time / location: 18 February, 2014. Dalarna County, Sweden
Another quite in/visible extra-human body in office work is paper, or, more precisely, wood. A trail leads into a forest, and to a ‘clearance in the woods’1.
For all the talk about information economy and big data, paper production keeps rising (WWF, 2012). Even if one takes care not to print e-mails and buys only e-books, the massive piles of free newspapers lying abandoned or unread lying on London’s sidewalks every evening are a good reality check. How many trees for each pile, how many centuries and millennia of vegetal lives? Forest cutting is one of those long-standing but less flashy environmentalist issues that simply does not go away2. As with most of the so called ‘resource economies’, forest felling is something that takes place outside towns. Most dramatic felling practices may take place outside Europe, but Europe has its fair share. It is the geographic area where modern forestry has developed and been exported around the world, and, at the same time, it is still participating in global forest economies. Scientific and economic examination of modern forestry as a field of practice is beyond my expertise, but i am interested in time, speed and rhythm of production. How long does it take for a tree to grow? How quickly is it felled and consumed?
Sixty-nine percent of the surface in Sweden is forest. Good part of the country’s wealth was built on pulp. When driving along its forest roads, it is hard not to notice large clearances, and massive piles of tree trunks laid beside the roadway. Stora Enso is one of the largest pulp and paper producers in Sweden. According to some accounts, Stora may be the first limited liability or share company in the world, the first registered stock dating to 1288. Interestingly, its first productive activity was copper mining. Only towards the end of the 19th century, when copper and iron grew scarce, the company focused principally on timber. In 1998, it merged with the largest Finnish forestry company Enso, and since then Stora Enso became a global force, expanding its operations to Uruguay, Pakistan, China, and Brazil. The company is stock listed on NASDAQ Nordic OMX exchange based in Helsinki and Stockholm. This single company’s history embodies the history of resource economies of European modernity over longue durée.
In province close to Falun, where Stora began its operations in Middle Ages by mining the Great Copper Mountain (Stora Kopparberg), i find myself in the middle of the forest, amidst a large swath of cut wood scattered around in the snow. It is technically a clearance, which means that it is filled with branches and stumps. It seems cut recently. Red and blue paper bands are tied around the trees in the area, on them the logo and the block letters of the company, who owns this part of the forest.
On my smartphone, i find the web-page of the NASDAQ OMX with the price of the company updated live. I place the phone on one of the trunks (fig. 3.12 – 3.14.). Elements and processes that are (kept) distant come closer towards an assembly. Through a number of material operations called supply chain, the biopower of the trees is turned into economic value. Data ticking on the small screen shows changes in the shares value. The branches are swinging slowly in the wind. The trees are growing imperceptibly (to me). The taller ones might be felled sometime soon. Others may be spared for years to come.
Grow buy cut sell was a thought experiment in assembling bodies kept distant in the socio-economic material organisation and in the conceptual imagery. Instead of following the chain, thus playing the logistics game, my intent is to reorient and bend some of its nodes, to bring bodies together into a common spacetime. It involved background exploration into the dynamics of the company, on-foot site visit, and, finally, a material gathering. Nevertheless, the leap or the gap between the forest and the stock market was too abyssal. Too many bodies and material processes were left out. Networking always implies exclusions (see 1.3.4), but some networks are more attuned to the dynamics of life than others.
The next step is to introduce my body deeper into the network and become one of the conductors, a mediator3 or a relay4 between the bodies. Supply chains cover hundreds and thousands of kilometres, and insinuating one’s body into these geographies can be rather challenging. Contexts with higher intensity or density are more disposed towards this end. Most of the stock exchanges of the day operate via the internet, but the trading companies have addresses, often clustered in urban centres. From ground zero of this particular chain, the forest clearance, i travel to where the value is negotiated, the seat of the stock exchange in Stockholm.
time / location: 20/21/24/25 February 2014. Stockholm.
performers: paper, trolley, me
documentation: photography, data
NASDAQ OMX Nordic, the Nordic stock exchange, is seated in a warehouse in the port area of Stockholm. A dozen of big companies, authorised traders, are spread around the city. NASDAQ OMX is an offshoot of NASDAQ (National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations), the first fully electronic exchange, registered on Wall Street. People do not meet, all trading is performed through clicks or, increasingly, via algorithms. However, vectors of finance always land somewhere, on someone’s desktop. How would it be if the shares were traded on foot as means of slowing down the world, or simply trading in a post-fossil-fuel world?
Trading is one of the earliest modes of communication between people and places. Material exchanges were accompanied by linguistic and body performances. How this scales up is an ecological problem5. Trading by container ships, trucks and planes, facilitated, promoted and enforced by world trading organisations and ‘free trade’ treaties, is beyond doubt unsustainable. But there are very different scales and modes of trading, as well as modes of exchange that are outside monetary6. What i am interested is non- or ante-modern interconnectivity as a mode of ‘alter-globalisation’ or autre-mondialisation (Haraway, 2008: 3). I refer to the times of Marco Polo and before. According to a historical source from the 14th century:
to arrive from Tana in Crimea to China, a merchant employed around 9 months, in the following sequence: 25 days with cart pulled by oxen, 9 across water, 50 days in camel caravan, 115 on donkey, and 75 on horse [Larner 1999]. (Farinelli, 2003: 17)
Such was the nature of these trips that Polo would spend years to get to China, “riding without rush, stopping at caravanserais for months on end, for necessity or for pleasure, in cities, learning languages and usages, information and stories” (ibid.: 16). Polo is one of the last European premodern nomads, different from the modern globalisers that were soon to come7.
Even in their early modern instantiations, stock traders were sedentary, they would hang out in a bar or a covered market and swap immaterial shares that represented material companies or commodities. There is a distinction between a peasant bringing his/her produce to the green market, and the reseller with a stand8. Pre-modern commodity trails can re-emerge in a post-fossil fuels age, when the gas field run out, and trading re-commences on foot (or bicycle). Or when the supply chains become unsustainable, socially and/or environmentally9. I prefigured this possibility by performing trades of Stora Enso paper and pulp company through the cityscape of Stockholm.
After charting the companies that are involved in trading, and learning their code names used in the electronic platform, i was able to follow the trades. I was to be a workhorse, or a mule, literally transporting what the shares stand for. Through a naïve accounting operation, i estimated that one share of Stora Enso, based on their production for year 2013, would give its owner an alleged ‘right’ to 14,12 kilograms or 2830 sheets of A4 paper10. I piled this amount of their branded paper on a small shopping trolley, thereby instituting an ‘STE R paper share’ (fig. 2.11; 3.15)11. Paper, trolley, and me—a ‘paper convoy’—performed infra-trading. The ‘paper convoy’ was re-enacting the bouncing to and fro of one single stock of Stora Enso as it kept changing its owner. The ‘transportation’ was performed in the following manner: the convoy moved from the headquarters of the trader A (seller) to the address of the trader B (buyer) via the seat of the stock exchange (intermediary). Upon reaching the seat of the trader B, the trail continued by locating a company which bought the shares from the company B12. Thus the itinerary would proceed towards the trader C, again via the seat of the stock exchange. Throughout the walks i was gathering data, that became a slideshow documentation (fig. 3.16 – 3.18)13. I will not go into details about the visual aspects of the work, as similar, but more elaborate, tactics will be employed in the next project, so i will expand on them below.
I walked the trades through the February weather of the Baltics, while the electronic exchanges (that really mattered) buzzed by at speeds and volumes that i could not possibly re-enact on foot. By the time i completed one single contract swap, tens of thousands of shares would have already changed owners. This performance was an apprenticeship in the materiality of financial flows that can with difficulty be experienced by merely reading the spreadsheets. Large areas of the geography of the trading were physically beyond reach, but even this small-scale re-enactment was an intense affective experience. The performative exercise on an embodied level disclosed the absurdity of the speeds of financial trading. black box white paper was in this sense more a critical than a counter-proposal, but through this work was developed the next project, all that is air melts into city.
Materially-discursively, the ‘paper trail’ led the research convoy to another extra-human body: carbon-dioxide. NASDAQ OMX explorations evolved into examinations of another type of market: ‘carbon trading’. The City of London, with very few green spaces, is the converging point of the Carbon Routes of Europe.
- Martin Heidegger invited thought to beat the ‘forest roads’ (Holzwege), or to go ‘off the beaten track’ in the English translation. Through these meanderings amidst the thick of things, eventually a thinker might reach a ‘clearance’. Quite a modernist progression, with problematic Romanticist undertones, but Heidegger is the key thinker on the very edges of the much criticised ‘correlation’ between subject and object (see 2.4.1.).
- Beyond paper, cardboard is the next big thing for pulp industries thanks to the vertiginous rise of online shopping.
- In Latour’s sociology of associations, mediators are actors or bodies that ”transform, translate, distort, and modify the meaning of the elements they are supposed to carry” (Latour, 2005: 39). Though not following his metaphysics fully, i find the concept evocative to describe the modus operandi of the two performances that follow.
- ‘Relay’ is a concept that Deleuze used to describe mutual passages between theory and practice. In his 1972 conversation with Foucault, Deleuze describes practice as ”a set of relays from one theoretical point to another, and theory is a relay from one practice to another” (1977: 206). Here i take relay to stand for a semiotic-material nexus that a performance can intra-act among the bodies, human and extra-human ones.
- Financialisation of economy begins with this first big cycle of accumulation of the modernity, already with Venetian’s invention of debt trading in 1300’s. The process gathered momentum with the first wave of European colonisation, and proper stock exchanges were born in the 1500s, first in Antwerp, then Brussels, Amsterdam, and later London. The process of the ‘great acceleration’, rather than with the Industrial revolution, might have begun with the long 16th century (Moore, 2015), when the structures for ‘spatio-temporal compressions’ (globalisation) were set in motion (Harvey, 1989). The early stock exchanges were marketplaces where traders would meet and negotiate at length. The negotiations were also pursued in the neighbouring inns, pubs, and afterwards, in the booming coffee houses of London. For several centuries the trading proceeded face-to-face, and contracts were agreed by shaking hands. It goes without saying that since its inception, and up to the present, finance has been the realm of men. I will return to this shortly.
- Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing in her ethnographic study of matstutake mushroom supply chains makes a claim that capitalism is not a homogeneous system that fully circles the globe (Tsing, 2015). She helpfully individuates capitalist and noncapitalist zones, with ‘pericapitalist sites’ operating translation between them (ibid.:63). J.K. Gibson-Graham (2006) individuate geographies of postcapitalist or alternative economies already in act in the proximity of capitalist networks.
- Marco Polo’s trajectory is different from that of Christopher Columbus. Contrary to Polo, Columbus was all but impressed by the indigenous cultures, their customs and idioms. His world-view is radically different. Polo was travelling through time and places, as the above excerpt states. Columbus operates through space by way of the cartographic logic which reduces the globe to homogenous dots on the map. For Columbus, there is no place, only space, extension to be crossed. (Farinelli, 2003). This dialectic can also be analysed through the lens of DG’s distinction between smooth and striated space (1987). Smooth is the space of nomadism, and striated is that of the State. Space is never one or the other, but various practices of crossing, occupying or controlling the space create specific striations or smoothnesses. In the above example, Columbus tries to striate the smooth space of the sea, while Polo smoothens the complex topography of Middle East and Asia. “Smooth space is filled by events or haecceities, far more than by formed and perceived things. …. It is an intensive rather than extensive space, one of distances, not of measures and properties.” (DG, 1987: 479)
- Modernity runs at different gears. At the local green market in Belgrade, until the transition to liberal economy in the 2000s, the vast majority of sellers were farmers themselves, who would drive in their produce each day at dawn, and then spend the day in the market. With the advent supermarket chains, the green market is now full of resellers. However, the produce does not parachute into the market by drones, the resellers still travel to the wholesale farmers’ market in the periphery of the town.
- A recent historical example of supply chain breakdown happened in Greece in view of financial meltdown and subsequent debt crisis. The so-called ‘potato movement’ bypassed the supply chain set up by supermarkets. The farmers, in collaboration with local communities and municipalities, would bring food to townships and sell directly to the locals.
- Obviously, possessing shares in a company does not materialise in this way. I am approaching the question from a lay standpoint trying to open up things that are very complex to understand for someone from another discipline.
- STE R is the stock exchange symbol of Stora Enso. It should be noted that shares (in the old days) refer to “pieces of paper that denote ownership in a particular company, called stock certificates” (Investopedia).
- This was done by consulting the web platform of the stock exchange. NASDAQ OMX publishes identities of buyers and sellers for each trade on their web platform. Since trades mostly consist of a multiple number of bundled shares, it is clear that i was not able to enact the volume of exchanges.
- The gathering of data proceeded in the following way: 1) frontal shots of cityscape were taken every 10-15 seconds; 2) a tracking app (GPS Tracks for iOS) was used to record my locative data: geographical latitude, longitude and the speed of movement; 3) simultaneously to the walks, NASDAQ OMX’s trading page of Stora Enso was screen recorded. The slideshow consisted of two screens that would show two parallel trading threads, the walks and the electronic exchanges. On the left screen, the cityscape photos were superimposed by the locative data. The right screen showed the history of all trades of Stora Enso shares.