On This Day (2018–21)
The series revolves around two archives. One is the Beijing Silvermine, founded in 2009 by Thomas Sauvin. It consists of 850,000 discarded photographic negatives from 1985 to 2005 that were collected from recycling stations around Beijing in China. The other archive is the website onthisday.com, the world’s largest repository for recording events in history. By bringing together the intimate, personal, and date-stamped snapshots from China – discarded and found – with the overwhelmingly Americanised record of daily happenings listed on the internet, the artists create new narratives and perspectives from two incomplete sources of information about the world.
Klara Källström & Thobias Fäldt and Thomas Sauvin, 2018–21
Text by Johannes Wahlström, 2018
Text by Daniel Palmer, 2021
Exhibition project FG2, 2018
Book made together with Axel von Friesen and Michael Evidon, B-B-B-Books and Beijing Silvermine, 2021
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