In the fall of 2008, as the presidential campaigns of Barrack Obama and John McCain drew to a close, the world’s economy sat at the edge of disaster. Not since the Great Depression had Americans collectively experienced such profound fear due to economic uncertainty. Following World War II, many, though by no means all, Americans prospered, realizing the promise the American Dream. With the passage of time, and the passing of most people who experienced the Depression first hand, the stock market and the American economy seemed, with relatively brief interruptions, on an endless ride upward until the Great Recession blindsided much of the world in 2008.
While I had never been one to think much about the stock market, it was hard not to pay attention in the fall of 2008. And though I can claim no practical understanding of credit default swaps, market bubbles or sub-prime mortgages, I found myself mesmerized for hours by the syncopated rhythms of the S&P 500 stock ticker on my computer screen. At first, the subtle movements of the line were quite tedious to watch. However the longer and closer I looked, the more nuance I began to see. For minutes at a time the ticker would hover in space, seeming to go nowhere, and then all of a sudden the line would descend or climb violently, only to turn around and move in the opposite direction with equally fierce aggression. Each movement began to take on great significance, representing an infinitely complex composite of real time information. What initially appeared to be a mundane graphic became a virtual EKG of the mood of the United States, if not the world, in it’s entirety.
Somewhat impulsively I decided to make a video of the the stock ticker as it played out on my computer screen, from the opening to the closing bells of the New York Stock Exchange. Because financial news sources, at the time, were fixated on what would happen economically if Obama won versus what would happen if McCain won, I decided to record the ticker on the day before, the day of, and the day after the 2008 election.
For three solitary days I sat in my apartment watching the screen and changing tapes every hour. I also entertained myself with, amongst other things, television shows, movies and music, as well as election and market news. The sounds of these diversions and my own everyday movements, along with the ambient noise of my apartment, serve as the soundtrack of the resulting seven-hour, three-screen audio-visual installation.
Not having much experience with video at the time, I used a very basic digital camera to record my computer screen. Initially I was disappointed by the low fidelity of the results, in which most numbers and words on the screen are blurred out. However, I have come to appreciate this reduction. In an age of exponentially increasing micro-information, the state of the country is distilled to an essence.
The title of this work, HOPE, comes from one of President Obama’s central campaign themes in 2008. As we approach the homestretch of the 2016 presidential campaign, an election cycle marked by cynicism and negativity not seen in my lifetime, the promise of Obama’s message seems more and more out of reach, and sadly, more than a bit naive. The piece ends as all three screens simultaneously play the President-elect’s victory speech, broadcast from Grant Park in Chicago on the evening of November 4, 2008.