Monarchs & Men

25 min, HD installation, Stereo, 2012




The project, called Monarchs & Men, is a sequel to Hammer’s 2010 video, The Anarchist Banker. In both projects Jan Peter Hammer appropriates the discourses that constitute today’s zeitgeist, by means of which he builds his characters’ fictional dialogues.


Monarchs & Men is also a 30 min. long HD Video, featuring John Quincy Long (in his second take on the character of the banker Arthur Ashenking), Sarita Choudhury, Christian Serritiello, and Daniel Hendrickson, and German philosopher Felix Ensslin as the artist Leonhard Gross.

Monarchs & Men is based on an imaginary interview between the Russian novelist Count Leon Tolstoy and American tycoon John Davison Rockefeller, published in 1913 by Maximilian Harden, a German writer and editor. The interview stages a clash between two diverging worldviews, in which Rockefeller embodies modern industrial conditions, which he defends with great loquacity.

Monarchs & Men adapts Harden’s dialogue to reflect the perspectives of a contemporary Rockefeller and a contemporary Tolstoy, whose discourses are built, respectively, out of an assortment of free market advocates’ views, and the juxtaposition of several perspectives from the intellectual left: Whereas Rockefeller’s theses are webbed together out of interviews given by Bill Gates, Alan Greenspan, or Kevin Roberts, articles by Thomas Friedman and the writings of F.A. Hayek and Ayn Rand; Tolstoy is represented by Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancičre, or Terry Eagleton. The other characters partaking in the conversation are also built after real-life positions. Nadzia’s speech is based on the ideas of artist Martha Rosler and art critic Jennifer Allen, amongst others, whereas Billy appropriates statements by artists like Tracey Emin.

The action takes place at a blue-chip gallery, during the opening of an exhibit by an acclaimed contemporary artist, Leonhard Gross. The investment banker Arthur Ashenking – our self-proclaimed anarchist – is one of the gallery’s patrons and a regular attendee of its openings, and enjoys mingling with the art world. An admirer of contemporary art, the banker believes that ‘everybody should be an artist’— only he doesn't mean it in usual benign way the sentence is used, ‘everybody should be creative’, but rather that everybody should create their own market by turning symbolic capital into added value and have their earnings pegged to performance. Against the background of the ongoing financial crisis, the banker makes a passionate argument for what he calls ‘creative capitalism’, and he doesn’t waste any time in upstaging the artist and stealing the show. Nadzia, the artist’s girlfriend won’t be cowed, however, and won’t buy the merits of ‘exceptionalism’ either. A fierce argument ensues between the five-strong group, in which Leonard, first reticently, yet later passionately joins in.