K. D. [Goldin+Senneby] - Offshore finance, Bataille, xenospace, murder! The unmaking of a mainstream mystery novel


K. D., Headless, Triple Canopy, Sternberg Press, and Tensta Konsthall, 2015.

Headless Timeline

With an introduction by Alexander Provan
When workaday author John Barlow is asked to ghostwrite a novel about secretive tax havens, he assumes the job will be straightforward. Then he learns that his employers, Swedish conceptual artist duo Goldin+Senneby, want him to investigate Headless Ltd, a shadowy company with possible links to French philosopher Georges Bataille, famed for his fixation with human sacrifice. Barlow travels to Nassau, the mecca of offshore finance, to uncover the plot. He is not alone. A beautiful, mysterious woman is also seeking the truth about Headless—and about Barlow. One day the ghostwriter is happily posting to his travel blog; the next he is implicated in the decapitation of a police officer, consumed by the dark world of covert capitalism and secret societies. Barlow’s probing becomes desperate. The more he grasps at the threads of the labyrinthine plot, the closer he comes to madness.

Headless, an exhilarating murder-mystery by the elusive K. D., probes the sordid secrets and sinister deeds of powerful financiers who use Caribbean firms to conceal their fortunes. The novel begins with workaday author John Barlow agreeing to ghostwrite a novel about secretive tax havens. Barlow assumes the job will be a no-brainer. But then his eccentric employers, Swedish conceptualist artist duo Goldin+Senneby, ask him to investigate Headless Ltd., a shadowy company with possible links to the French philosopher, Georges Bataille, known for his obsession with human sacrifice. Barlow travels to Nassau, Bahamas, the glitzy mecca of offshore finance, and begins to uncover a byzantine plot. He soon realizes he is not alone. An enigmatic, ruthless woman is also seeking the truth about Headless—and, it seems, about Barlow. One day the ghostwriter is happily posting to his travel blog, the next he’s implicated in the decapitation of a police officer. Barlow becomes consumed by a dark world of covert capitalism and secret societies. The more he grasps at the threads of reason and common sense, the more madness threatens to engulf him.
Headless was written in the course of seven years, during which time K. D. utilized actors, investigators, and hired hands to orchestrate events that advanced the novel’s plot. These real-world elements of the novel transpired or were presented as excerpts at readings, auctions, industry events, exhibitions, conferences, and London Zoo. “K. D. has created a masterwork of metaphysical detective fiction," writes artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. “Headless is a coded, clandestine novel that nevertheless makes for breathless reading until the last page.” Joseph O'Neill, author of The Dog and Netherland, calls Headless “a mysterious and brilliant gesture of fictional investigation.”

To read Alexander Provan's introduction to Headless, “Headless Commercial Thriller,” published in Triple Canopy, click here.

“A mysterious and brilliant gesture of fictional investigation.” - Joseph O’Neill
“A remarkable, genre-bending work. Headless reminds us that it is when we leave reality that we are most thoroughly ensconced by it.” - Bill Maurer

“K. D. has created a masterwork of metaphysical detective fiction. Headless is a coded, clandestine novel that nevertheless makes for breathless reading until the last page.” - Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster

Looking for Headless
“In the forthcoming novel Looking for Headless, the fictional author K.D. tells the story of two artists – Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby – who initiate a collaboration with author John Barlow: Goldin and Senneby investigate an offshore company on the Bahamas called Headless Ltd., and Barlow writes a docu-fictional murder-mystery, also called “Headless”, based on these investigations. The three protagonists increasingly become entangled in the world of offshore business, while speculating about the possible connections between Headless Ltd and the secret society known as Acéphale (from the Greek a-cephalus, meaning “headless”) founded by Georges Bataille and his circle of friends connected to the Collège de Sociologie in Paris in the late 1930s.
“Goldin+Senneby are interested in how the juridical construction of offshore financial centres can be seen as performative acts of fictionalizing place and staging realms of invisibility. Using the company Headless Ltd and Bataille’s ideas around the act of withdrawal as points of departure, the artists have begun a staged enquiry into the undisclosable. Goldin+Senneby’s investigation takes the shape of an ongoing performance where subject, method and artistic narrative cannot be separated from each other. Their work is carried out through entering the world of offshore business and appropriating its methods, language and strategies, while continuously displacing their own subject position.”

Headless is a large scale performance art project led by Swedish collaborative duo, goldin+senneby.  Since 2007, the project has engaged a range of writers, artists, designers, curators, journalists, bloggers, academics and film-makers to ‘investigate’ the existence of an ‘International Business Company’ (IBC) called Headless Ltd., registered offshore in the Bahamas.   Mysterious in its own right – the only trace of it being registration papers – the project posits a link back from Headless Ltd. to a secret society called Acephale (headless) set up by sociologist/philosopher George Bataille in 1937.
Since 2008, I have acted as ‘spokesperson’ and/or ‘emissary’ for the project, appearing at many, though not all, of the project’s public manifestations in the place of the artists themselves.  A significant aspect of the project for G+S is what they call their ‘act of withdrawal’.  They do everything through agents and other third parties, doing (or appearing to do) nothing themselves.  As such, they are mimicking the ways in which offshore-registered companies like Headless Ltd conceal themselves behind layers of intermediaries, agents and corporate structures.
This blog has been set up partly to archive my own contribution to Headless. As the project has developed my role has become more complex and more integrated into the performance aspects of it.  Although I started out doing fairly straightforward public lectures, I have since carried out a series of ‘performances’ of one sort and another, that are integral to the functioning of the project as a whole.  For example, talks I gave for the project in the Foret de Marly near Paris and at London Zoo, not only had their own audiences, but were recorded and incorporated into subsequent exhibits in galleries in Paris and Stockholm.  This site is a repository for some of the material associated with these performances.  A timeline for my collaboration, with links to project materials and events can be found here.
The Novel
One of the primary outputs from the project will be the murder-mystery novel ‘Looking for Headless’ by the fictional author ‘KD’.  These initials refer to a real individual, but that individual may or may not have had anything to do with the actual writing.  Alternatively, British novelist living in Spain, John Barlow, also may or may not have had something to do with its production.  Whatever is the case, the novel interweaves many of the ‘real’ events and perfomances from Headless into a sub-Dan Brown (if that’s possible) plot that has various characters, including myself, Barlow and G+S themselves chasing Headles Ltd. in various parts of the world.  Following my talk at London Zoo, which ‘enacted’ Chapter 12 of the novel (i.e. it had already been written), the whole thing will be brought together and published… - xenotopia.wordpress.com/about-headless/

“A headless man,” wrote Bataille in the June 1936 issue of Acéphale, “like a headless society, is emancipated from control and reason”. He further postulated, “human life is defeated because it serves as the head and reason of the universe. Insofar as it becomes that head and reason it accepts slavery. If it isn’t free, existence becomes empty or neuter, and if it is free, it is a game.” These dichotomies–between freedom and suppression, impotence and vitality–form the foundation of K.D.’s off-kilter novel Headless. Both the concept and artefact of Bataille’s Acéphale–from the Greek , akephalos or “headless”–are used as the framework for K.D.’s investigation of secrecy, privacy and surveillance.
In 2013, seventy-seven years after Bataille’s remarks above, Edward Snowden became a household name, and with him a widespread knowledge of PRISM and mass government surveillance. Territory previously populated by foil hat connoisseurs and dated X-Files characters became unwillingly inhabited by every American using a phone or computer. In an early interview Snowden commented, “a child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that’s a problem because privacy matters; privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.”
Snowden’s disclosure of global surveillance challenged the notion of privacy that we consider so fundamental to our rights as free citizens. The revelation of PRISM represents the most contemporary iteration of the conflict between secrecy and openness. Itself a secret, PRISM’s covert nature maintained a veil of silence around the clandestine practice of acquiring secrets, thus doubling their secrecy. PRISM is not just a threat to privacy, but to the culture of secret keeping, and consequently the value of secrets in our communications.
Sissela Bok argues “secrecy may accompany the most innocent as well as the most lethal acts; it is needed for human survival, yet it enhances every form of abuse.” Such resounding proof that we were being spied upon by the government caused fingers to hesitate above keyboards, asking Should I say that, and an explosion in proxies and VPNs as we grappled with ways to conceal our online activities. Thus, the global surveillance phenomenon was assimilated not just into the popular lexicon, but also our methods of sharing and withholding information. K.D. manipulates the concepts of privacy and secrecy to great effect, engaging in one of the weightiest debates of contemporary Western society. Headless explores the state of our culture through a many-layered narrative, each level concealing another. At its heart lies the formidable, destructive strength of the play between surveillance and secrecy.
Bataille­–whose own alter ego ‘Lord Shithouse’ allowed him to write under a pseudonym–is utilized by K.D. repeatedly throughout Headless, to varying levels of effect. References to The Solar Anus, The Story of the Eye, The Sacrifice of the Gibbon, and the aforementioned The Sacred Conspiracy, undoubtedly add another layer of mystery to K.D.’s already enigmatic book, but it’s hard to tell if they are in place to support the story or as a basis for it. As for Acéphale, in addition to the moniker of Bataille’s journal, this was the secret society he formed with other radicals during the early years of World War II, whose members would meet by a lightning-struck tree in Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche. Their name perhaps originates in the decapitation by guillotine of Louis XVI, which marked the fall of the monarchy during the French Revolution, and is noted as ceremonially celebrated by Acéphale’s members. The visual of decapitation features heavily in Headless, and not merely symbolically.
His is certainly a clever inclusion; Bataille’s work is edgy (but not in the Heideggarian sense), erotic but not sexy, and is well-loved by liberal intellectuals and artists–both of whom seem to be the target audience for Headless, published by Triple Canopy in conjunction with the artist book house Sternberg Press and the Stockholm-based center for contemporary art, Tensta Konsthall. Concerned with the protean questions and concerns of contemporary society, Triple Canopy is a multimedia magazine that “resists the atomization of culture,” with a focus on modes of digital art and literature, concentrated on an exploration of how we interact with our world. With that in mind, it seems clear why Headless was an obvious choice for their ‘Immaterial Literature’ project. However, if we believe Triple Canopy’s editor Alexander Provan, who wrote the novel’s preface, his relationship with the author of Headless runs more deeply than the merely professional. From the very beginning notions of secrecy and deception are brought immediately to the fore, as authorial identities are challenged, and with them our conceptions of reality.
In comparison, the factual background of Headless is deceptively simple. In 2007, Swedish conceptual artists Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby initiated collaboration with Jamie Wright, of offshore management firm Sovereign Trust, to form their own offshore company for a project. During research into Bataille’s Acéphale, the Swedes began investigating a company registered to Sovereign in the Bahamas called Headless Ltd., and due to the linguistic similarity, became obsessed with a potential connection. In their quest for answers, Goldin and Senneby recruited novelist and ghostwriter John Barlow, to investigate Headless Ltd. for them, and transcribe his experience as a mystery novel. However, the listed author would be Kara Donnelley, who later became identified as K.D. due to legal threats from her employer, Sovereign.
The Headless project is described as an attempt to “insert the artists’ own fiction into the gears of offshore finance, which is itself a machine for creating and sustaining fictions that impinge on the world.” Barlow was challenged with creating a fictional work that incorporated French philosophy and art theory into a conventional, marketable, thriller, with Barlow himself playing the lead. The subsequent book, Headless, is his account of the peculiar and disturbing events he encounters, which become increasingly stranger and more unbelievable as he delves deeper into the truth behind Headless Ltd. With a cast of characters whose identities are as unpredictable as the plot, K.D. challenges us to keep up with her serpentine storyline, and tongue-twisting terminology.
Significantly, a fundamental aspect of the book’s mystery lies in its author, and the question of K.D.’s true identity. Is K.D. really Kara Donnelly, Sovereign Trust’s Gibraltar-based client service manager? Or is K.D. John Barlow, the writer hired to research and ghostwrite Goldin and Senneby’s project? The third, and most likely, option is that neither K.D. nor John Barlow is responsible, and Headless is written by a third, anonymous party. Considering Provan’s markedly intense investment in the book, we are perhaps to believe that he is more than merely its publisher. That being said, the complexity of details, secrets, and lies that are woven into the matrix of Headless means answering this question is no easy feat.
The enigmatic author of Headless parallels the layers of secrecy permeating throughout, but at a certain point it becomes difficult to summon much interest to discover the truth of this matter. Besides, the author of Headless is largely irrelevant; it is the obvious attempt to conceal her identity which corresponds to, and highlights, the book’s focus on secrecy and surveillance: the fact she is hiding is more important than who she is. Riddled with aliases, meta-fictions, and delusions, Headless struggles to keep itself from caving in on its self-devised rabbit warren of half-truths. Almost every character is hiding their true self; John Barlow is writer and character of both this book and his own; the duplicitous Catherine Banks is also Cara Bustamante, corrupt Bahamian Special Police; other characters are both played by actors and “play” themselves in roles preordained by the fiction.
Despite K.D.’s masked identity, whoever wrote the book has an excellent adeptness for characterisation. With the constant swapping of identities whipping the reader round like a revolving door, we remain involved with Barlow, Banks, et. al, because, despite their slightly ridiculous circumstances, they are presented as very real, fallible people. Banks in particular stands out as the star of Headless; she scathingly considers Barlow “an ass” that “doesn’t have a fucking clue,” and is “sickened by the plodding flow of Barlow’s prose, by his ham-fisted attempts at eloquence, by his irritating use of three-time repetition.” We find it much easier, and more entertaining, to engage with Banks rather than the somewhat pathetic figure of Barlow, the kind of man who “cringes with post-colonial embarrassment” and “spends more time with Wikipedia than with his wife.” Factual or otherwise, he fails to cut much of a heroic figure: more over-the-hill amateur than hardboiled detective.
Electing to introduce this decidedly non-commercial mystery with Triple Canopy editor Provan’s preface, which itself edges into the realm of incredulity, immediately entices the reader to question the actuality of events before the book has even begun. Reading the online version is fruitful, as it includes (apparent) evidence of Headless’s legitimacy; a video interview with Barlow; Headless Ltd.’s certificates of incorporation; stills from surveillance videos mentioned in the book. However, while Provan takes time to explain the history and aim of the Headless project, his involvement appears to transcend that of interested party or publisher.
We are told that, after Barlow approached him via email to discuss Headless, Provan conducted several Skype interviews that quickly descended into scenes of bizarre deception. In line with Goldin and Senneby’s claims, Barlow asserted he was ghostwriting the book for K.D. as a work of fiction starring himself as protagonist. Intrigued by the increasing incoherence and mania of Barlow during their interviews, Provan spontaneously traveled to a small town in Spain to track him down. He located Barlow’s house and, while on his way, unexpectedly encountered him. Barlow, apparently unkeen to chat in person, escaped on foot with Provan giving chase, confronting him on the edge of a cliff in a scene straight out of film noir. Then, upon entering Barlow’s unlocked home–“the entire house felt like a set piece”–he saw a photograph of himself pinned to the wall, worked into Barlow’s post-it note web of Headless. Thus Provan, author of the introduction, becomes character in a novel that stars its ghostwriter. Whether inserting himself as a character is his intention or not, this addition certainly acts as a challenge to find out what on earth is going on.
At thirty-two pages, Provan’s is an unusually long foreword, and appears to give away too much too soon. However, this has the effect of simultaneously throwing us off and drawing us in, eliciting if not excitement then certainly curiosity in the face of such authorial mystery. While the preface introduces us to the factual ambiguity of Headless, moving from synopsis, to discussion, to quasi-fiction, recurring use of a line from The Solar Anus may elucidate the reasoning behind this curious preamble; “It is clear that the world is purely parodic, in other words, that each thing seen is the parody of another, or is the same thing in a deceptive form.” Perhaps the relationship between both Headless and its foreword, and K.D. and Provan, is more intimate than first appears; either one is parodying the other, or both are working to deceive the reader. At one point, while contemplating his role in the matter, Provan ponders “perhaps the artists perceived some connection between the Headless project and Triple Canopy–an amorphous collective entity operating under many guises…”– or, a monster with many heads, and one of them his.
In a counterintuitive editorial move, Provan provides criticisms before we have even reached the first page, quoting the book’s (fictional) editor Amber Burleson’s own doubts about the success of Headless: “The constant see-sawing of probability concerning who might ultimately be pulling the strings is both intriguing and, after a while, slightly bothersome.” Edward Orloff, a (non-fictional) literary agent is said to have remarked, “somehow the whole project felt a bit like a mystery invented for the sake of a mystery.” With such doubts practically implanted in our minds, it’s difficult to approach Headless with much optimism, and it seems detrimental to include these anti-testimonials so early on.
Furthermore, if we remove its many references to Bataille, Lacan and Derrida, and the quasi-intellectual posturing, Headless is, at its core, a fairly unremarkable mystery novel. K.D.’s turns of phrase are reminiscent of a lesser Raymond Chandler: expressions such as “The bus sounds its horn, weak and breathy, like a bugle played badly,” and “the stump of the neck is like a meat n’gristle pizza” evoke the internal monologue of a movie detective. At one point, realization hits Barlow “like a hammer to the head,” a metaphor so unimaginative it could make one wince, but not in sympathy.
Alongside these clichés is much eye-rolling academic verbosity: in the introduction, Goldin and Senneby describe Headless as “artistic investigations into the relationship between site and non-site, the role of fiction in the world economy, and the potential for withdrawal.” The impression this gives is that either Headless does not quite know what it is, or is pretending to that effect. There is unavoidable conflict between its attempt at mass-market fiction, and the gesturing toward sociological literary experiment. The reader is thus left suspended between the comforting familiarity of pulp fiction and the unfamiliar aloofness of art criticism. We are, as Barlow is, mostly perplexe.
That’s not to say that K.D. doesn’t offer astute observations, in particular on the semantic aspect of surveillance and secrecy. Considering the linguistic hypocrisy of “security officers,” Barlow comments: “The very words pull you up short. Security: something to protect, to keep safe, secure. And officers: the hint of enforcement, policemen, guns, restraint.” There is no small irony in our knowledge that the National Security Agency was prying into emails and text messages, using its government status as justification. The NSA’s argument that, in order to keep America safe, it must covertly access potential intelligence–secretly learning our secrets–destroyed our conception of privacy, and demolished the already fragile boundary between public and private. Such a hypersensitivity to the highly relevant question of privacy may be the most successful aspect of Headless. 
Reflecting the book’s introduction via an online portal, the internet plays a major role in its proceedings. In Headless, because detective work is conducted on search engines, recorded through blogging, with threats sent via email, the book distances itself from classic mystery literature. The internet is critically involved in the modern landscape of surveillance, acting as both vessel and carrier of personal details. Barlow exclaims, “Google is such a giveaway. You are your Google history!” With targeted ads, we can’t even escape by clearing our cache, and Barlow’s most mundane activity is available to the savvy hacker. At first naïve to the notion of being watched, Barlow is quickly turned on to it, and through him we examine our own relationship with privacy and surveillance. Upon learning that G+S hired a private detective to trail K.D. in Gibraltar, he asks, “Is it morally acceptable to follow someone like this?” before almost immediately cementing his position on the matter: “This is sickening, corrupting…This is out of control. It’s fucking crazy.” Of course, Barlow’s vehement reaction comes from the fear that he himself will be the subject, mirroring our own fears when Snowden went public–not that others were victims of spying, but that our own privacy had been violated.
K.D. is adept at crating dynamic, almost theatrical scenes of discussion, where relative inaction is countered by verbal acrobatics. In one marvellously pretentious passage, a group of academics, writers and critics gather to discuss the Headless project. These are people who throw around terms like “xeno-money” and “legal fiction” with a straight face, commenting that “economy is a fiction” with offhand grace. In the sort of corny, vacuous language common to unexceptional detective novels, a female character is described as having “a dusky glamour to her, the aura of someone who is not afraid”. Despite this, the scene is illuminating in its intentional conceitedness, illustrating self-awareness of the book’s tone and absurdity, and raising the same questions we have regarding the significance of offshore finance to Headless.
While noted as a plot point, it’s worth pointing out that the financial aspect of the book is essentially non-existent, acting as a mirror for themes of secrecy and privacy. In the words of Dr. Angus Cameron–a very real Professor at the University of Leicester– offshore finance represents a private sort of privacy, which effectively redoubles the withdrawal, because it is not constituted with reference to the public.” It is, perhaps, the epitome of what Bataille wished to rid from the world: inaccessible sovereignty governed by wealth. Willing “the return of Dionysus,” Bataille stated that the headless man is free from sovereignty, becoming his own ruler. The head is
mere reduction to unity, to God, the Fuhrer, the Great Leader. There is nothing but fear and servitude. There must be no masters, no gods, no dictators. The only free life is a headless one. Only death can truly invigorate life. Death gives to life its greatest meaning.
Although framed by Acéphale, Headless never quite reaches this transcendent release from servitude. Whether serving their own purpose, or the will of secret organisations, K.D.’s characters are far from free.
Bataille’s secret society and promotion of individual sovereignty becomes increasingly appealing the more Headless confronts us with how governments abuse their self-appointed power; in Acéphale, he cries:
However, this plea for a new world order, to cast off our blinkers and metaphorical chains of subjugation, is whispered but not embraced passionately enough in Headless to seem heartfelt. Bataille calls for us to rebel; Headless stands behind, nodding in silence. - Rosie Clarke

Interview with Goldin+Senneby:
"The boys from Sweden are not really interested in Kate's habits, her lifestyle, the clothes she wears; they're interested in Headless Ltd., a company they want to know more about. And they're interested in a book which they think Kate is writing about them, a book called Looking for Headless."
These lines are from the first chapter of Looking for Headless, a serial novel that artists Goldin+Senneby commissioned from author K.D. The chapter was originally published as the work of Kate Dent, an employee at the offshore consultancy Sovereign Trust, but Goldin+Senneby retracted their claim about the author's identity after some prodding from Sovereign's lawyers. By chapter three, the legal confrontation had already become part of the story, and the lawyers' communication was just another of the many real-world facts woven into the fabric of the novel.
Goldin+Senneby's project Headless (2007-ongoing) uses the idea of investigating the Bahamas-based company Headless Ltd as the basis for a wide-ranging study of how events are remembered, created, and communicated in the production of narrative. The seedy glamour of offshore finance provides an effective context; it is fertile for plots of mystery and intrigue, and the huge sums of virtual money floating offshore make an apt metaphor for the symbols and ideas that compel people to action and set events in motion. Goldin+Senneby further extend the financial trope by adopting corporate practices to make Headless, outsourcing the project's many texts, events, and performances to specialists. For their exhibition at the Power Plant in Toronto, on view through February 22, Goldin+Senneby commissioned documentary filmmakers to interview an investigative journalist about how to make a documentary about investigating Headless Ltd. They also hired a curator and a set designer to devise a didactic display introducing viewers to the characters of the novel Looking for Headless.
A system as rich and recursive as Headless simultaneously generates both questions and answers to them. In previous interviews the artists have responded to questions about the project exclusively in the form of quotes from its various parts. For the interview below, however, they produced some new statements, perhaps mindful of the opportunity to recycle them in future incarnations of Headless. - Brian Droitcour
Image: Ansbacher House, Nassau, Bahamas, 2008. (Photo: John Barlow)

Brian Droitcour: Now that collapsing markets have heightened public awareness of simulation in the financial world, do you feel like your investigation of Headless Ltd has been vindicated?
Goldin+Senneby: The recent financial crisis has not made anything more or less clear regarding our investigation into Headless Ltd, nor regarding our wider research into strategies of withdrawal and displacement.

As for the virtual aspect of money, we have more than five hundred years of history to look back at. We'd like to quote our spokesperson, Angus Cameron, who noted in a lecture at the Power Plant that virtual money emerges in the 1450s, with the development of particularly double-entry bookkeeping.
Another historical moment of some importance to our work could be the year 1957, when money "goes offshore," through the setting up of the first "eurodollar" account (what Brian Rotman calls "xenomoney," or money of the outside) in the Soviet-owned British bank, Moscow Narodny Bank. Again quoting Angus Cameron's lecture:
"This dislocation of money from normal space (or from familiar space) takes place almost by accident in 1957. Faced with a liquidity crisis in the world economy, which is hindering reconstruction in post-war Europe, the Bank of England allows US dollars to be traded in London banks without reference to the Federal Reserve Board. Because of a peculiarity of English law, what no longer happens in the US system, doesn't become British. Because it is no longer considered to be regulated by the US, because it's outside of the reach of the Federal Reserve Board, it goes... nowhere. It leaves regulatory space. Money actually escapes!"

 Image: After Microsoft, 2006-07

Goldin, you studied management at the Stockholm School of Economics. Has your business education affected the way you have handled group dynamics in Goldin+Senneby projects?
Although we met at art school, both of us had other backgrounds and interests. Senneby worked for several years developing internal marketing strategies for large corporations and Goldin was the editor of a monetary reform journal sponsored by an interest-free, member-owned bank. Goldin's subsequent studies at the Stockholm School of Economics came out of a desire to complement parts of the artistic inquiry.
Looking back at the work we've been doing together over the last four and a half years, it's quite easy to see how these interests and backgrounds have influenced not only our subject matter--such as our interest in juridical, financial and spatial constructs--but also, and more importantly, the way we think of our practice as the staging of certain modes of production. In the case of the ongoing Headless project, our artistic proposal is not the texts, sceneries, objects, images, videos, or live events produced, but the outsourced structuring of this production. G+S's practice thereby attempts to locate itself at the same level of abstraction and displacement as the corporate strategies we are investigating. Similarly, during our work with The Port (2004-2006) in Second Life, it was important to function within the production logic of "social software," which was the context we were confronting at that time.
Image: Flack Attack, Second Life edition

Your journal Flack Attack, which came out of The Port, was a wiki, with open online editorial meetings. In the grand tradition of artist-initiated journals, it never yielded a second issue. Headless appears to have a more hierarchical structure, with the two of you managing the work of several contractors. Does this shift in the structure of your practice indicate frustration with working in the loose environment of Flack Attack?
Although Flack Attack was conceptualized as a magazine, our interest was never so much in the finished magazine (or its periodical publishing...who knows when the second issue will come?) but rather in the process of producing it.
Flack Attack, which addressed issues of autonomy in relation to social code and specifically community-based production, operated according to the ambiguously liberating "free labor" paradigm. Flack Attack was just as much a critique of/ reflection on our own work with setting up The Port as it was a critique of/ reflection on the more general logic of social softwares.
In Headless we are looking at strategies of withdrawal and displacement--specifically through the procedures and operations of offshore incorporations. Here the milieu is no longer the (contested) openness of a Web 2.0 platform. So, we need to employ other performative tools to stage a meaningful production in this context.
We'd like to quote the writer John Barlow, whom we commission within the Headless project and sent to the Bahamas last year to look for Headless Ltd. In an interview he gave as part of the work Gone Offshore, first presented in the exhibition "Data Recovery" at GAMeC in Bergamo, Italy, he says:
"I'm not the artist here. I'm just the writer. I think that's something which is characteristic of the work of Goldin+Senneby, that they use writers, and artists, and designers like artisans. We're not really artists, we're doing the job which the artists tell us to do. I feel a bit more like a carpenter, or like a painter... You know in the great artistic workshops they would have apprentices who would do the backgrounds to the painting. I feel like one of those young guys doing the background, and then Goldin+Senneby are doing the really detailed work. And in this particular project I know they are using a variety of other people. A book designer, a graphic designer... [pause]. In some ways I'm not quite sure what Goldin+Senneby actually do."
While it's common for artists to enlist the help of assistants or "artisans" (to use Barlow's word) in the production of an artwork, they rarely feature them as prominently as you have chosen to. As Headless developed, did you encourage its various participants to interact or share notes as they completed different modules of the project? Or do you keep them in isolation?
The Power Plant exhibition has three distinct perspectives on the ongoing project, which developed independently of each other: the pedagogical display, the documentary in the making, and the "artist talk." As for the more general question of how we work with our contractors, we'd like to quote an interview by Kim Einarsson with a G+S "spokesperson" in Geist magazine:
Kim Einarsson: An aspect of G+S's working method that I feel is worth commenting on is that they, like businesses, outsource certain parts of their project. They pay others to carry out pieces of research, to be co-creators of the work and sometimes to present the project. I’m thinking of the detective bureau that is helping them to find material about Headless, the ghost writer who plots out the novel, the actor playing the role of the fictional author at the book reading of Looking for Headless and so on, and so on.
Spokesperson: Well, in other art projects, one might pay an editor to edit a film, an assistant to glue your collage and so on. That’s not so very different from this way of working...
KE: But it strikes me that they give other people a lot of space to maneuvre within their project, which in one way of course is generous and allows for many co-creators of the project. But couldn’t it also be a facade, an attempt to conceal fears or laziness - that it’s actually comfortable to let others formulate one’s project?
SP: You could say that about any collaborative project. Sometimes you need outside expertise and sometimes you need to borrow someone else's voice.
KE: Is Headless a collaborative project?
SP: Yes, a collaboration between Goldin and Senneby. I see everyone else as a mixture of audience, fellow travellers, external consultants, distributors and expertise.
KE: And what roles do you and I play in this?
SP: It's up to us to formulate ourselves. What role do you believe you will play? For instance, what will you do with the outcome of this interview?”
Image: Public reading of Looking for Headless by fictional author K.D. in Stockholm, 2007. (Photo: Emma Kihl)

I'm not sure you are concerned with giving closure to Headless, yet when you sent me a copy of the novel Looking for Headless by K.D. you described it as "unfinished," which made me wonder how it will end. Do you or your contractors already have an ending (or endings) in mind?
As characters in the novel Looking for Headless, we can only quote the final words of author K.D. at her public talk at the Bienal de Sao Paulo on November 2, 2008:
"Guimarães Rosa, through his character Riobaldo, says: 'I know I almost don't know anything, but I suspect a lot.'" - Brian Droitcour, rhizome

Hydra, the Chicken and the Egg (2009)
By Hinrich Sachs

Hinrich Sach’s essay on Headless published in Goldin+Senneby: Headless, ed. Gregory Burke, The Power Plant, Toronto, 2009.

True Lies, Tired Hedonists (2009)
By Ginny Kollak

Ginny Kollak reads Looking for Headless through Oscar Wilde’s The Decay of Lying. The article was published in Alphabet Prime, issue No1, Fall 2009.

Les artistes 100 têtes: Multitext, Xenomoney, Xenospace (2008)
By Angus Cameron

For the artist talk of the exhibition “Headless” at The Power Plant, Goldin+Senneby invite Economic Geographer Angus Cameron to speak in their place. This is his lecture given at The Power Plant on December 13th, 2008. With an introduction by Gregory Burke.

Nameless Acting (2008)
By Kim Einarsson

A conversation between curator Kim Einarsson and the spokesperson of artist collaboration Goldin+Senneby about the project Headless. Published in Geist, methodology issue, May 2008, Stockholm

Welcome to Who Makes and Owns Your Work! (2007)
Opening speech by Karl Rossmann

On November 17th, 2007, the year-long project Who Makes and Owns Your Work culminates in a public event at Årsta Folkets Hus in Stockholm. Fictional character Karl Rossmann holds an opening speech. This speech was also published in the info sheet of the Who Makes and Owns Your Work event.

A Time of Their Own: Curating the Corporate Event (2007)
By Alf Rehn

As co-editors of the second newsletter of the fictional museum museumuseu (founded by Brazilian artist Mabe Bethonico), Goldin+Senneby proposes a service to the museumuseu: A custom-made teambuilding event for the museum as an orgaization, based on Franz Kafka’s vision of the Great Nature Theatre (see Teambuilding in the Great Nature Theatre). Complementing this proposal G+S invited Swedish academic Alf Rehn to further contextualize the corporate event in relation to the control of time in post-industrial production.
Originally published in English and in Spanish in museumuseu newsletter #2, “There is time in the museum”, Medellín 2007.

Enclosure & Enthusiasm (2006)
By Goldin+Senneby

In December 2005 Goldin+Senneby initiated the collaborative magazine production Flack Attack on Autonomy on the virtual island The Port. “Enclosure & Enthusiasm” was written as a reflection on this production in relation to a wider context of digital networks and entrepreneurial strategies. This article was first published in Swedish in UKS Forum for Samtidskunst Nr 3/4 2006, Oslo.


US flag Art21 Magazine, March/April 2015: “Offshore Art”, by Mikkel Rosengaard
canada_flag Le Devoir, 19 October 2014: “Les risques du jeu” by Marie-Ève Charron
canada_flag The Montreal Gazette, October 18, 2014: “Projecting the Plight of the Homeless” by John Pohl
engelsk_flagga2.gif Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies, Issue 7, 2014: “Modelling Headless” by Angus Cameron
deutschland Die Zeit, 10 April 2014: “Fauler Zauber? Von wegen!” by Thomas Assheuer
engelsk_flagga2.gif this is tomorrow, 9 January, 2014: “Review: Anti-VWAP, Collective Gallery, Edinburgh” by Jaime Marie Davis
Swe flag Kunstkritikk 18 Dec 2013: “Julkalender: 18 december”, by Maria Lind
engelsk_flagga2.gif Frieze, No 157 September 2013: “Review: Goldin+Senneby, CCA Derry-Londonderry” by João Laia
US flag Triple Canopy, Issue 18: “Headless Commercial Thriller”, by Alexander Provan
engelsk_flagga2.gif Frieze, No 156 Summer 2013: “Review: The Magic of the State” by Mia Jankowicz
UAEflag.gif Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, May-June 2013: “Review: The Magic of the State” by Kevin Jones
new zealand flag Eye Contact, 12 April 2013: “Scrutinising Stockmarket Speculation”, by John Hurrell
new zealand flag 95bFM, 9 April 2013: “That Science: Interview with Campbell Jones”
australian flag Art & Australia, Vol 49 No 4 Winter 2012: “Predictions: Art and the Future”, by Gregory Burke
US flag Art Agenda, 3 April 2012: “Abstract Possible: The Stockholm Synergies”, by Judith Schwarzbart
US flag Artforum.com, March 2012: “Critic’s Pick, Abstract Possible: The Stockholm Synergies” by Jacquelyn Davis
Swe flag Svenska Dagbladet 2 Feb 2012: “Besökarna blir aktörer i en gåtfull konstvärld”, by Joanna Persman
Swe flag Sveriges Radio Kulturnytt 1 Feb 2012: “Abstrakt konst och krigsbrott”, by Mårten Arndtzén
US flag Artforum.com, January 2012: “Critic’s Pick, Stockholm” by Theodor Ringborg
Swe flag Dagens Nyheter 16 Jan 2012: “Pengar blir slagg”, by Birgitta Rubin
US flag Art Forum, December 2011: “Review: 6th Göteborg International Biennial”, by Sinziana Ravini
canada_flag Esse 73, Autumn 2011: “Participation for sale!” by Vanessa Morisset
Swe flag Dagens Nyheter 15 Sept 2011: “Pandemonium – Art in a time of creativity fever”, by Milou Allerholm
Swe flag Sveriges Radio 13 Sept: “Göteborgs konstbiennal följer standardformuläret”, by Mårten Arndtzén
engelsk_flagga2.gif Wasafiri 66, Summer 2011: “Goldin+Senneby’s ‘Headless: From the Public Record, 2009″ by Nicky Marsh
US flag Artforum.com, July 2011: “Critic’s Pick, Rotterdam” by Hilde van Gelder
US flag Art Forum, March 2011: “Openings: Goldin+Senneby”, by T.J. Demos
It flag Kaleidoscope, Spring 2011: “Current Account”, by Nav Haq
engelsk_flagga2.gif Variant 41, Spring 2011: “Make Whichever You Find Work”, by Anthony Iles & Marina Vishmidt
Swe flag Dagens Nyheter 2 Feb 2011: “Därför borde S lyssna på 1700-talets utopister”, by Ronny Ambjörnsson
Swe flag Grus & Guld 1/2011: “Konstnärligt utforskande av spekulation”, by Karin Backström
engelsk_flagga2.gif Times Higher Education, 6 Jan 2011: “Headless maybe, but not mindless”, by Paul Jump
Swe flag Svenska Dagbladet 10 Dec 2010: “Finansmodeller en egen konstart”, by Lars O Ericsson
US flag Art Forum, October 2010: “Review: Goldin+Senneby, Kadist Art Foundation, Paris”, by Joanna Fiduccia
Fr flag Liberation, 18 Sept 2010: “La finance, monstre sans tête”, by Marie Lechner
Fr flag ArtPress, 370, Septembre 2010: Review: Décapitation of Money, Kadist Art Foundation, by Marie Muracciole
engelsk_flagga2.gif This is Tomorrow, 7 July 2010: “The Decapitation of money”, by Margaret Gray
US flag Art Agenda, 30 June 2010: “Goldin+Senneby at Kadist Art Foundation, Paris”, by Jennifer Teets
Fr flag Le Beau Vice, 16 June 2010: “A la Recherche du Pognon Perdu…”, by Elisabeth Lebovici
Fr flag Liberation, 28 May 2010: “Face au Rennes de la terreur”
US flag Rhizome, 12 March 2010: “Putting the capital in decapitation”, by Ginny Kollak
Spain flag a-desk 6 Dec 2009: “Saber no estar”, by Martí Manen
Swe flag Tidningen Kulturen 5 Dec 2009: “Komplexa men distanserade gester”
Swe flag Aftonbladet 4 Dec 2009: “Så skrivs en mordgåta”, by Frans Josef Petersson
Swe flag Dagens Nyheter 26 Nov 2009: “Goldin+Senneby på Index”, by Sinziana Ravini
Swe flag Svenska Dagbladet 20 Nov 2009: “Fiktion och verklighet vävs samman”
Swe flag Alphabet Prime, No 1, Fall 2009: “True Lies, Tired Hedonists”, by Ginny Kollak
South Korea flag The Korea Times 19 Oct 2009: “Exhibition Explores Art’s ‘Flexible Aura'”
US flag ArtSlant, 11 July 2009: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
US flag Shotgun Review, 3 July 2009: “The Man Behind the Curtain”
US flag Art in America, 2 July 2009: “The Man Behind The Curtain”
Swe flag Smålandsposten 1 July 2009: “Konsten tar sikte på jordbruket”
US flag SFMOMA Open Space, 26 June 2009: “Behind the Curtain”
US flag Rhizome, February 2009: “Interview with Goldin+Senneby”, by Brian Droitcour
US flag Artforum.com, February 2009: “Critic’s Pick, Toronto” by Blake Gopnik
canada_flag The Star, 17 Jan 2009: These head games are contagious
engelsk_flagga2.gif a-n Magazine, December 2008/January 2009: Review: There is No Alternative (TINA)
It flag Brown Magazine, Autumn 2008: “On loosing your head”
Swe flag Dagens Nyheter 15 Nov 2008: “Befriande brasiliansk biennal”
No flag Billedkunst No. 5, 16 Sept 2008: “Et virklighetsspill?”
Swe flag Geist Nr. 11, 12, 14, Methodology 2007-2008: “Nameless Acting”
engelsk_flagga2.gif northeastwestsouth.net, 31 July 2008: Dilettantism and extradisciplinary artistic collaboration
Swe flag Konsten.net, 16 April 2008: “Verkliga virtuella objekt”
Swe flag Copyriot, 1 April 2008: “Huvudlöst: London, Bahamas”
engelsk_flagga2.gif if:book, 26 March 2008: this is a game. no really, it is
Brazilian flag Folha de Sao Paulo 18 January 2008: Arte e design se chocam em mostra
Swe flag Konstperspektiv, Nr 4, December 2007: “Härifrån till Verkligheten?”
Colombia flag Interview on Camara FM radio station, 21 October 2007
Swe flag Copyriot, 3 September 2007: “Acefaliskt”
Swe flag Sveriges Television, Arty, 3 April 2007: ”Arkitektur som projektionsyta för konst”
Swe flag Konstnären Nr. 2 2006, “Galleriet i livet bortom detta”
Swe flag Dagens Industri 1 december 2006, “Verkliga värden i virtuella världen”
Swe flag Sveriges Radio P1, Bildrutan, 25 & 26 October 2006: “Utanför och innanför i konsten” (mp3)
Swe flag Geist Nr. 8 Albedos April 2006: “2. The Port”
Swe flag Svenska Dagbladet 14 March 2006: “Onlinerollspel utan drakar och demoner”
It flag Digimag #11 Feb 2006: “The Port: Comunita´ di Artisti in Second Life”
Swe flag Konstperspektiv 4 Jan 2006: “Nya vägar för konsten: Onlinevärldar och Wiki”
Swe flag Dagens Nyheter 28 Dec 2005: “Konstnärer bygger sin egen ö i cyberrymden”
Fr flag Libération 9 Dec 2005: “Où est la valeur d’un bien virtuel?”
No flag Bergens Tidende 14 Oct 2005: “Blodig alvor i dataspill”
US flag Terra Nova 13 Oct 2005: “State of Play Virtual Architecture 1.0″
US flag New World Notes 25 Aug 2005: “I want my SL-TV”

True Lies, Tired Hedonists
Les artistes 100 têtes
Nameless Acting
A Time of Their Own
Welcome to WMAOYW!
Enclosure & Enthusiasm

M&A (2013)
“The first in a series of productions explicitly utilizing the exhibition infrastructure as “laboratory” for developing algorithmic trading models.” >>

Money Will Be Like Dross (2012)
“Off now, little paper, around the world, and destroy the tyranny of money…” >>

I dispense, divide, assign, keep, hold (2012)
“Ismail Ertürk attempting to imagine a future numismatics of the Credit Default Swap (CDS)” >>

Standard Length of a Miracle (2011)
“Many different stories about speculations, magic and construction of value unite this unlikely set of characters. At the same time the main subject of the show stays unmentioned.” >>

The Discreet Charm (2011)
“The title of this work alludes to Buñuel’s surrealist film from 1972, which parodies the spectacle and self-appointed entitlement of the bourgeoisie. The piece, however, concerns the discreet charm of the banking system…” >>

The Nordenskiöld Model (2010- ongoing)
The Nordenskiöld Model is a theatre in becoming, in which Goldin+Senneby explore the complex relations between models, speculation and reality. >>

Headless (2007- ongoing)
“In the forthcoming novel Looking for Headless, the fictional author K.D. tells the story of two artists – Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby – who investigate an offshore company on the Bahamas called Headless Ltd… >>

The Decapitation of Money (2010)
“In the exhibition, you are standing at the heart of a bicephalous space. Here, two historical events from the late 1930′s and early 50′s are confronted… >>

Each thing seen is the parody of another or is the same thing in a deceptive form (2010)
“No one seems to be there to introduce Cameron. He decides he better begin, before he loses his audience to a rather good-looking monkey… >>

Gone Offshore (2008)
“Tomorrow I will be going to Nassau, the Bahamas. For the duration of my stay, I’ll be posting a blog every day. But this won’t be a conventional travel blog… >>

Lot 36: Fiction on Auction (2010)
“In Fiction on Auction, the site of the auction is used to stage a fiction where the right to appear as a character in Looking for Headless is offered to the highest bidder… >>

Shifting Ground (2009)
An artist’s unrequested inquiry into European agri-cultural policies. A 20 min scripted speech exploring the politicized space between the image of landscape and the usage of land. >>

Teambuilding in the Great Nature Theatre (2007)
Goldin+Senneby have contracted a Latvian corporate event bureau to outline a teambuilding day based on Franz Kafka’s vision of the Great Nature Theatre, as described in his unfinished novel America. >>

After Microsoft (2006-07)
The most distributed image ever is being phased out. What remains is a hill in Sonoma Valley, California. In the context of this project we have re-visited the hill. “After Microsoft” tells the story… >>

The Port (2004-06)
The Port is a community driven island inside the online 3D world Second Life. The island is open and accessible to Second Life’s 160 000 inhabitants and potentially to all Internet users… >>

Objects of virtual desire (2005)
This project explores the value of immaterial production in a virtual world, and if and how this can be transferred into an economy of material production… >>

Flack Attack (2005-06)
Flack Attack is a magazine coming out of The Port, a community-driven space inside the online 3D world Second Life. Flack Attack explores a distributed model for magazine production… >>

Goldin+Senneby (since 2004) is a framework for collaboration set up by artists Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby; exploring juridical, financial and spatial constructs through notions of the performative and the virtual. Their collaboration started with The Port (2004-06); acting in an emerging public sphere constructed through digital code. In their more recent body of work, known as Headless (2007 -), they approach the sphere of offshore finance, and its production of virtual space through legal code. Looking at strategies of withdrawal and secrecy, they trace an offshore company on the Bahamas called Headless Ltd. A ghostwritten detective novel continuously narrates their investigations.  Since 2010 their work has focused on The Nordenskiöld Model, an experiment in theatrical finance, in which they attempt to (re)enact the anarcho-alchemical scheme of 18th century alchemist August Nordenskiöld on the financial markets of today.


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