The index and a dress made present



From studio 224 a voice reads frantically:


“I’ve been waiting, not breathing too much, for the text to come. The dress I wanted in this installation, could have been rented, which would have brought in another financial flow. Looking into attachments and investment in this installation, I thought the rented dress would then be the open tab, money leaking–running out loss. But in the end, the dress is merely speculatively present.


On the little screen, you can see the money as a graph fluctuating as the index grows and drops, changing the €400 that I asked to receive as an advancement of my production budget from the Jan Van Eyck Academie. Those looking closely at the screen might notice it took me a long time to actually “place the bet” and choose what to invest in. I wanted it here, in the installation now, hovering mid-air, of fluctuating value. 


I wondered what to put the money into. When Charles Esche told me to put it in oil, I felt an excitement yet in a Lynchian manner, so I sat down and spent my afternoons—after spending mornings writing and editing to generate future income—reading and watching all parts of the ETF Academy. ETF stands for Exchange Traded Fund. I had for months called it EFT, which my spiritual acquaintances responded to, for it is a tapping choreography releasing gluey thoughts and feelings. 


An ETF, rather, is an investment type in which you don’t bet all your money on one horse, company, or thing, but on a bundle of a hundred or so different things. I found the illustration in the video very helpful. The man speaking in the ETF video was quite distracting, seeing that the content was boring and he was reading from the autocue. He wore a suit, unbuttoned, and a light-coloured shirt, his lower belly pressing against it, somehow inducing a strange feeling of trust—as did the whiteness of his teeth. The way he spoke overruled his words. He tried to use his hands (don’t forget to use your hands, Frank) and gestured always with the same movement, cupping words and wrongly regulating a cadence. 


Later, when I decided that ETF bundling would indeed resonate with my practice’s assemblage and relational interests, I had to kill the darling of opting for the “Regular Income” option. It seemed the Belgian government would ask for a 30 per cent tax share on it later on, and the thought of that triggered a squint inside me. Also, the good thing about a production budget is precisely that it is untaxed. 


So the “Regular Income” was off the table. Other options had likeable names like VanEck (Van Eyck without a y). VanEck Sustainable World Equal Weight UCITS ETF or VanEck Morningstar US Sustainable Wide Moat UCITS ETF. I received a transfer to my account after meeting with Boudewijn and Bruno, Jan Van Eyck’s financial director and curator, who had already met with Hicham, the director of the academy.


To make my investor’s profile, I had to fill out some multiple-choice forms. I tried to find answers online and hoped they would ask me about the dividends. After forty minutes, I found I could choose cash over margin and was freed of the formularies. I'll share with you later what I’ve invested in. 


What I wanted to tell you was about the dress. I kept wondering how to include in my installation the feeling I had when watching John Galliano's documentary. The vividness of being chased. The desire and abundant, rippling fabric. The movement of garments and bodies. The catching of wind as you run and alarmingly look backwards, lips parted, and painted, dark brown lashes thick and crusty under light blue eyelids, corseted, and the upper body in torsion—this, I wanted. The documentary did its usual thing of being a bit sensation-driven while also being honest and corrective of poor behaviour. I found myself appalled by watching the life of a man juiced out by the industry, forced to design 32 collections a year—kids, shoes, bags, womens, pre-collections, etc.—and who turned to alcohol for remorse, and in the depths of his glass, he found insults spitting and gushing out of his mouth; he said things. Antisemitic things.


This very night’s misstep ended his contract at Dior and ended all communication with people at the company. Charles Esche responded to this by asking me what Galliano’s background was, as, he said, that usually defines how strongly people are punished for their missteps. I saw the image of a tired, working bee drained of honey, and ever thirsty, left aside. I thought of alcohol as a delirium inducer, juice of so many, labelled as a counter to work or an inspirer of it, a beer sustaining the construction worker, a coupe in hand to celebrate the sale, the whisky assisting the contract sign, and the Friday and Saturday nights as black blank holes to counter the focus and boredom and pressure and despair of days 1 to 5. I think of the image of the dress in the exhibition, telling you the story of Galliano, wondering about value and worth, juicing and labour, beauty and industry, alcoholism and background, and a night at a counter pub, and the contemporaneity of a misused vocabulary, ugly otherness, and what is deemed unforgivable by whom. 


I thought of making the dress by hand or borrowing something from a ballet to have the aesthetics, and I wanted to present it with a piece of reptile skin from a film set a friend of mine works at, where the actors need new masks every day as the skin crumbles at the neck. I wanted the dress and thought it could be rented or made to reflect on value, bring in chiffon or other fabric and maybe brand and value. It would hang here, horizontally, in the room filled with things I owned privately or found in the basement from former participants. Still, the Galliano dress would become one of the brands in the room, next to the Raf Simons’ 2000 ex-boyfriend's shirt that became mouldy and that I washed, and the detached Isabel Marant sleeve. So now the dress is here and not, like John Galliano.


As for the investment, I feel the pressure of days passing as I haven’t placed the investment yet, and I learned that this is indeed a big part of investing—the fear of missing the right moment in curves and growths. 


I ask different people in the field—or most of them with actual money invested—if they can advise me on an ethical stock or ETF. They teach me things; I get sketched attempts to explain how stocks work, lots of arrows and circles, and another conversation goes into reflecting on the influence of politics in case I’d invest in an ETF that mimics the American index. They don’t come to what an ethical investment could be in the rather lengthy conversations. 


At night, I get an audio message from a friend of a friend who did invest five years ago. She says she’s never spoken so often about investments, as these days, people are horny for them. She mentions the slow-slope investment of the ETF, a ten-year type of plan. She says she chose the ETF years ago and that I should also do my research, of course, and that the companies the ETF she chose to invest in have changed, following an algorithm, so it’s not the same anymore as when she got started. A few screenshots show the invested-in companies, mostly based in the US, over 64 per cent. The number-one investment company listed is Microsoft. I feel I might not want to invest in this ETF. This is the one following the world index; it depends on the way you define the world. 


Nor do I go for biotech, which sounds nice but resembles soy and genetic manipulation. Nor hydrogen, which is also what bombs are made of. Defence is the first thing coming up. Less obvious is an ETF attractively named “food for biodiversity,” which, behind curtains and curtains of well-crafted copywriting, lists Starbucks Corp., Whitbread PLC, Target Corp., Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., McDonald’s Corp., Unilever PLC,... Food for biodiversity. 


I ask the artistic director and the financial director—I ask them: Can you just name one ethical investment? They both tuck their shirts and change their weight from one foot to the other, thinking with their bodies, or hesitant, maybe. The financial director says he will think about it, suggesting fundraising for green local vegetable growing. Then he asks me what I believe ethical means, and I say something that’s not counterproductive. He replies that for things to make money, there might be tension there, for, as I’ve been told before, gain is their main aim. They tell me to call Triodos Bank, for this is their thing, and I could ask them for advice. I’d been told about the bank yesterday too, how they indeed profiled themselves as such but were also tied to ABN Amro, etcetera. 


The circular economy ETF turned out to gather animal remnants from restaurants and turn them into oils or other things, which sounds like McDonald’s ears and eyes recipe a bit too, or a company that makes crates and pallets to help people ship worldwide. I liked the word “semi-conductor,” not the ecology of it.


Then, there is the investment app called Masterpiece, which provides an alternative, allowing its customers to invest in art. They write, “Ask yourself: Would you prefer to outright own an affordable artwork that you can have in your home and that you can sell when you choose? Or would you rather own a small share of a much more expensive artwork that you never get to see in real life?”


Thank you.”


This piece was written for an installation presenting Céline Mathieu’s sculpture series ‘Attachment/Plinth 1-6’, and the investment project. The text is read hourly during her residency’s Open Studios at Jan Van Eyck Academie. Interested in the circulation of thoughts and materials, this text lives and moves in its own right. Here, on, fading as it gets read.