“Consumption, which necessarily destroys the thing, is nothing
but the negation of use, which presupposes that the substance
of the thing remains intact…
In fact, consumption, even in the act in which it is
exercised, is always in the past or the future and, as such, cannot
be said to exist in nature, but only in memory or anticipation.
Therefore, it cannot be had but in the instant of its
disappearance." - Agamben, In Praise of Profanation (p. 82-83)
This project, held last night at the tbd community gallery, was what I would refer to as a constructed situation in which I was offering U.S. currency ($1s, $5s and $20s) for sale as limited edition authentic artworks. Each denomination was available in an edition of 30 numbered pieces and one artist proof (A/P), with each piece available at the face value of the currency housed in the artwork. Below are images and some of my most interesting notes, which I wrote down any time I had a break between conversing with gallery visitors.
- The very first visitor I chatted with was actually the woman hosting the cash bar for the night. She asked about what I had going on, and I explained the project (that I was selling limited edition authentic artworks, etc...). She looked at me with a very puzzled look and said that she did not get it. We chatted more, with me trying to explain without becoming didactic (which became the biggest challenge of the night), and the illogic of what I was doing causing her to great puzzlement, possibly even a level of resistance. Then, all of a sudden she looked at my with her eyes bright and a big grin, and said "My mind just did a back flip! Oh my God! I'm not sure I totally get it, but yeh, okay!"
- Another young woman, who had just graduated with an art degree, was very curious about the project and kept asking questions. With her I was able to respond to her questions either with questions, or with art history (e.g. Duchamp and the "ready-made"), and then, after buying a $1 artwork, she finally answered herself with saying (and I am paraphrasing as I did not have the chance to write down her exact words): the U.S. government, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, hires artists to create the money and make the plates, and hires printers to print the money, and then it's money because they say it is...which is no different than you calling it art.
- A gentleman, after hearing me explain what I was selling, pointed at the U.S $5 and said "That one's very cool". I got the impression that he had not actually taken the time to look at a five dollar bill in a long time!!
- After talking with another gentleman for quite some time (he, like many visitors was not coming to any conclusions for himself and was wanting me to tell him the purpose of what I was doing) I said "part of what I was doing with the project was creating a situation where something was being made un-useable, but in doing so did it truly take away the value of the item (the money)?" To which he responded quite emphatically "But nobody would use it." But then his face softened and he said more softly, as a thought struck him "But they could..."
- In discussing why someone would want to buy the money-art I stated that it is probably the best art investment you could make as it is guaranteed to maintain its value. The two middle-aged men I was talking to had begun to step back from the table when one said "But I think it's over-valued." I asked him "How so?" and he said seriously "Well, it's a U.S. dollar."
- One older gentleman said that this reminded him of a project he did in his Master's program in 1971. He took a $20 and cut it into a bunch of pieces; then he glued each one to a post card and sent one each week to his professor. He later came back to the table where I was set up and looked at the pieces again. He pointed to the $20 and said "Jackson here, he caused my ancestors a lot of hurt. He's a real SOB in my book. Each of them, Lincoln, Washington, they each have..." and his voice trailed off, but I think he said "stories", which to me suggested that it is interesting who we choose to put on our currency and why.
- A young man, after buying a $1 stated "This is cool...I've never done this before." I asked "What's that, bought money before?" To which he responded "Well, yeh, but it's cleaned, I mean it's like it's changed" as I could see in his eyes that his brain was busy processing what he was saying.
|photo by Matt Ebbing|
- A young woman stated "Your work makes me think; my brain is too tired...I'm not quite sure...but I'm going to ponder this for a while." To which I gave her a very heart-felt "Thank you!"
- The above statement was probably the best verbalizing of what appeared to be what most of the visitors were dealing with after hearing my pitch. I heard more people say "interesting" but in a way that said "I don't understand" than I have ever experienced before in a four hour period! I just hope that it was baffling enough, or illogical enough, that it resurfaces again in their minds, maybe when they pull cash out to pay for something, or withdraw money from an ATM...
- There was a woman with her cell phone in her hand who turned to me and apologized because she had to meet her friends; "I wish I didn't have to leave because I really want to know what's the deal with the title "Money Laundering", but I really need to go" she said. She turned to leave, and then turned back to me, put her hand on the table and said "oh, just tell me what you have going on here? I'm so curious...I want to know."
- After chatting with a very intense middle-aged man for a while he was still baffled by the project, but also compelled enough to buy a $1. Then he looked at me and again asked "Why? With packaging cost you're loosing money." I stated "Since this falls outside of the normal rules of capitalist exchange this brings up questions..." And he, either out of fatigue or frustration, thanked me and said that he would continue to think on this.
I sold seven $1s and one $20, so there are still many pieces still available for purchase! And I engaged in a lot of challenging conversations - challenging for me in trying to answer the visitor's questions without being too telling, but also without causing them to immediately become frustrated. I had hoped to respond to questions with questions, but this did not work very well with most viewers. One response that I had prepared for the question of why I was doing this project was to celebrate what money is and what it does for us, but most visitors were so focused on it being called art, and trying to decide if it was art or not (in their own definition of the term) that this response did not generate the discussion I had hoped for. The illogic of the project (how these could be considered art and that I was selling these artworks for a loss rather than for a profit) were where people tended to get hung up. In trying to help them along I often would have to say in some way or another that the project was intended to get them to think. It definitely has me thinking of whether I did it right; but does it have the visitors wondering if they experienced it correctly?!