Computer screensaver of fantasy landscape generated from financial data
Curated by Ben Eastop
London School of Economics, London
The Last Horizon was a fantasy mountain landscape generated from financial data. It changed daily over one year, and was distributed as a prototype screensaver to every computer in the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
The everyday language and imagery of business is rich with metaphoric references to mountain landscapes. Yet these references carry double-edged meanings. Because they are barriers to physical progress, mountains have long symbolised escape from materialistic life to spiritual transcendence. Also, the concepts of risk and security in commerce are often visualised in images of climbers scaling the heights of an unspoilt wilderness, while mountaineering as an exclusive leisure pursuit has become an 'aspirational lifestyle statement'.
Every day for a year, American Express agreed to supply up-to-date Financial Times Stock Exchange data to be processed at the LSE using software designed for creating fantasy landscapes. Envisioning numerical abstractions in this way generated a landscape of alienation, a parallel world where reality was determined by abstraction. This digression from the work of economists and financial analysts seems playful, yet by willfully misusing factual information it may offer insight into the relationship between socio-economic power and cultural constructions of space.
If fantasy and 'escape' enable the continuation of urban productive labour, then computer terminals offer an equally ambiguous threshold between lived experience and information space depending on the motives of the user, the screen might equally represent a point of entry into or exit from 'the system'. Because the screensaver image is only visible when the machine is not in active use, it may correspond to a daydream.
Lost Horizon is the title of James Hilton's fantasy of adventure and discovery in a remote continent during the last years of the British Empire. In today's age of global trade and technology, being 'lost' has different connotations: our movements can be tracked in the remotest parts of the world, while the vanishing wilderness is becoming commodified. And perhaps the tendency to conflate achievement with consumption maintains a paradox that binds unsustainable consumption to a sense of lack or loss.