The Mystical Works of an Outsider Artist Who Doesn’t Actually Exist
Suzanne Treister’s "HFT The Gardener" blurs the line between fact and fiction.
Suzanne Treister, HFT/Outsider artworks/Mimosa hostilis (Jurema), 2015. All images courtesy of the artist and P.P.O.W., New York
Like a psychedelic experience, the 175 works in Suzanne Treister’s HFT The Gardener expand in a multitude of directions. It’s hard to make out the edges of what’s real and what isn’t. According to the fictional narrative that anchors the show, the works are by Hillel Fischer Traumberg, whose initials mirror his line of work as a British high-frequency trader (HFT). In a small, dark room in the center of P.P.O.W.’s main gallery, the story unfolds in a documentary-style video: “At work one day Traumberg [...] enters a semi-hallucinogenic state that alters his perceptions of the trading algorithms he is working with,” reads the press release. "Inspired by this experience, he starts to experiment with psychoactive drugs and explore the ethno-pharmacology of plants from which they are derived.”
HFT forges on with his research, making connections and searching for answers. “Utilising the ancient Hebrew tradition of Gematria, which assigns a numerical value to each letter of the alphabet, Traumberg calculates the numerological equivalents of the botanical names of the psychoactive plants and cross-references them with companies in the FT Global 500 Financial Index,” goes the narrative. He creates drawings and prints inspired by Ernst Haeckel and Adolf Wölfli, leaves his job, communes with shamans, and attempts to map out an algorithm “to discover the true nature and location of consciousness.” While Traumberg remains committed to his new practice away from the trading desk, his works find their way back to the world of capital, as bankers and corporations discover and collect his pieces.
Treister’s ambitious character development resulted in seven distinct series of works that unwrap HFT’s rich inner life. “The first finished works were the gematria charts, listing 92 psychoactive plants alongside their botanical names translated into phonetic Hebrew, using gematria to derive their numerical equivalents, and next to these results the numerically corresponding companies in the FT Global 500 Index,” explains Treister. These lay down the roadmap, yielding data used in Botanical Prints, Outsider Works, and several diagrams. Along the way, Treister produced the Glitch Graphs, as well as watercolors based on images of shamanic rituals in books.
Through HFT’s kaleidoscopic lens, Treister was able to bring together “a variety of seemingly diverse interests,” she tells The Creators Project. Her list includes “the politics of high frequency trading and the global financial crisis, algorithms, shamanic practices, gardening, the art world's increasing interest in and commodification of outsider art, and the nature of altered states, reality and consciousness in relation to emerging scientific theories of the holographic universe.”
Rather than the more likely scenario of a rich banker taking an interest in art collecting, HFT turns into an artist on the margins of society—it’s “a kind of reversal of the order of things,” Treister says. In this overturned landscape, both artists, real and imagined, have tapped into other ways to see and be.
Suzanne Treister’s HFT The Gardener is on view at P.P.O.W. in New York until March 12. For more information, click here.