Jasper Joffe: Economics
What is economics? How can you picture it and if so, what would it look like? London-based artist Jasper Joffe has converted a room in his house – intimidatingly called Chateau Joffe, though the name belies its intimate feel – into an installation which (in the words of his press release) aims to create a “visual vocabulary of the abstract terms which are used in discussing economics”.
The work originates from the online image bank Flickr and is influenced by email discussions between Joffe and various artists, collectors and economists, in which he asks them questions such as “Can economics explain art?” and “Why can’t everyone be rich?”
We are greeted at Chateau Joffe by both Jasper and his adorable daughter/curator Alba who promptly fetches me a drink and ushers me into the installation space, an average-sized, darkly-lit room organised into a sort of sparse office. A set of computers sit in a corner, their screensavers bearing the exhibition’s name, and a few office chairs and a couch are dotted about the space. On a table by the door is a stack of business and marketing magazines.
It would look like any of the minimalist offices that festoon London were it not for the brilliantly-coloured paintings that adorn the whitewashed brick walls. Ranging from print-outs of business PowerPoint presentations and samples of Alba’s drawing skills to an enormous, nearly floor-to-ceiling piece that occupies almost an entire wall to itself, Joffe’s lively works simply jump out at you from the plain background while at the same time seeming perfectly and naturally placed in the office-like space. It really is a vibrant and absorbing room to be in. We ask Joffe whether he sees economics as an art form: “I suppose so, maybe… The thing is, whenever I talk to people about economics, I see them shut down. Art is an interesting, immediate way to talk about it without having to read a book beforehand.”
We often forget that economics is not just about cash flow and LIBOL rates; it’s about people, their actions, decisions, feelings, and Jasper Joffe gets this point across in a very powerful way. Opposite a painting of a frowning businessman – his frown mimicking the parabolas in graphs pinned to his office wall – hangs a depiction of the sex slave trade, watched over by a leering Jabba the Hutt. Next to this is a picture titled Billionaire, the intense colours of the paint contrast with a serious expression and a snarling mouth. This picture has a frame around it – “It’s the status”, explains Joffe. Is it an aspirational thing as well? “Yeah…”. This element of cheeky self-expression and playfulness riddles the exhibition: why are Alba’s paintings – most of them over schematic diagrams – also on the wall? “Well, I like to paint, Alba likes to paint… It’s quite fun to impose her drawings on something so constricted.”
Another of his paintings is a factory with the words J. CORP in big letters across its front, hinting, perhaps, at his feelings of selling his art for profit. One more depicts a woman cradling a new-born baby, a sinister-looking blood-covered hand reaching out as if to grab it. “It’s called Labour,” says Alba, “apparently it’s a joke, but I don’t get it.”
By the end of our time there, we have easily spent the highest time/space ratio achieved at any art gallery to date. The work is entrancing, thought-provoking, funny, a beautiful panorama of the world of economics, from the human to the inhumane, the manual to the technological. We have also learned that today is Jasper’s birthday – “It’s the two best things in one day!” he remarks, grinning widely. If you find yourself with time to spare, or if you’re an art aficionado of any kind, definitely go and have a look: you might bag a guided tour by the man himself. And while you’re at it, make sure you wish him a happy birthday.
Orestes Daniel Kouzof