Flash on the Crash / New Media Artwork Visualizes the 2008 Market Crash
• Dow Jones Industrial 30+1 is a light work created by new media artist Benjamin Samuel based on the entire stock market data of the 30 Dow Jones listed companies in 2008, the year of the global financial crisis and stock market crash.
• Work will be exhibited at the Portal Art Fair in SoHo, New York City, May 3 - May 8, 2017. Press Preview to be held on May 2, 11am - 3pm. Opening Reception on May 3, 6-9pm.
"During a time when the Dow Jones reaches one milestone after another, in a post-election rally which helped the Dow reach a closing record of 20,000 points on January 25, 2017, remembering and reflecting on the historical crisis of the recent past seems more important than ever," says the artist Benjamin Samuel. "The crisis of 2008 was not only the first bust I experienced firsthand but it also affected me personally. I created my works not as criticism, but as a cautious reminder to everyone that things were and can always be different."
Benjamin Samuel first became fascinated by the stock market in early 2009, as the Dow was approaching its low point of 6,443.27. "As someone who is interested in math, numbers and programming, the abstract nature of the stock market very much appealed to me," he explains. "After all, the stock market is man-made. The tension between the abstract nature of the stock market and the very real life stories you would see on the news prompted me to create my work."
In order to create his work, Benjamin Samuel gathered the closing prices of all Dow Jones listed companies for the entire year 2008 from the internet, a total of 7,874 stock quotes, and began writing software code that would visually transform and represent the data.
He carefully researched which companies were listed in the index and assigned a hue to each company. His program would read in all the data and arrange it in a simple matrix. Each row in the work represents a single trading day: the top row represents January 2nd, followed by a row for each trading day, ending at the bottom with December 31st, 2008. In each row, laggards and leaders (investment terms denoting stocks which are under- and over performing) of the 30 listed companies are sorted from left to right. The performance of the index itself is represented by the color white and included in each row, giving the work its title.
As each stock for each company has a fixed hue assigned, Benjamin Samuel proceeded to link and control the brightness of the color based on the price of the stock. Higher stock prices translate to brighter colors, lower stock prices to darker colors. Once his algorithm was set up, his computer code proceeded to translate the data into a visual image.
Benjamin Samuel also applied a smoothing function over the image data, which gives the final work an impressionistic quality. It is reminiscent of a flowing pool of water, which prompted the late German art and architecture critic Dieter Bartetzko to draw parallels to Claude Monet's water lilies. "In my work, I am interested in man-made creations," the artist explains. "When I had first run the algorithm, I was fascinated at how random the arrangement appears, apart from the obvious shadowy interruption of the crash. As humans, we have a tendency to see patterns in the most random objects and even where none exist. I was expecting to see a pattern emerge in the visualization of the stock market data, but was mesmerized that a man-made phenomenon, based at least in part on rational choices, appears so perfectly random, like the gentle ripples in a pool of water."
Benjamin Samuel conceived this work as a pair meant to be exhibited together. His corresponding work Deutscher Aktienindex 30+1 applies the identical technique on the stock market quotes of the 30 companies listed in the German stock market index DAX. While the company colors differ, the general composition of the two works is similar. This is not surprising, since the performances of today's global stock markets are so tightly interlinked.
Benjamin Samuel was also interested in the narrative qualities of his abstract work. Essentially chronicling each single trading day of an entire year, moments in the image relate to very real life and dramatic events. "Looking at my works, it is as though one looks at reality through a distorted mirror," Benjamin Samuel explains. For example, there are bright yellow streaks in Dow Jones Industrial 30+1 in the shadowy lower third that represents the crash. These yellow speckles represent the only stock which defied the crash as panicked traders sought it out: McDonalds. In Deutscher Aktienindex 30+1 there is a blue spot on the right which represents the day in October 2008 on which scared traders prompted the Volkswagen stock to soar from EUR210 to just over EUR1,000 a share within a single trading day, briefly making it the most valuable company in the world. In the wake of the event, a German billionaire committed suicide, fueled by the losses sustained from shorting the stock. Like McDonalds in the American index, Volkswagen was, in fact, the only stock in the German stock index that defied the crash.
Benjamin Samuel developed the final computer generated images on a transparency film, which are framed and backlit in large custom designed LED light boxes. The artist chose to paint the frames in special fluorescent signal paints, red for the Dow and yellow for the DAX, which intensifies the vivid electric play of colors of the image.
Both works will be exhibited at the Portal Art Fair in New York City in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, May 3-8, 2017 at 435 Broome Street (between Broadway and Crosby).
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