Speculative Friction

Alice Jia Li Song
Yaara Yacoby

Nicholas de Monchaux

J. Jih
Caroline Jones

Speculative Friction uses storytelling to explore the line between fact and fiction, implicating the construction of reality in the construction of speculative futures. This project is interested in the Geneva Freeport (Switzerland) as its central character. This Special Economic Zone legally operates outside of global trade taxation laws as a free-market tool to expedite the import and export of commercial goods. While there are hundreds of modern freeports around the world, the Geneva Freeport is unique in allowing “passing” objects to be stored indefinitely in its storage spaces. As a result of this state of stasis, as well as Swiss confidentiality laws, the Freeport has been the storage facility for anything considered to be of value. Grains, gold bars, art objects, and illegally extracted antiquities are all stored in the Freeport without public access and without taxation, even as ownership is exchanged. It is estimated that there are as many as 1.2 million objects in storage.

The Geneva Freeport was first established as a grain elevator in 1888 and was transformed into a modern freeport gradually over the next century. Despite its long history, the Geneva Freeport rose to public prominence following media attention in the 1990s when it was discovered to be storing looted antiquities for the infamous Giacomo Medici tomb-raiding circle. Medici’s operation was smuggling thousands of Roman and Etruscan artifacts from Italy through the Freeport and selling them to private collectors and public institutions, such as the Getty Museum.

In 2016, the Geneva Freeport was cast in a new light as a result of the Panama Papers leak. The leak originated from the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, and gave a first comprehensive view of the operations of the offshore world. The Freeport was uncovered as both a financial instrument and a perfect hiding spot. A 30-million-dollar Modigliani painting was also uncovered by the leak, hidden in the Freeport after being looted by Nazis from a Jewish art collector in Paris.

This thesis opens the conversation to the banal and absurd capitalist reality at the Geneva Freeport and look at this uncanny world from within. What are the objects and their entanglements with the world outside? What happens when the objects begin to push back on their container?