[iDC] Nauru: Virtual Banking and the Experience Economy

Paul D. Miller anansi1 at earthlink.net
Tue Jul 14 18:47:00 UTC 2009

In one of his last interviews on BBC, one of my all time favorite writers, JG Ballard, said sardonically: "history is a stage that needs to be swept clean." I like to think that in this era of massive credit meltdown, and financial entropy, some doors are opening onto a worldstage of conceptual art and economics. John Maynard Keynes called the forces of irrational markets "animal spirits" in his landmark treatise "General Theory of Employment, Money and Interest." I like to think that the 21st century era of collatoralized debt obligations, credit swaps and fractal interest rates has one-upped this concept, but it's still an elusive scenario. How to we make sense of the massive quantities of money fostered by the virtual economy of our information era?

In this context, some of the discussion I've seen on the list have intrigued me.

Currently, I'm shooting a film on the remote island of Nauru for the next 2 months, for a project that that will be presented in Yokohama, Japan in several months. In the last couple of years, I've sought out sources connecting environmental issues to economics from places as remote as Antarctica to Nauru and Angola, Singapore, and Namibia. The basic idea is to shoot a series of acoustic portraits of various landscapes - financial, physical, quantum, and relativistic. The project is inspired by the world of large numbers and dimensionality one finds in stories like Edwin Abbott's "Flatlands" and material from Harvard economists Pine and Gilmore's investigation into vitrual economics "The Experience Economy." I'm in a very remote spot, economics and contemporary art are the modus operandi of the "Nauru Elegies" scenario. How do you make a music composition out of economic transactions?

The trailer for the project is at: www.djspooky.com/nauruelegies

권 미 라 생산
The Nauru Elegies: A Portrait in Sound and Hypsographic Architecture

'As Man stands to Nature, so stands Art to Man.’
Richard Wagner, Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft (The Artwork of the Future) 1849

Artist Statement

Annie K. Kwon and
Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky

The Republic of Nauru is a small island in the South Pacific Ocean. It is the world's smallest independent state and, at its core, represents a place at the most remote extreme of the planet.  Its seemingly utopic geography and landscape stages a dystopic economy and society. It was, by consensus of several “Great Powers”, used as a raw resource until there was literally, nothing left.  Nauru has been mined throughout the last two centuries for its phosphate deposits, which occupied 90% of the island. In the 1980s, phosphate exports briefly gave Nauruans one of the highest per capita incomes in the Third World. It is anticipated that the phosphate reserves will be completely exhausted before 2050. Despite this, the unemployment rate currently stands at 90%.

As a small territory with no exploitable resources, in the 1990’s Nauru turned to off-shore financing, and the creation of “virtual banks” as a way of earning sorely needed foreign currency. As such, it mirrors the off-shore island economies of The Cayman Islands, and continental havens like Luxembourg and Switzerland.

The Nauru Elegies project looks at the combination of unique qualities that make a remote place like Nauru a core member of the 21st century global economy: It explores an island in a state of environmental collapse. The music component of the Nauru Elegies reflects colonial and postcolonial issues facing the digital economy of the 21st century translated into a string quartet, composed by Paul D. Miller/DJ Spooky, while the architectural component conceptualized by Annie K. Kwon spatializes and formalizes otherwise invisible economic flows and irreversible ecological devastation.  A new architecture reclaims a local hypsographic territory at a culmination of global currents.

The poet Goethe once wrote: “architecture is nothing but frozen music.” The Nauru Elegies asks what happens if we reverse engineer that process through on-site recordings and footage translated through the prism of music and architectural form?

Technical write-up

'The Nauru Elegies: A Portrait in Sound and Hypsographic Architecture' is a technical synthesis of a live string ensemble, projected high-definition video footage, digital animation and live internet feed. It is an orchestration of content retrieved and processed in multiple localities including research in New York City, documentation in Nauru and performed in Yokohama by local musicians. It is a statement of technology and media processes in the 21st century that is exponentially progressing to a more dematerialized and delocalized state.

Audio and video recordings will be taken with the most current and mobile digital technologies in addition to the exploration of medical isosurf modeling techniques appropriated in architectural form and rendering. Economic dynamics will be mapped using current open source satellite and geospatial technologies including NASA World Wind to map hypsometric and bathymetric contours. The Nauru Elegies is realized in multiple technical layers, a manifold performance that has identifiable localities held by a complex global structure.

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