Dizzying Photo Collages of Economies in Flux

Mortgage backed securities and CDOs inform Mike Schuwerk's pinwheeling humanless images of post industrial architecture and abandoned suburbs.

It's not everyday you hear artists citing collaterized debt obligations and other Wall Street enigmas as inspiration, but Mike Schuwerk's photo montages aim to reflect the disorientation of our economic times. Schuwerk's work will be featured in the upcoming exhibition season of the Baang + Burn Contemporary Gallery in New York City. We caught up with Schuwerk to hear about how mortgage backed securities inform his pinwheeling humanless images of post industrial architecture and abandoned suburbs.

GOOD: We found the collaged images of Derivatives sometimes disorienting, producing almost a feeling of vertigo. Was this intentional?

MIKE SCHUWERK: It's an outgrowth of the subject matter. Derivatives began with a desire to portray a peculiar sort of commons using cut up, collaged photographs of real places. It was inspired by the novelty of complex financial tools–like CDOs and mortgage-backed securities–and by how these tools ultimately transform the places we inhabit and lives we live.

I think disorientation and vertigo—I'd add fragmentation to that list—are appropriate metaphors for the times we live in. To what are we anchored? In these works the eye recognizes elements of buildings and the built environment, but struggles to locate the foundation.

That said, my intention is not to dizzy the viewer, and there is something beautiful about putting the pieces back together. That is also happening.

GOOD: How do you choose the sort of buildings and urban locations that you are reimagining in this work?

SCHUWERK: I look at local and regional economies to determine the places I'll visit. I'm interested in which places are being activated by the global economy and which are being left fallow: manicured landscapes of high finance, technology, service or consumption on the one hand versus decadent post-industrial landscapes or aging and abandoned suburbs on the other. Both represent extremes of human existence.

Once I am on the ground taking pictures I really let the terrain take over. Beauty is always a factor. Occasionally I need a specific element for a given piece and go out to find and photograph just that.

GOOD: Though your locations are urban, this work is completely devoid of people. What is the significance of the fact that your re-imagined landscapes are unpopulated?

SCHUWERK: This work is about systems and social processes that prioritize quantitative principles. So people, at least as individuals with unique qualities, don't fit well into the work. I'd posit that housing more people wasn't the primary concern of mortgage-backed securities either. I am not entirely opposed to populating these landscapes, but it remains to be seen how.

GOOD: There's an Escheresque quality to these images. What were some of your influences when you conceived of this body of work?

SCHUWERK: I know relatively little about Escher's work. Jorge Luis Borges' On Exactitude in Science and the writings of Paul Virilio were big influences early on. Gordon Matta Clark's sliced up buildings and Teddy Cruz's studies of migrant laborers repurposing American refuse to build communities south of the border were critical. The Situationist International's theory of the dérive and study of psychogeography informed my working process. Chris Marker's approach to studying society in his films has a broad influence on my work more generally. But I'd say more than anything that I work from life.

GOOD: What social or economic forces are informing this body of work?

SCHUWERK: The privatization of public space, emergence of enormous virtual markets, growing wealth disparity, upswing in DIY culture, mutual aid, and focus on self-sufficiency.

GOOD: What are you working on now?

SCHUWERK: I am continuing to work on Derivatives and will be traveling to Spain in August to gather material there. I also have a series of animations underway, the first of which, Happiness is the Right Choice, was the springboard for this project.

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The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

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Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

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"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

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The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

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