Patrick Howlett

21 May to 27 June 2015

website Patrick Howlett.jpg

What we consider abstraction in art often isn’t abstract at all. It’s something you can see very clearly: a line, a shape, a colour. What does seem abstract are financial concepts and models, starting way back with money itself and working its way to the unitholders¹ of the present economy. As a term, unitholder is indicative of our interest in organizing, rationalizing or instrumentalizing information² (art, finance, or otherwise). We are data driven, outcome oriented. Is the drive to clarify or obfuscate? Such terms must be useful because of how their very generic roots and open signification resonate with general societal goals.³ Art, by nature of its forms, is not reducible to a singular way of understanding something, nor does it fit cleanly within a drive for outcomes and findings, let alone words themselves. The goal is something else, specific, yet hard to pin down. Is it the same for other investments?

Thinking about a painting as a ‘unitholder’ suggested a way to think about formal structures and logics, as well as its relationship to a larger world of structures and abstractions. A unit is an abstraction. A unit could be a measure. Why do we invest in a unit? It’s a measure of our being in the world.

¹Employing Google’s Ngram Viewer—a tool that charts the frequency of a given word or phrase—it is possible to visualize unitholder's progressive and regressive circulation in sources subsequently printed up until 2008.

²Since 2004 Google Books has been working in tandem with library partners, publishers, and writers in order to create a virtual archive containing all of the world’s printed matter. Like a modernist grid, its aim is to envelop the largest body of human knowledge ever assembled. To do so it uses the technology of ‘optical character recognition’ to convert scanned images of physical pages into digitized text. Its failures and abstractions are well documented. As of April 2013 the service had scanned over thirty million books. By the end of the decade they plan to increase this number five-fold. According to their database, ‘unitholder’ first appeared in print on page 1331 of Moody's Manual in 1950.

³In the decade after its initial use the term flat lined until a spike in usage developed in the early 1960s. However, by the end of 1967 this level of inflated employment began a downward spiral that bottomed out the following year. Since this crisis, the term tended towards steady expansion within mainstream discourses signaling a heightened level of comprehension. While minor hiccups were felt periodically in the coming decades, the term continued its resurgence and by the turn of the millennium was showing evidence that it would surpass the high previously encountered during its initial ascension. Having grasped a near vernacular plane, it is evident that a pervasive cool down was in effect throughout the early-to-mid 2000s. Owing to a lack of data its current efficacy is unquantifiable.