speculative paradox. Practice-based approaches, on the other hand, reduce art’s inherent speculative contradiction to a stance, either fully subsumed and implicated in the neoliberal economy, or, on the other hand, imbued with absolute speculative agency that can traverse its material conditions.
In this thesis I suggest a practice-based methodology that doesn’t abide by this false binary while upholding speculation as the operative modus operandi for art. The question interrogated here is whether it is possible, in practice, to construct a notion of speculative justice, in lieu of regulation, as a collective claim in art? And whether such experiments are generative for political theory and practice beyond art, given the synergy of art and finance in the latest stage of capitalism?
To lay out this transformation from regulative to speculative strategies, I interrogate a series of projects that cover an array of distinct conditions of production and thematic around art’s own governance and its relation to speculative capitalism. As it concerns art’s formalized regulation, I will hash out the Art Protocol (2017) and BLOCC (2018-ongoing) as two preliminary projects within my body of work on the governance of art’s globalized casual economy and its complicity with urban space capitalization. I then follow through with these works’ inferences that have guided me towards producing the sci-fi essay film After Scarcity (2018).
This film thematically engaged with utopian projects of distributed planning and decentralized non-market economics in the context of the Soviet Union’s cybernetic experiments from 1950s to 1980s. The later part of the thesis then marks a phase shift towards speculative modalities and a reconciliation with the speculative drives that bind artistic and financial activity. Finally, these developments within my research and practice are articulated through two primary accounts. First, in compliance with the history of economics science in the twentieth century and the movements and countermovements that have synthesized into the contemporary financial phenomenon, the accompanying essay "Cybernetic Pasts, Financial Futures: The Calculation of the Unknown" (2022) inquires into more comprehensive economic history and theory partially appraised in After Scarcity.
Secondly, the demands and the subsequent conjectures that a revised reading of the history and theory of speculation poses on redistributive economic claims are tested through the latest configuration of my art practice research, namely in the ongoing project Weird Economies (W.E) (2021-present). Taking Contemporary Art's prerogative to collaboration (multi-authorship) and social engagement as a starting point, Weird Economies creates an inventory of speculation-aware practices (existent, commissioned, or prescient) that contribute to a progressive political project against adverse finance capital.
As will be evidenced and evident in the practice chapter of the thesis, these investigations are scalar and operate across multiple modalities such as sci-fi or weird fiction, activated, in turn, by a series of works that coexist with W.E and serve as tangential projects, namely, “The Great Illiquidity” (2023) — weird financial fiction text, Free to Choose (2023) — financial sci-fi text and film, The Red City of the Planet of Capitalism (2021) — sci-fi documentary, and Teslaism: Economics After the End of the End of the Future (2022) — weird cinema.
The transition from regulation to speculation is as well informed by a chronopolitical epistemic inquiry. In questioning art's authority over the category of imagination, particularly in the re-emergence of recent trends broadly labeled as science fiction, I then appropriated and reconceptualized the concept of the Weird as a more precise framework describing the weird temporalities, epistemologies, agencies, and the metaphysical properties of finance-qua-speculation. In contradistinction with the separation expected of usual critical methodologies, the Weird articulates a political space already stained by finance capital.
In this sense, my chronicle acts to illustrate the figure of the artist as not an origin but a corollary of historical transformations in production and distribution formats. The premise of this thesis is that my work as an artist is performative of the historically contingent structures and infrastructures reproduced by institutions. Reflecting on my experience of working in the art field, this thesis enables my articulation of these theoretical and historical postulates as life-qua-practice and its institutions, evolving from industrial capitalism to financial capitalism and, more recently yet, platform capitalism. This meta-methodology in relation to the concern around critical practice underlying my work has also necessitated a meta-authorial outlook to the figure of the artist — "a specialist in non-specialism" — whose contribution to knowledge is through endorsing their meta-relational positionality and linking trans-epistemic realms.
- Suhail Malik
- Edgar Schmitz