Replete with symbols and content to respond to, dollars made a good canvas for commentary in the late nineties. This is an essay I wrote about this work in 1998.
Money is an intriguing form of art. Governments create fine art prints in very large editions, signed and numbered. These pieces are the most highly sought after works of art in the world. People will kill each other, destroy the landscape, sacrifice their integrity, among other things, for these prints. Nickel and copper multiples riddle the landscape too. Not as highly valued, these pieces are often given away and are considered the currency of the poor, distopic masses.
This art, money, is exchanged for food, shelter, and status. Some have magnificent collections. Others' collections grow to the point of becoming conceptual, electronic; transferred from collection to collection via computer interaction. Still others yearn for these engravings, struggling along in this art driven world, reduced to begging for culture, striving to become a collector so they can barter for their next meal. How can anyone hope to achieve the kind of unprecedented artistic success the government has had with this body of work? The audience for their work includes almost every member of the population. The thirst for art, otherwise known has greed, has become instinctual.
What if our ruling bodies decide to retire from the art scene? What if they had never been inspired in the first place? What if everyone's meager efforts were the accepted form of currency? Who would feast and who would lay idle, keeping warm by the mist from sewer caps?
Would we see performance pieces as payment for services rendered? Preciously attended canvases in exchange for luxury cars or groceries? Hand crafted bonuses at Christmas time? Parents pushing their children into careers as dancers and songwriters, and regarding stockbrokers and financial analysts as lazy unprofessional vagrants? Who knows.
Who knows what our cities would look like of creativity and not currency was the driving force of our economies. I envision graffiti artists spraying flat, bland areas of color to counteract the endless fields of expression.
Money is art. Nevertheless, it is old art. Its visual relevance is limited today. The icons are difficult to identify with and we notice only the size, shape, and assigned value of these prints and sculptures. My work is a collaborative effort. Using their old forms as a source of inspiration and as a platform for communication, I add my creative effort and offer a glimpse behind this facade of impenetrability, classicism, and solidity.
Money is ink on paper. Nothing more. Its value is a psychological, societal creation comparable to the values we assign race, gender, religion, political affiliation etc…. These distinctions may seem indispensable but they are manufactured. We use them as a means to grasp and control our surroundings. Like a net thrown over our reality so that we may begin to understand and manipulate our environment.
We fool ourselves by believing in conjured distinctions and values. Take a national boundary for instance. In the north woods of Minnesota, I can take six steps and be in another country. Yet I still stand under the same tree, by the same stream, with no physical indication that now, I must abide by different laws and use the metric system. Surely the indication is on a map somewhere, ink on paper, conjured up and transposed over the countryside. But in the physical world, the world of wind, sun, earth and sky, the distinction is irrelevant.
This work seeks to draw attention to the fact that many of the things we think we know and understand are defined by intellectual and psychological standards that, over time, have become accepted as tangible realities. In truth, the distinctions are as substantive as mist. We can and should redefine our relationships with these definitions. Definitions which encompass race, culture, nationality, religion, sexual preference, morality, and, the relative importance of each of these issues with regard to our own being.
These definitions can and do often act as barriers. We use them to alienate others and protect ourselves, and we continue hiding in the mist. Our cowardice stifle the knowledge and expression which lives in the space where distinctions cease to be divisive and become instead, places for congregation.