Beneath Our Feet
Denise Ryner

In Ceremony: Burial of an Undead World. Editors Anselm Franke, Elisa Giuliano, Denise Ryner, Claire Tancons, Zairong Xiang. Berlin: HKW – Haus der Kulturen der Welt, 2023.

[Excerpt] The classification of humanity and bodies in the space of the plantation persists into the era of late-stage capitalism. The New York Stock Exchange’s (NYSE) podium is the site of the ritualized ringing of the opening bell that marks the start of each trading day. To produce The Racket (2021), Will Kwan archived the video clips of these daily opening scenes, which are posted by the NYSE on YouTube. Each clip features a rotating cast of jubilant executives in groups of about twelve to fifteen, with a designate who performs the bell-ringing and a few thumps of the gavel before a round of self-congratulatory applause and possibly a fist pump from the balcony. Particularly in the United States, the self-mythologizing of the corporate executive as a “wealth and job creator” overseeing resource extraction, commodity production, and consumer markets well beyond their own geographical location has fulfilled Locke’s proposition of a natural right to property as justification of unfettered levels of wealth generation, tied to the exploitation of land and labor. Kwan arranges these clips, spanning the weeks prior to and at the start of the 2020 pandemic in the United States. (Figs. 4.1–4.12) About halfway through Kwan’s video, the cheering executives start to appear only via video link, projected onto the wall behind the balcony. The corporate and administrative workers represented in Kwan’s film continued to celebrate profit and sustainability benchmarks while working from the safety of their tech-assisted social distancing bubbles. Generations of American segregationist policies and wage theft have perpetuated race-based Otherness, forming almost identical economic and labor divisions between these workers, reflected in the division between the mostly white corporate leadership as pictured in Kwan’s NYSE clips, while the majority of their racialized workers are consigned to precarious positions on delivery routes or the retail and factory floor. The first wave of the pandemic was especially deadly for these factory, gig, and delivery workers; lower-paid workforces that are disproportionately made up of racialized and immigrant workers, who suffered the highest infection and death rates, as they were forced to continue working without the protective measures afforded to others.

Full text PDF available here.
Publication available at Spector Books, Liepzig.