In 1996 when Jacqueline Hassink first published ‘The Table of Power’, her photo-essays of the boardrooms of Europe’s largest industrial multinationals, she was just 27 and the world was a very different place. It was a landmark project, the first time most of these rooms had ever been seen by the general public.In the spring of 2009, with the world already in the grip of financial crisis, the Dutch-born, New York-based artist decided to take another look at Europe’s economic landscape through its boardrooms, and to see how boardroom design, revenue and employee numbers in Europe’s upper corporate echelons had changed.
‘The Table of Power 2’, Hassink’s fourth project with creative director Irma Boom, is an intriguing study of power from an altogether unexpected perspective that provides a rare glimpse into the privy councils of the new millennium. We talked to Hassink about her work.
The Table of Power 2 opens up the boardrooms of some of Europe’s leading corporations including ING Group, BNP Paribas, Banco Santander, Société Générale, Volkswagen and Siemens. How much red tape did you encounter in gaining access?
There were many hurdles to overcome, but I think because of the internet and mobile devices, our boundaries of private and public spaces have changed, which means it’s easier to access people in the corporate world. That said, the economic crisis – and the negative image of banks – did make things more difficult.
How long did you spend shooting each of the boardrooms?
About 45 minutes to one hour.
Which impressed you the most?
Boardrooms are like sculptures to me. I walk around them and absorb the three-dimensional qualities of the table and the room. Dexia’s boardroom table is handmade from very beautiful wood. It almost looks like a sculpture.
Are we correct in assuming there’s a very masculine feel to all the boardrooms?
CEOs in European corporations usually influence the design of the boardroom and one of our findings on this project was that between 1995 and 2010, there were no female CEOs heading the top 40 European companies on Fortune’s Global 500. I also understood that it’s important for the boardroom to be practical in the sense that it’s a place for making decisions, so there shouldn’t be too many objects distracting from that decision-making. One could say that that is a masculine way of thinking.
What was the goal of the Laboratory section of the book? Was it simply an interesting compilation of figures or ranking of corporations by country, or were you trying to see if there was some kind of connection with the boardroom?
The idea of the Laboratory section was a logical step. Travelling around photographing these rooms, I found I wanted to know the facts about the changes in the European corporate landscape. In New York, I worked with three research assistants collecting data from issues of Fortune magazine published over the past 15 years. Every year, Fortune publishes a ranking list of the world’s largest 500 corporations.
I had questions that I wanted answered, such as: How many of the top 40 European industrials participating in ‘The Table of Power (1993-95)’ remained on Fortune’s Global 500 in the years 2000, 2005, 2009, and 2010? How has the revenue for each European company on Fortune’s Global 500 that participated in both Table of Power projects changed over the 15-year period between the two projects? And on how many continents and in how many countries and territories did the top 10 European corporations on Fortune’s Global 500 have operations over the 15 years since the first ‘Table of Power’? We ended up creating 15 maps.
What surprised you the most about the numbers/rankings?
The huge increase in volume and the stagnation in growth around the crisis. We are all geared towards economic growth in this world, and all of a sudden, it felt like the running horse was standing still.
What’s your next project?
I’ve just finished another major body of work: ‘View, Kyoto (2004-11)’, which will come out in 2013. Since 2004, I have spent a month or so almost every year in Kyoto documenting the relationship between private and public space in Zen Buddhist temples and their gardens.