Friday, July 27, 2007

Going Bananas

In the Vilma Gold Gallery in Bethnal Green stands a monument to economic misadventure. Michael Stevenson has recreated the Moniac, a machine devised in the late ‘40’s by economist Bill Phillips to provide a 3D diagrammatic model of monetary flow. The machine pumped a fixed volume of water around various transparent channels, pipes and small tanks, these transparent elements represented the flow of money and its influence on each element of the economic model of the times.
Stevenson’s recreated Moniac is just one part of his installation “Answers To Some Questions About Bananas”, outdated economic texts, empty discarded banana boxes, a 1950’s U.S public information film and the Moniac itself are a reminder of the economy and trade in Bananas.

One can’t help but feel that this is just one big hoax, a banana skin left by Stevenson to trip us all up. Whether real or not the feelings that linger are simple, this empty, sad, rusting copy of the real machine is a memorial to an economy that is at best misguided and at worse exploitative. The triumphal and arrogant tone of ‘50’s economists hasn’t changed much to its contemporary counterparts pronouncements on modern economic theory, the justifications for misguided, exploitative or unsustainable business practice and economic activity are just more sophisticated.

As for my visit the metaphor of unsustainable and unfair trade practices was complete, the gallery had been having problems with their electricity supply and video and Moniac were standing inactive, the power needed to fuel the video’s recorded narrative of justifications of the trade and the Moniac’s justifications of the flawed economic theory had stalled into silence and inactivity. It was a clear reminder that the fuel that truly powers the Banana trade, the labour, could also stop and without any fuel any machine will grind to a halt. I am sure Michael Stevenson would smile at the irony but I am certain that Bill Phillips would not.


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