“Silvermine is an archive of half a million negatives salvaged in Beijing”
“Onthisday.com is the world’s largest historical events online database”
With their latest collaboration On This Day, visual artists Thomas Sauvin, Klara Källström and Thobias Fäldt orchestrate an improbable encounter between these two sources.
No History, No Problem
As long as it is not interfered with, supply and demand is a self-regulating relationship that creates balance. That is the simple idea of liberal market economies. But, in financial transactions between producers and consumers, or sellers and buyers, there are sometimes costs that are not calculated into monetary exchanges. These are known as negative externalities.
When you purchase a garment in a store, neither you nor the store pay for the pollution of rivers, stemming from cotton production or fabric treatment. Neither you nor the store pay for cleaning up the generated waste once the garment has been disposed of. Nor do either of you pay for the depletion of natural resources needed for production and transportation, or the cost of educating skilled labour. These, and many other examples of negative externality have a common denominator: privatization of profit and collectivization of costs.
Since that which is not private is often unregulated in the market economy, it is either non-existent or considered to be inherently free to be exploited. Proponents of free market economy see the problem of negative externality as a sign of insufficient freedom of the market. Issues of deforestation, water and air pollution and a general destruction of the biosphere can according to this argument be solved if all of the above are internalized into the economy and given a monetary value. If everything is private, the argument goes, then nothing can be free. If nothing is free, then nothing can be negatively externalized. Since neither our lives nor our future have a price, they are therefore free to be negatively externalized. The same goes for our history.
Much like libraries of the past, search engines are the arbiters of knowledge in the digital world, albeit functioning in a free market economy. In order to generate profit from our search for information, these engines have created a set of algorithms that per definition feed audiences with the lowest common denominator of relevance for the greatest amount of people. Paired with a self-perpetuating reinforcement. Or another way of putting it: different people can be interested in different information, but if cats are universally appealing, cats will be prominently displayed. And if there is a demand for cats, algorithms will provide with even more cats. This is the equivalent of food stores displaying candy in the most prominent shelves, expanding into other sections, and gradually replacing all other goods as the most appealing, self-reinforced, lowest common denominator amongst consumers.
While the transaction between ourselves and the arbiters of knowledge provide us with access to free information, and hefty profits for the arbiters, history bares the cost of negative externality.
But if there is no collective history, then our private knowledge of history cannot be negatively externalized. Or to paraphrase a quote without its historic recollection: no history, no problem.
— Text by Johannes Wahlström —
PHOTOPAPER nominated Thomas Sauvin, Klara Källström and Thobias Fäldt for this special issue. It has 32 pages. Images above showing selected pages.