ZERO | SIFR
(This essay accompanies the exhibition and catalogue by Hadi Sy).
Without the number zero we would all be frozen in a world of worthless measurement. This is number that was devised in India but has been delegated further in the origins of numeracy in the Arab world. Zero is central to the growth of trade, exchange and modern commerce. It is an invention for instrumentality but an instrument essential for the inventive development of commerce itself.
Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khowarizmi was immersed in building and elaborating equations in his 9th century life. His algebra is our exercise: his calculations were algorithmically filled with motion. Yet, at the heart of the movement of figures and values, numbers and their tabulations, was the denomination zero. This he called the ‘sifr’. The word is at the heart of the notion of cipher, and is ever present in today’s global financial system.
The number zero has travelled across continents and seas so that today it is everywhere, in each product we purchase, in countless images printed and exchanged. It is locked into our passcodes; it is there in the lightening speed of the hum of data centers and in the very pulse of global banking transactions. Miss one zero out and the universe of values changes its dimensions radically.
The artist’s work shown here is a taste of working with zeros poetically over almost three years. Hady Sy’s project concerns itself with accounting, with the reproduction of money, and the ubiquity of the US dollar. But be warned, this is no project about counterfeiting practices or Ponzi schemes, wobbly global markets or banks being fined by regulators.
The intention has been not to just make money by allusion and pastiche so as to accumulate a little cultural public value. The denomination sifr suggests that we look at what we value and how we accumulate what we envisage as wealth. There are no calculations geared to monetary triumphalism. Instead we encounter an abacus of ideas as different works show how the denomination of the printed zeros reflects back on our own aspirations, but also on avarice. What is it that we must have paid and in what manner, to whom and for what reason. Payment. Pursuit. Projections.
This artist asks what it is we are pursuing, just as the Babylonians added the shape of the zero to columns of figures to denotate an absence. The money that has been printed is out of circulation, yet it is marked everywhere with the dye of a gap, the denomination ZERO. It is tagged with a trace marker of the universal use we cannot avoid, reminding us too though in the empty label of what is absent.
Today’s wealth is built on yesterday’s zeros. Our current denominations of different monies are all zero tolerant. The more the better. Yet what may be monetarily amassed as wealth depends on where we place our circular shape, the zero. It’s also a case of how it chimes like an instrument of value in the palaces of extreme wealth or almost whispers beneath the cold cardboard of street sleepers.
Divide by zero: that leaves you where? Multiply by zero: and you come full circle. Add a zero: and the cosmos of currency expands immediately. Subtract a zero: and an ice pick goes through your heart. Who holds these zeros or is there perhaps no one measuring their accumulation.