Annabel Howland’s work evolves through artistic research into subjects or phenomena which
intersect in between art, science and finance. The creative process of exploring a subject from
many angles and passing it through different media and artistic languages opens up new
spaces for the viewer, for imagination, and for nuanced reflection.
Prompted by the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis, she launched her own research-based
art project, Producers-Parasites-Hosts, in 2012. Under this title, she has spent the last
few years navigating where art, science and finance meet, by exploring themes of cooperation/
competition, stability/instability, profit/loss.
This project began with conversations with scientists, with bankers who trained originally as
scientists, and with economists. In tandem with this, Howland has followed the work of Toby
Kiers (VU Amsterdam) who researches notions of cooperation and cheating through the
relationship between plants and fungi. This highly evolved, 450 million-year old symbiosis,
between plants and fungi, is vital for plant growth on earth.
Artists and scientists explore the world at fundamental levels, driven by a deep curiosity
about the substance of life and matter. Both science and finance use models from other fields
as lenses through which to explore and better understand their own. The biologists Howland
has been working with have drawn on economics theories to understand aspects of how
plants and fungi trade nutrients in the soil. Bankers and economists use models from the
natural sciences to understand financial markets. And Howland draws on the many (art historical) languages at an artist’s disposal to explore her subjects.
Money is a global language that few understand, let alone speak. Financial literacy is
universally poor even though, whether by design or convenience, the consequences of the
2008 crisis have for many been disastrous and universally felt. At a time when one would
have expected the financial sector to face the most severe criticism, in the Netherlands,
post-2008, it was art that was subjected to the most vitriolic attacks by politicians who
accused it of parasitism and elitism. If we accept that art’s entire purpose is to examine,
question and communicate who we are and the worlds we live in, to help us to be human in
an age of rapid technological development, where can we locate the symbioses or cooperation
our societies need in order to develop? Who are the producers? Who are the parasites? Who
are the hosts?