Nelson Saiers is a polymath; a highly successful Wall St derivatives trader who completed a PhD in Math in 1 year at the age of 23 and an artist who has painted and exhibited works of mind-bending concepts straddling Math and Finance.
We worked together at Deutsche Bank through the global financial crisis, having literally ring-side seats to what felt like the fall of capitalism and joked about wearing Pith helmets in the spirit of WW1 through it all. It was a surreal time in the markets with volatility at at all time highs and that period firmly influenced Nelson’s view on economics and centralized banking as can be seen through the many exhibits he has displayed over the years.
The latest piece is a giant white rat opposite the Federal Reserve Bank’s New York City location. Similar to the giant rats used to call out corporations that Manhattan commuters have seen over the years (unions, low-pay protest, etc), this rat has some questions to ask. The timing is propitious because it was exactly 10 years ago that the Fed engineered the largest bailout via TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, where $700 Billion was used to help bring normalcy to the battered markets globally. I spoke to Nelson about his piece and this is what he said:
Nelson: So this piece is slightly different from the inflatable rats you see around the city. It’s loaded with Bitcoin code and a couple related equations. About ten years ago, while TARP was bailing out the economy, Satoshi Nakamoto wrote this code along with the words 03 Jan 2009 The Times, Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks, referencing the equivalent in England. Satoshi seemed pretty opposed to centralization and said it was doomed in the end. I wanted to be true to his views and reflect this in the artwork.
Shreyas: So this is in the spirit of that given the timing … Can you describe parts of the piece?
Nelson: Sure. The eye has a giant POW! symbol extracted and modified from Roy Lichtenstein’s epic painting “Sweet Dreams Baby” and is referencing Proof Of Work, an important aspect of Bitcoin. I’m comically asking will proof of work knock out centralized fiat currencies. I don’t have anything necessarily against central banks and much of the Fed’s actions were necessary given the bomb cyclone that was hitting the financial markets (partially due to some of their mistakes before the crisis) but feel its an important question to ask.
Shreyas: Hearing you speak I wonder, does anybody smell a rat? Next topic, why is the rat white?
Nelson: Several motivations for that. I’ll reflect on one: a lab rat. In many ways the Fed and other central banks action were pretty experimental in nature and in scope.They had to combat a crisis which was crushing markets for complex structures (like i said partially caused by them as well), like asset backed commercial paper, special purpose vehicles, CDOs etc. This collapse was having a massive impact on our economy. These complex assets were never fathomable to their Depression-era forefathers so they had to invent ways to stem the crisis. So much of what they did, was experimental. But unlike the sickly weakened lab rat, these bailouts grew fangs and have far reaching aspects even 10 years later. Hopefully all goes well!
Shreyas: Speaking of rats, didn’t Banksy say that rats rule?!
Nelson: Ha, yeah he said rats are despised but can knock down civilizations. Bitcoin was similarly ridiculed, who knows if it will play a role in the central banks demise or their grip weakening.
Shreyas: Makes sense. How long are you planning on keeping this out here so more people can take a look?
Nelson: Weather permitting, at least this week.
Shreyas: What do you aim to do with it after the exhibit?
Nelson: I’ll probably auction it off and donate some of the proceeds to charity. I have one called Elevate New York which helps mentor underprivileged kids in the the Bronx.
Shreyas: The underprivileged have never had it worse at least from the current system … banking and finance fees hurt the lower class and the middle class. Hopefully Bitcoin will help ..
Nelson: Absolutely, it’s one the saddest things in the current banking environment where those members of society get hurt the most from high fees and draconian penalties (transfer, overdrafts). It’s sad to me that when the banks were hard on their luck, the U.S. taxpayer bailed them out, but they are crippling the destitute in our society.
Shreyas: Thanks Nelson, very cool and very informative. You’ve been marrying abstract art with mathematics for years now and been compared by Artnet to Wassily Kandinsky. Awesome work, on bringing art to this most abstract concepts today like a modern day Kandinsky! Can’t wait to see more…
This interview was conducted by Shreyas Chari. Find him on Twitter @ShreyasChari
Check out these links for more of Nelson’s art: