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Paperwork and the Will of Capital

Exploring Global Economic Market Relations via the “Impossible Bouquet”

by Anya Kowalchuk 

Taryn Simon’s current exhibit at the Musee d’Art Contemporain elegantly deconstructs vast global networks of geo-political relations that have come to characterize international affairs since 1944. She does this by making a study of floral arrangements present at critical diplomatic meetings and trade deals. In this way, her exhibit comes to evoke two paradigms; one historical, one art historical. The former makes reference to the global system which functions based on the nation-state as the organizing principal. Naturally, this harkens back to Westphalia, the watershed moment that consecrated the notion of nation states as coherent global economic players while simultaneously establishing a precedence for how nations would meet and negotiate in the future. Art historically, the exhibit plays on the Dutch still life legacy of the “impossible bouquet”. At its imperial zenith in the 17th century, Holland had effectively established a strong exploitative global network for market capitalism. This economic reality permeated the artistic world, as still life featuring coveted commodities such as citrus fruit, exotic flowers, and delicate china began to proliferate. Here, Simon uses the impossible bouquet to illustrate the simultaneously expanding and contracting world of globalization, as the flowers depicted could never grow in the same geographic location during the same season. Conversely, the diplomatic meetings most of these arrangements constitute are sinister or nefarious in origin; whether it be a meeting concerning monetary compensation for victims of terror, or a feeble attempt to create adequate security in the face of nuclear activity, the “impossible bouquet” feels like an appropriate term for a symbol that is demanded to mend humanitarian crises or vast corruption in a single summit. Finally, we may consider how the role of photography contributes to the impossibility of the bouquet. Just as the French term for still life, vie mort, implies a kind of paradox between the living and dead, so too does a photographic depiction. By photographing the bouquets, they are rendered immortal, freed from the constraints of time, never to wither yet also never truly alive again. Here the bouquets become, in yet another capacity, impossible

The exhibit consisted of photographs, with several books and relating political documents on display. I will focus of the photographs, which feature diplomatic flower arrangements. 

   US-Libya Spray Rose, Kenya Lisianthus, Netherlands

This bouquet marks the 2008 diplomatic meeting between the United States and Libya, concerning financial restitution for victims of terrorist attacks in regards to the Libya’s 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing, and the US’s 1986 bombing of Libya as well as the 1988 Lockerbei bombing. Monetary compensation for victims’ families was agreed upon. The origins of the money are not completely transparent, but the effort to re-negotiate diplomatic relations in Libya were highly motivated by the American interest in Libyan petroleum extraction and investment.

 St. Kitts and Nevis- United Arab Emirates Big Leaf Hydrangea, Netherlands

In 1984 St. Kitts and Nevis established the Citizenship Investment Program as a means of boosting and incentivizing international economic investment. The target of the citizenship policy was predominantly investors from Dubai, and requires approximately 250,000$ of investment to obtain. Once this quota is met, the investor is awarded with citizenship that promises tax-free income, no tax on capital gains, and unlimited eligible dependents. The policy requires no residency in St. Kitts, while providing travel to 132 countries without a visa. The passing of this policy speaks to the immense proliferation of neo-liberal ideology, and to the primary interests of nation-states. Moreover, it speaks to the archaic nature of the nation-state as the organizing unit within the global geo-political framework, as such policies indicate that this framework is practically vestigial in function, requiring amendments to allow the circumvention of restrictions stemming from border control.

Decision of General Principal to Ban Third-Party Ownership of Players’ Economic Right at FIFA, 2015 Zurich, Switzerland Cymbidium, Netherlands Lobster Claw, Netherlands

A 2014 survey found that third-party ownership of Fifa player’s economic rights had led to severe abuses of power and endless cycles of debt and dependence. The trend was identified to be most common among highly ranked Latin American players. The exploitation of players’ salaries became so severe, it has been described as an overt practice of trading in human lives. The summit, which met in Zurich aimed to negotiate new policies that would restrict football clubs from engaging in third-party ownership or investment. The policy went into effect May 1st 2015, but by 2016 several clubs including Santos Futebol Clube of Brazil, Sevilla FC of Spain, Club K Truidense VV of Belgium and Club FC Twente of Netherlandswere identified by the FIFA disciplinary committee as having breached these policies, incurring further sanctions. Such infractions have led to many questioning to what degree the ban has truly taken effect.

    Framework Agreement for Economic Cooperation  Ecuador, 2012 Hybrid Tea Rose, Kenya Delphinum, Spain Hybrid Tea Rose, Ecuador Spider Mum (Prohibited)

This highly confidential summit between the Iranian and Ecuadorian presidents aimed to outline a perspective framework that would allow Iran to circumvent global economic sanctions. The arrangement would provide Iranian access to US dollars through a small Ecuadorian bank, as Ecuador operates on a dollarized economy. Iran has previously been denied access to American dollars by US, EU and UN sanctions motivated by its nuclear program. The framework created a process of bank triangulation whereby an Ecuadoran official opened an account with a Russian bank where US currency would be deposited, which Iran could then access. The account’s transactions would not appear as Iranian commercial activity, but rather as transactions internal to the bank itself, circumventing these restrictions.

   Contract to Rehabilitate Lebanese Postal Service July, 1998 Hybrid Tea Rose, Kenya Cymbidium, Netherlands Chrysanthymum (Prohibited) Hybrid Tea Rose, Ecuador

The Lebanese civil war saw massive destruction to crucial infrastructures, which critically inhibited essential civic functions. The conflict left Lebanon without a codified system for identifying locations, with many streets unnamed and significant gaps in pre-existing addresses. The program was taken up by a Canadian firm, which sought to redesign the postal system. The new format was successful in its conception and partially in its application. It was effectively introduced to the residential sector, where it saw complete success, but was not adopted by financial institutions or utility services. As a result, the system as a whole failed, since these sectors comprised such a significant portion of the perspective business.

Bratislava Declaration Slovakia, August 1968 Carnation, Colombia

Following the Prague spring, representatives from the Communist Warsaw Pact member states met to reestablish their commitment to Marxism-Leninism. The meeting included delegates from the Bulgarian Communist Party, Communist part of the Soviet Union, Polish United Workers’ Party and the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party among others. The Prague spring marked a decisive shift to radical political liberalization during the reign of the Soviet Union, occurring between January and August of 1968. The meeting sought to acknowledge each state’s right to pursue domestic policy reform, with the expressed pre-requisite of upholding Marxist values. The Czech Republic continued to pass democratic reforms leading to Soviet military intervention only 16 days later. This eventually resulted in the passing of the Brezhnev Doctrine, which retroactively justified the military intervention and restrain further liberalization within the Soviet Union.

 Memorandum on Security Assurances in Connection with Ukraine’s Accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Budapest, 1994 Stargazer Lily, Netherlands

The Budapest Memorandum sought to create security assurances for Ukraine in exchange for its nuclear weapon stockpile. Ideally, this would strengthen Ukrainian as well as Belarusian and Kazakh sovereignty, while promoting peaceful relations between Eastern Bloc countries after the fall of the USSR, and promoting territorial integrity of national borders. Ukraine defected stockpiled weapons to Russia, while still technically retaining ownership, Russia was in operational control. The annexation of Crimea and ensuing violence was cited as a break of the Memorandum by failing to provide adequate security to Ukraine, though Russia has effectively denied this.

Simon’s selection of these political moments is telling, as they speak to the complex political networks propagated by a thoroughly globalized market economy and in many cases the ruthless pursuit of capital and by extension, power. Simon says that “photographs of the recreated centerpieces from these signings, together with their stories, underscore how the stagecraft of political and economic power is created, performed, marketed and maintained.” Under the façade of tranquil floral arrangements lingers a sinister reality of performative politics imbued with false promises, or malicious intent. The falsehoods indicated by these instances reflect the falsity of the flowers themselves, whose assemblage is something unnatural and abject to the botanical world. This too, is mirrored by the medium of photography, whose ability to preserve magnifies the abject element of the initial bouquet. By capturing the flowers in their idyllic state Simon projects an image that stands in for the real and natural but remains an unnatural impression of something that once was. For Simon, the exhibit “addresses the instability of executive decision-making and the precarious nature of survival, as well as the reliability and endurance of records”. Paperwork and the Will of Capital grapples with the question of who governs the global politic by connecting the permanence of records and the transience of life, human or otherwise. 

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