The time tested way of introducing a story (â€œOnce upon a timeâ€¦â€) is little help when writing a blog aboutÂ art. And soÂ faced withÂ the most narrative-driven work in this yearâ€™s Liverpool Biennial, I donâ€™t know where to begin.
HFT The Gardener is a multi-faceted piece display which comprises of some 174 works on paper and a (roughly) 10-minute film. Thereâ€™s a fiction in the film, made concreteÂ by the drawings. SoÂ the drawings, although quite loopy, fall into a non-fiction category; itâ€™s complex.
In short, Treister tells the story of a high frequency trader who undergoes a breakdown and looks to psycho-active plants to generate algorithms to plug into the banking system. He is fired, as you might expect. But then he becomes an outsider artist and the drawings in this show are his colourful plant diagrams, which he sells to rich bankers.
The artist was good enough to speak with me at the launch of this show and I asked her how it came about. â€œI was interested in high frequency trading. I was interested in these ideas of the holographic universe. I was interested in psycho-active drugs,â€ she tells me.
Following that, â€œthrough thinking about them all and wondering where it might go,â€ Treister made the connections which rounded out her show. As for the film script, it remains a trip to compare with one of the hallucinogenic plants which star here.
It took a lot of â€œfine-tuningâ€ says the visionary artist. â€œThe plot expanded, contracted, then needed to come back around and reference itself in certain ways. So I was constantly working on it, to form it.â€
But however much Treister worked on this voiceover, it pales beside the maniacal energy which must have been needed to research more than 90 narcotic plants and translate their biological and chemical properties into intense and detail rich diagrams.
â€œWork ethic,â€ says the artist in response to this. â€œBut you know novelists are the same. They have an idea. They gradually develop the plot. Then theyâ€™ve got to spend about two years sitting there every morning. Theyâ€™ve got to get up and get a certain amount doneâ€.
But if the show really is a novel, it is Moby Dick rather than Pride and Prejudice, the sort of novel which freights in a wealth of technical detail. Each plant has its Latin name, its medical effect, its equivalent as abstract pattern and its correspondence to a stock on the FTSE index.
HFT The Gardener is not, however, an instruction manual for drug use. â€œI’m not suggesting a mass free for all,â€ says Treister of her 92 psychoactive plants. â€œThese are plants that have been carefully used for centuries in many parts of the world for ritual purposes. They need to be taken seriously and there could be an enormous amount to learn from them if research was able to continue unrestricted.â€
Unlike South America, we don’t have a culture which facilitates drug-induced vision quests. We do, however, have a crazy financial system where a dose of peyote could hardly make things any worse; you could happily leave reality behind for an hour spent at this show.
For more information about this work, head to the artist’sÂ website. The show runs until October 16 2016 as part of Liverpool Biennial, and can be found in theÂ Exhibition Research Lab atÂ The John Lennon Art & Design Building,Â Liverpool John Moores University.