The Exchange

3D audio animation, variable size and support, 4"54, 2018.

After the financial crisis of 2008, called subprimes crisis, the three main banks of Iceland (Icesave, Landsbanki et Kaupthing) went bankrupt. Since the early 2000s, the icelandic banking sector had a huge increase from one time to ten times value of GDP. These banks had expand their balance sheets and apply extremely risky policies with funding theirs expansions by borrowing the interbank market. While the three banks began to have difficulties to refinance theirs debts, the worldwide economic crisis of 2008 arose. They raised a debt of 100 billion dollars (USD). As such, this represented 300.000$ by Icelander. The country had experienced high inflation rates and unlike others countries the icelandic central bank kept the interest rates higher (15.5%). Some foreign investors started to buy Icelandic krona (ISK) by overestimating the real value of the currency. This trend created a financial bubble. Between January and October 2008, the Icelandic krona decreased by 50% of its value and on October 8th the central bank stopped to maintain a flat rate of 131 krona for one euro, a rate set two days ago. Few days after the krona got out of hand and decreased to 340 krona for one euro.

 

Unlike France which gave two billions euros to the Société Générale bank (out of 4.9 billions euros of debt), Iceland decided to let the bank failed and preserved only household bank account. This decision taken after a referendum let Iceland social model safe (health and educational services free). This choice, which lead to the lost of investments in Icelandic capital funds by foreign investors, pushed UK to include Iceland in the list of terrorist countries. Finally Icelandic government imposed capital controls, the citizens couldn’t invest funds on foreigns countries and foreign investors couldn’t buy Icelandic krona, causing a break into market law.

Front view from the New York Stock Exchange The Exchange Nicolas Lebrun

George Washington statue Federal Hall The Exchange by Nicolas Lebrun

New York Stock Exchange left side The Exchange Nicolas Lebrun

Althing Icelendic Parliament on Wall St. Nassau St. Broad St. The exchange by Nicolas Lebrun

 

The exchange project outlines with architectural symbolism the end of this crisis, a movie camera makes its way through the New York Stock Exchange. Wandering freely along building situated around the Wall St., Nassau St. and Broad St. intersection, it depicts a static urban world, depopulated. Unlike the usual representations of stocks exchange, cadenced by the constant exchange rate flows, with scream and grimace, this stock exchange is quiet, a suspended time where movie camera sweeps building facades to understand the functioning of this institution across its volumes and shapes.

 

The concept of patterns crosses this project. First and in a factual way, the different details show us patterns or architectural styles: the neoclassical style of Corinthian order columns of the stock exchange and the neo-Greek style of the Federal Hall. The layout plan of streets and buildings from different planners reminds the checkerboard town plan and its full right angles. The US history is also suggested thanks to the Washington statue, where the first US president took an oath. Patterns are everywhere, visible and understandable but some of them escape from our see and our grasp. They are the ones which provoked the crisis: companies growth, investment, risk assessment, debt amortization…

 

Theses patterns are excluded from this creation because how we specifically got to this point doesn’t matter, to understand the cause we would need skills of banker, business layer and trader. The interest is more likely the reaction of countries to the crisis. History shows us how a nation said No to the market law and how they separated the liability of banks and the one of their citizens. In an unexpected or unreal way, this overthrow happens in the video when the New York Stock Exchange is substituted. Frontage details atrophy, the whole building is under tension, then as a polygon’s ballet, another shape arises, this is Althing, the Icelandic parliament. This exchange by distortion and mutation of two volumes represents the Icelander and Icelandic government decision to take power over bankers and investors: the Althing literally replaces the institution which leads the world’s economy. In the end, it’s all about to depict the assumption of power. This change can also refer to the Occupy wall street movement, but unlike the pot revolution, this protest didn’t cause any change in finance or economy.

 

Compared with reaction from other countries of the world, this derailment of the capitalism history is subtle: the austerity packages, rescue failed banks, the increase of of states indebtedness, sluggish economic activity or rising unemployment.

 

All these effects show us that the finance never suffered of politicians interference, and, that its functioning is less clear or too changing, too fickle to let politicians establish rules that could prevent crisis. In fine, what citizens experience are policies for profits privatised and public ownership of losses. Even if today Iceland has abolished capital control and reached an agreement with Holland and United Kingdom about the Icesave funds lost, this episode is remarkable because, in the economical spectrum, it has pointed out a fair and rational decision, inspired solely by common good.