benj gerdes

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have you any objection do you approve

by Benj Gerdes & Jennifer Hayashida

Series of archival pigment prints, 2009

These re-photographed telegrams and related archival objects are taken from the final months and days of Ivar Kreuger’s financial empire in 1932, at which point Kreuger’s securities were the most widely held in the world.  The history which follows includes accusations of massive financial fraud, public outrage, police investigations, and bankruptcy proceedings.  These artifacts, however, reveal corporate communication in the moment just prior to a multi-national, even neo-colonial, empire’s collapse.  Our material access to them departs from the present, as does the method and temporal lag of communication, but the blunt and transparent agreements they rehearse are do not feel far removed.

In 1917, Kreuger founded Svenska Tändsticksaktiebolaget (The Swedish Matchstick Corporation). By 1931, he controlled an estimated 200 companies, both in Sweden and internationally. During the first third of the 20th century – and during the interwar years in particular – Kreuger capitalized on economic shifts in the global market, including the dawn of what we now term junk bonds and investment banking. At the height of his success, Ivar Kreuger was worth approximately 30 million Swedish kronor (the equivalent of 100 billion USD today) and had matchstick monopolies in at least 34 countries. He loaned money borrowed on the U.S. bond market at preferential rates to other nations in exchange for the aforementioned monopolies (actually long-term lease agreements on publicly-held trusts).  We follow scholars who argue that this type of privatized crisis management anticipated neoliberal economic policy and can be seen as a precursor to the late-20th century efforts of the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization.

“have you any objection do you approve” is based on research initiated in the summer of 2007, and is a component of Room of the Sun, a larger project dealing with Kreuger’s empire of matches. When we began, we were interested in learning more about the development and implementation of neoliberal economics outside the United States: could we trace a kind of play between capitalist expansion and nation-state which might confuse prevailing wisdom about our “globalized” present? Kreuger’s combination of megalomania, financial creativity, benevolent philanthropy, and historical obscurity made him a compelling figure through which to pursue these questions.  The context of Swedish social democracy and the international impression of that country as a cradle-to-grave welfare state quickly generated a variety of questions concerning the relationship between national ideology and the idea of a national economic hero/scoundrel. From a story-telling standpoint, Kreuger’s narrative lends itself to alternately tragic and scandalous interpretations: in 1932, following the U.S. stock market crash and the subsequent discovery that stocks issued by Kreuger were in fact without value, the Match King committed suicide in his Paris apartment. The circumstances surrounding his death remain disputed and this posthumous debate illustrates his continuing and contradictory significance as national traitor and/or saint.

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have you any objection do you approve? | 2009 | projects