Still from “CONTINGENT OPTIONALITY. Portrait of a Philosophy Series III. Randy Martin” (2014-2015), by Gerald Nestler

What surfaced with the 2007 crisis is the fact that the derivative has taken hold outside the arcane world of financial speculation: exploiting algorithmic processes that leverage the dynamic recalibration of contingent claims (another term for derivatives) is not only characteristic of finance. Rather, its performative language has become the template for a technocapitalism (i.e., data-driven financial and platform capitalism) in which the future turns from an uncertain and unknown horizon to a trajectory to directly act in and on the present. In a nutshell, the future emerges today within a derivative paradigm. 

A lack of attention to this “history of the future” impedes a critical reflection on how finance gained the power to shape individual, social and material relations. Hence, shedding light on the derivative is a matter of urgency if we want to grasp, and counter, how data-driven and automated prognostics affect, appropriate, produce (and increasingly  pre-empt) actions and relations, promises and claims in the era of technocapitalism. 

The scope of my postdisciplinary examination of the derivative is therefore not restricted to finance. Rather, the derivative condition elaborates market terms, models, processes, infrastructures, and narratives to expand and reorient the reading to other – cultural, artistic, and technological – materializations of the derivative. Some quantify their truth in probabilistic terms (such as big data); some harness technowledge for emancipatory means (such as experiments with blockchains and cryptocurrencies, especially decentralised complementary currency systems); others emerge as artistic, activist, or cultural expressions that correspond on conceptual or fictional levels (and sometimes oppose capitalism radically). But they are all still rarely perceived as based on, or closely tied to, the derivative – a fact that could lend a unique perspective to the debates about our contemporary condition. 

The question I pose as an artist-researcher is: what if we can co-produce derivative practises that effectively oppose the violence of the current condition, instead of simply rejecting derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction” (W. Buffett)? 

 On the one hand, I read the derivative as the paradigmatic model of technocapitalism (in which Big Tech act as hedge funds), which thus includes platform and surveillance capitalism – one fact largely ignored in this context is that derivatives are metadata par excellence. And on the other hand, I explore whether the derivative can be recontextualized politically as techne to redistribute wealth and resources to populations in all their diversity instead of a tiny elite; and conceive it as a technowledge for sharing risks, needs and desires together; In other words, to reorient the derivative for collective and common care. In this respect, I refer to the term and semantic field of resolution as a template and toolbox against technocapitalist non-transparency. And I propose a counter-affirmative approach that aims for renegade activism as radical recontextualisation of critique towards urgent forms of insurrection. 

Countering Capitulation (2013-2014)

COUNTERING CAPITULATION engages with the inquiries following the Flash Crash of May 6, 2010, an event that went down as the biggest one-day market decline in financial history. Focusing on a remarkable forensic analysis that not only contradicted the official findings of the regulatory authorities and shed light on the impact of algorithmic trading but also developed tools to visualize material processes that operate beyond human perception, Nestler argues that in the current legal framework evidence of market events can only be produced by a double figure of the expert witness: when the (forensic) analyst is joined by a whistleblower.

With this ambivalent, contingent and marginal figure at its heart—a renegade, a traitor, a defector—COUNTERING CAPITULATION proposes a multilayered, postdisciplinary artistic practice engaged in creating narrative instabilities that coagulate dissent into insurrection: “enhancing resolution” in the technological, legal as well as social and political sense of the term. The video concludes with a call for building “renegade solidarity” between whistleblowers—exemplary figures of contemporary insurrection—and the general public to counter the excesses of (automated) schemes of evaluation and decision-making, not only as regards financial markets but proprietary black box regimes in general. 1


PORTRAITS OF A PHILOSOPHY is an artistic video series on the derivative condition of the relations between natural, social and corporate bodies and minds in our time and the contingent nature of the future, the present, and the past.

CONTINGENT CLAIM. Portrait of a Philosophy Series I. Elie Ayache. (2012)

CONTINGENT ETHICS. Portrait of a Philosophy Series II. Haim Bodek. (2014-2015)

CONTINGENT OPTIONALITY. Portrait of a Philosophy Series III. Randy Martin. (2014-2015)


This sequence features a performative lecture by automated finance expert and whistleblower Haim Bodek followed by a renaissance music-inspired composition based on one of Bodek’s successful whistleblower cases that resulted in a record-setting penalty for US-based exchanges for regulatory violations.

For the full project visit here.

“Making the Black Box Speak,” Episode 3, The Future of Demonstration. Season 2: PASSION (2018) - Excerpt

Music composed by Volkmar Klien.

Vocal Ensemble: Christine Gnigler, Lorina Vallaster, Joachim Rigler 2

  1. Produced for the Forensic Architecture exhibition FORENSIS at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, curated by Anselm Franke and Eyal Weizmann, 2014.Credits:
    Gerald Nestler: research, concept, text and editing
    Sylvia Eckermann: animation
    Flash Crash charts and animations courtesy of Nanex LLC
    Sound editing: szely
    Synthetic algo voice over: Alva & TomSpecial thanks to:
    Eric Hunsader, Sylvia Eckermann, Brian Holmes, Eyal WeizmanProduced with the support of:
    Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, for the exhibition FORENSIS, March 15 - May 5, 2014
    and bm:ukk Austria.Attribution-Non-Commercial-ShareAlike
  2. “Making the Black Box Speak” was a project by Gerald Nestler and Sylvia Eckermann in collaboration with Haim Bodek, Maya Ganesh, Aldo Giannotti, Florentina Holzinger, Volkmar Klien, Peng! Collective, Denis “Jaromil” Roio, Soulcat E-Phife, the Technopolitics research group, UBERMORGEN (featuring Zenker and Stefan Endres). Special Guest Appearance: Frank Pasquale. Vocal Ensemble: Christine Gnigler, Lorina Vallaster, Joachim Rigler. Data Bodies: Jon Eckermann, Elisa Winkler. Additional presentation: The Glass Room Experience by the Tactical Technology Collective.