on the cover…‘Rider’ by Gordon Cheung
Tell us about our cover image, ‘Rider’.
‘Rider’ was the first time that I used figurative elements in my images – before then the landscapes that I made were devoid of any human beings or animals. It is part of a set of prints which had the overlapping themes of the underworld and paradise, utopia and dystopia running through them. The rodeo rider who is galloping away from the collapsing buildings and dust cloud is a symbol of the US, but it’s ambiguous whether he is being affected by the disaster or is the cause of it.
You put the Financial Times stock listings in the backdrop of so many of your works: how do you feel about the market?
I’m in awe of it because it is much bigger than me in the same way that nature is, it overwhelms the individual – that’s why I draw on the visual rhetoric of the romantic sublime in the landscape. It is extraordinary to me that trillions of dollars are being transmitted across the world every fraction of a second. Banks have apparently just started using this computer in which a million trades take place in a second – these are numbers we can’t comprehend. I’m also curious about the meta-systems of how finance is controlled and who’s controlling it and what agendas are at work. This is the civilisation that I exist in and which I want to understand.
There are a series of works that I have made based on Dutch still lifes of tulips from the early 17th century. This was the era of the ‘tulip mania’, when people were speculating over tulip bulbs, and individual bulbs ended up being bought for the same price as a house. Now if you just change tulips for derivative funds then you have the same situation and the same impulses at work in 2008, 370-odd years later. It’s a shame we haven’t been able to learn how to prevent those sorts of situations from occurring.
Why aren’t we able to learn from our mistakes? Why do we always think each new bubble is different?
I think it is a human impulse to get as much as you can as quickly as possible without any long-term vision about it being dangerous or even risky for the greater majority. To hell with what happens, because by then you as an individual or a minority of individuals will have collected enough so you won’t care. If you are an incredibly selfish, self-centred, materialistic, power-hungry person, there is no incentive to look after anybody except yourself, especially if you are being rewarded for the risks that you are taking and the destructive systems you are putting in place.
When you have people like that in positions of power and influence then it happens again and again because the rewards are so big that they override the individual’s sense of morality, especially in regard to a mass of people they don’t know. Obviously I think that is completely wrong but I understand it from a completely selfish point of view.
Destruction seems to be a theme in a lot of your work…
At the beginning of the credit crisis I started to create works using a laser. I used it to burn etchings of Albrecht Dürer’s ‘Apocalypse’ series [a set of fifteenth-century woodcuts depicting scenes from the Book of Revelations], which I had warped and made more delirious. It was a way of capturing the end, but using biblical mythology to suggest that in some ways it has been a constant cycle throughout history. To use an act of destruction to create the image of destruction seemed like a good conceptual means of depicting what I feel is happening right now: talk of a double dip, the potential collapse of the euro, another ‘end’. I don’t know whether it is a cycle we can ever break, but I feel compelled to try to find a way to capture what is happening and provide reflections on it.
Do you have a sinking feeling that 2008 is happening all over again right now?
I don’t know whether I have a sinking feeling. I am actually hopeful and generally quite optimistic about humanity. It is a funny thing – I don’t quite know how to square that fact with the fact that I create this end-of-the-world, post-apocalyptic imagery.
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