Stephan Dillemuth and Nils Norman

Vilma Gold

As the video I’m Short, Your House, 2007, closes, a voice tells us that today, “Not only do works of art end up as commodities, but there is also an overwhelming sense in which works of art start off as commodities.” The quote is from the Australian conceptual artist Ian Burn, but on-screen, the source of the voice seems to be a shadow in the shape of an animal head, made by a hand. Stephan Dillemuth and Nils Norman use simple means to create a caricatured realm akin to Karl Marx’s “inverted world where Mr. Capital and Madame Real Estate dance their macabre dance.” The setting of the video is the artworld stage: The jackal-like shadow, which appears throughout the piece, is silhouetted against the pavement in a rapidly gentrifying section of East London, until recently one of the city’s poorest areas, where many galleries—including Vilma Gold—are currently clustered. In repeated sequences a menacing hunchback sporting a long fake nose frenetically stalks the same Hackney streets as if on some infernal mission, seeming to embody what David Harvey describes as capital’s incessant need to secure a new “spatial fix.” In another sequence an artist type, again wearing a long nose, reclines on a discarded bed in a derelict lot, speaking to a dealer on his cell phone. Though their conversation is not entirely audible we hear fragments such as “Blah-blah. . . . Fantastic! . . . Blah-blah-blah. . . . See you in Basel,” accompanied by the music from Luchino Visconti’s 1969 film La Caduta degli dei (The Damned), a melodrama about German industrialists who cooperated with the Nazis.

Made in collaboration with writer Anthony Davies, I’m Short, Your House was the focal point of Dillemuth and Norman’s exhibition “A Mysterious Thing,” which also included FA Lores, The Final Artist, 2007, a sculpted figure resembling the aforementioned artist character as well as an untitled sound recording of recited definitions of many financial terms used in the video, emanating from the gallery’s external intercom system. These same definitions were projected in an LED-like font over the entrance to the darkened screening space, running across a roughly modeled, oversize turret that crowned a door frame, both constructed by the artists.

The video shows numerous construction sites for expensive apartments springing up near Vilma Gold while a voice whispers excerpts from financial newspaper articles on investing in art; the narration and shots of building sites recall Jean-Luc Godard’s film Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle (Two or Three Things I Know About Her, 1967), which depicted the intensive restructuring of Paris in the ’60s. East London’s landscape mirrors the shift in relations of contemporary art production summarized in the shadow-animal’s statement. The commodification of the built environment is intensified in a similar way: As increasing importance is put on the exchange value of property (and its price is inflated via the housing bubble), its use value becomes harder to access, at least for nonwealthy inhabitants. In perfect symmetry, adjacent to one construction site shown, but mostly left out of the frame, is the recently consolidated art mall of Vyner Street—the gallery’s former location.

The voice-over speaks of the financialization of the art market: Hubristic announcements of art’s new status as an asset class for investors who want to diversify their holdings give way to anxiety as later articles announce a crash in subprime mortgage trading. Another citation employs John Maynard Keynes’s term for naive market optimism, animal spirits, in a revealing manner. After the reassuring statement that the subprime crash will have only limited effects on market stability, it presents a metaphor for the situation: “A few more bolts in the bridge may fail, but in the end you have to bet that the bridge will hold, supported by amazing animal spirits.” In other words, the stability of financial markets, especially in times of crisis, is maintained via these kinds of irrational faith, however clear the perilous ramifications of such a condition are becoming in light of the current credit crunch. We realize that the jackal-like silhouette repeated throughout the work embodies these powerful, imaginary “animal” forces driving the art and finance markets. We glimpse again the menacing hunchback circling the neighborhood. The spirits of capital are restless.

Melanie Gilligan