SCRIPT FOR A TED TALK TURNED INCANTATION
Over the next ten days, I will work. Trading on the New York Stock Exchange, placing orders with the purpose of visual change. Once I have moved a stock price, I will redraw it on canvas with oil stick.
A stock is a representation of the claim on a company’s assets and earnings. It is partitioned into shares that are considered personal property. A share always belongs to an owner, though it may outlive any of its owners. Belonging, like most other relations, is mediated by private property, the ground to our liberal concept of society, upon which the exchange locates the stock.
The meeting of buyers and sellers once took place in a physical space but has now become a network of computers where trades are placed electronically. The heart of Wall Street is in New Jersey. Picture metal cages containing racks of servers, lining data centers, festooned with wires through which my wealth, my livelihood has pulsed.
And while millions of square feet have been configured to realize financial relations, this sensible form in no way contains the market. Estimates of the derivatives market have soared past the quadrillion dollar mark. These are contracts that are based on the performance of certain assets like mortgages or commodities, so while grounded in reality, can balloon far beyond it.
The financial market is large, beyond comparison. A natural, sensible object is always measured in some sort of relation, and thus made larger or smaller in our imagination. But there is no fair measure for the market outside of itself. It can only be judged from within, a magnitude in which the amplifying of the imagination itself is inherent to its sheer, formless, absoluteness.
This occurs because our imagination reaches toward infinity just as reason insists on totality. Inevitably, the imagination falls short, unable to estimate beyond the senses, yet in the process of wanting and feeling, the mind attunes towards the supersensible.
The magnitude of my price movements, I will redraw by estimation. It is the mind’s eye that will take the line from screen to canvas. Mapping this data visualization with time on the x-axis, price on the y-axis.
Oil stick on canvas, the price is the point of contact, where the highest amount a buyer will pay meets the lowest amount a seller will accept. If more people want to buy a stock than sell it, the price inches up, and likewise in the opposite direction.
The line I draw is thus an inextricable link to an anonymous other on the opposite side of the trade. This prevents me from being absolutely individual. I am exposed to the gazes of others as one investor among investors.
This is competition, which is promoted by the structure of the market: as a central exchange, with homogeneous products, low transaction and transportation costs, instant communications, a large enough crowd of participants to ensure that no individual can influence market prices in the ordinary course of events, and rules to allow all investors access to information.
Through competition, the market appears to dispel, as if magically, the thickness and opacity of the physical reality, opening the world up before us. The visibility that price lends to aspects of the world helps us reach out into the midst of conditions and circumstances beyond ourselves, and through our market actions link us to them in a way seemingly beyond comparison to the relations of the external world. Ownership becomes simultaneously an absolute closeness and an irremediable distance.
A quantifiable, singular price is what brings together the many individual perspectives, turning judgment into data, emotion into a line. Whatever fluctuations occur in this field of thoughts and perceptions may not indicate any change in the underlying company, but in what investors feel the worth of it is.
Fundamental analysis assumes that stocks have a true value distinct from their current price. This fundamental value is thought to be located somewhere in the relationship of the stock to other stocks, and to its own earnings. The market price of the stock is supposed to tend towards this true, fundamental value over time.
The importance of this analysis is that it assumes causality. The state of the company will ultimately dictate the relative value of its stock on the market. Any disparities between the fundamental value and the stock price can be pinned on the future, and its correct or incorrect anticipation.
The price is viewed as a reflection of a company’s current and future being. Starting from the reality of the company, reflective judgment filters down to a price and puts forth the price as a universal synthesis: the line and its universalizing potential drawn from the points, each one a reflective judgment made manifest.
But pure, reflective description breaks down when confronted with the phenomenal reality of the market. It is the intentional nature of valuing itself that condemns us to the illusion of objectivity. Indeed our judgment ends in a price, and the price, once constituted, appears as that without which there would be no value. But it is in fact just a state of possibility. The price replaces a description with a recreation.
Causality is untenable. In fact, prices can have significant effects on the underlying company that they represent, whether through the credibility of the company, its consumer acceptance, credit rating, or through corporate transactions like mergers and acquisitions, or through issues and repurchases of shares and options.
The market is reflexive. Investors are at once judging and acting on it. When seeking to understand, reality is the constant. When seeking to act, understanding is the constant. But since the reality of the market is made of its actions, none of these givens can be anything but contingent. And so the divergence between reality and understanding itself becomes a causal factor, as human uncertainty, or human creativity.
But the line that I am drawing is not a judgment on the company. I will pick stocks based on their volumes traded, their names, their ticker symbols, based on their formal qualities. I will not analyze the underlying reality of the stock, but start from the reality of the line, that I may move, and draw, and inscribe. The market is a historical process in which moves are forever recorded, echoed through the rest of the financial ecosystem. In this case, not only embedded, but also embodied.
The reality of a price makes it objectively true. Regardless of how abstract the market may seem, results are actual and inexorable. In other words, the market is always right. But the truth does not merely dwell in the realized price, but also in the fundamental value that always lies in the near future. The next price is always the truer one. So while the present price is determinative and real, the future price is always gearing back into it, making different sides of the truth simultaneously present and future.
Just as each moment in the market is double-sided. There is a pulse, as each exchange happens. And yet, there is also a concurrent settling in the line that inexorably accumulates all of these points. This double-sided moment of pulsing and settling characterizes the consciousness of the market. They are bound together, like two sides of a coin, or two dimensions of a figure.
Valuation, like perception, has its own perspectival orientation. Your view on a stock is the value judgment. To act upon that view, a trade is placed, which gives depth to the stock’s order book, and once executed, forms part of the volume. Valuation is focused on a stock bound as a horizon, and this underlying structure clearly rests on and presupposes perception.
It is perception, not judgement, that is the primordial operation that implants the valuable with a value. And perception is not contingently, but essentially bodily.
Leaving the market to exist as both technical and emotional, true and false, real and abstract.
The stock market joins an extreme subjectivism with an extreme objectivism through its valuation of the world. Value follows from the price in which it is revealed. That is, perspectives intersect, perceptions confirm each other, and value appears. But this value must not be detached, or converted into a world in the realist sense.
Because the market is not pure being, but rather the value that shines forth at the intersection of my views with those of others through a sort of fitting into each other. The market is thus bound to subjectivity and intersubjectivity, which create their concordance through the taking up of past prices into present prices. Buyer and seller do not meet up with already given value. Instead, they establish each other and establish value through an approach that rests upon ownership.
If ownership is the reduced, distilled form of existence, then the market is not the clarification of a prior system of being, but rather its origination. Like art, trading is not the reflection of a prior truth, but the actualization of a perceived truth.
It is visual purpose that unhinges a painting’s value from its material. It is visual purpose that will guide the literal value of the line that I will draw on these paintings. If value emerges from the relationship between perceptions, then seeing the mark on canvas as both literal and representational--as the stock that it simultaneously depicts and abstracts--is generative. And this is where I am tonight. I value. I see. I mark.
Redelivered the previous talk (with a few little differences for it to make sense in the present).
Then got up from the desk and abandoned the script. More or less it followed like this:
I began by trading Paradise Inc. In fact, the broker called me up to tell me I was the only person in paradise. I made the stock move by fully one third of its market cap. It was the smallest company I moved.
Here is Patriot National Bancorp. The lines came out parallel. Though that was my chance, I intentionally reinforced them on the canvas.
Neuromama is an 8 Billion dollar company that trades on the pink sheets. It seems shady, it’s a Russian search engine. I brought it down 13%. Magically, at the end of the day, someone pushed it right back up to where it was before I traded it.
Here is Pope Resources. I pushed the Pope around between $61 and $65.5 three times, which, for a $300 million market cap company, is quite radical.
And this is Value Line, which here resembles a heartbeat.
These lines bear testament to my actions, but they reflect a greater reality.
What happened on the markets is the true contingency for this work. When the date for this show was set a few months ago, never could I have imagined that the market would be in its current state. US equity markets have recorded their worst start to a year in history. In just a few trading days into 2016, the S&P 500 has erased over $2 trillion dollars in value.
Wiped out. It’s a sea of red, across the board-- as if my show timed the market, or as if the market could be complicit in my artwork. Because essentially, it forced investors to do what I’ve been doing: ignore the underlying reality and focus simply on the price.
During uncertain times such as these, fundamental valuation fails you. In retrospect, it might be attributed to China, or to oil. But these were also factors in the later half of 2015. So when causes cannot be called upon to understand a situation, you can only rely on the facticity and immediacy of the price. An investor is forced to reckon with the power of sentiment. What happened on the market is a phenomenal echo of what I did on individual stocks: ignore its underlying reality, just make the price swing.
As if in homage to this opening, the market today plunged by over 550 points just to bounce right back. I’m not denying responsibility. All I can say is that there is always an interplay of chance and intentionality.
When I redraw my lines on canvas, I start with an image in my mind but in the moment, my hand might slip, speed up or slow down as it catches on a stretcher. When I placed the trades, at certain times, and with certain volumes, I expect a specific movement. But oftentimes, the market surprised me. And of course, that my paintings are now embedded in a historic moment is the ultimate interplay between chance and intentionality. Because when I started this show, I intended to wreak a little havoc.