$ is a social contract - an abstraction of exchange. There is no limit to its use or value. However, seemingly natural models of exchange ingrained in culture seamlessly pave the way for relationships that serve few and exploit many. $ has a way of protecting its own value — by marginalizing and discrediting those that do not have much of it, or who question its absolute value.
But fortunately, in many places, ideas, and actions are still free. The piggy bank that holds and shapes stories of collective financial meaning has been dealt significant blows and a stream of alternatives is gushing through the cracks. Enacting more human and humane models for exchanging and using $ will help free us from inequality and inequity - enhancing cooperation, co-productivity, creativity, and culture.
As with $, social interaction is an exchange. Through art referred to as Social Practice (formalized and historicized social interaction), ideas are proposed, imposed, traded, and braided together to form living philosophy - ways of thinking and doing. Some people and projects working in this vein help me think differently about $, influencing what I accept as natural and valuable, and inspire me to write this and share their work with you.
Abigail Satinsky is hard to pinpoint - engendering experimental art practices on the fringes, under the radar, and for the future of art. Living in Chicago and working at the cultural nexus Three Walls, she makes art, helps others make art, and then examines, organizes, and disseminates the results. In 2007, as a member of inCUBATE, a Chicago-based research organization dedicated to innovating arts funding structures, she helped develop and found Sunday Soup, a community supported micro-granting program. Their amazingly successful model, which has spurred programs in over 60 cities, such as FEAST in Brooklyn, revolves around a community meal. Each diner contributes a small amount of $, receives food and partakes in a collective decision about which proposed art project to support. Sunday Soup's model helps communities define and support work that is meaningful and necessary to them, opening a forum of cultural exchange and creation, and efficiently sustaining an ever-strengthening loop between community and culture.
Abigail introduced me to an artist-run, Chicago-based residency program in Ohio called Harold Arts. While I was there this summer, I met the individually mind-blowing artists April Childers and Carmen Tiffany, or as they're know collectively, Destineez Child. They spent much of their time in the breezy Amish-built studio, sipping Coors Light and cheerfully making brightly colored paintings on found rocks and sticks, knitting unusual garments, and creating mysterious sculptures. I was curious what they were up to, but they wouldn't reveal their plans until one day they invited everyone to their Kuntry Store. Their version of an art fair seemed to be missing the hyper-pretentious cosmopolitan vibe that occupies typical art fair paradigms. They displayed lovingly-made trinkets and attractions such as illustrated tabs of drugs, collectible souvenir rocks with inscriptions such as fuckin' fishin' or A$$, a contemporary art table, and a set of opposing lawn chairs on a picnic table entitled, Make fun of Marina Abramovic with a Friend - $1, an invitation to re-stage her work, The Artist is Present. Their art was approachable, usefully, desirable, funny, and touching — and best of all, the prices ranged between $1 and $5 on average. With the $65 and change they made, they went to the gas station and bought 3 cases of beer to share with everyone. Their generous hard work and creativity punched a hole in the tire of the ubiquitous beige minivan of corporate consumption, mass entertainment, and conventional support for the arts.
While attending Open Engagement this summer, Portland State University's conference on art and social practice, I was introduced to Sal Randolph and her project, The Emancipation of Money, in a loud crowded bar. She handed me some $ she made to distribute at the conference. I admired the variously-colored hand stamped patterns and text on a clean, white, rubberized paper with clear text reading "FREE DOLLAR." There was also text that requested the user to inform her how the note was used. It was an imperfect and unique abstraction of an abstraction with strings attached — a promissory note, promising nothing except that it was free, and hence the object's transfer to me was ambiguous and full of potential and responsibility. This note was somewhere between art object, conceptual game, and financial asset, and led me to meditate on the meaning of value. In her writing on the anthropological theorist David Graeber, Randolph explains how value comes into being: in objects - through history and imbedded stories, and in currency - through the unknown potential of future exchange. I'm not sure if the object she handed me is $ of the past, present, or future, or of another reality, and have since held onto it, as it has become most valuable to me as evidence of the shifting nature of value and my own freedom to determine it.
xxxxxxx is something that Cassie Thornton doesn't want me or anyone to speak about; but how do you examine something which refuses to come out in the open? To that end, Cassie recently invited me and others to attend a group construction of xxxxxxx (previously known as debt boulder, and now as Unspeakable Thing) — a physical and metaphorical weight that represents the psychic and emotional consequences resulting from the deep black hole in consciousnesses where debt often lodges itself. Participants were invited to bring contracts and documents related to their debt to add to ATM receipts stolen from bank vestibules by Cassie and her friends. Once assembled, they collectively papier machéd them into aesthetically alluring, but weighty and unruly masses. xxxxxxx contains and embodies records of $ owed — and are positive forms representing a lack of resources. These meta-pyscho-physical masses rattle around the subconscious and murky spaces of the mind — flashing into consciousness from time to time triggering paralyzing thoughts. Through humor and a desire to create a space free of guilt and imbalance, Thornton holds a financial séance, which brings debt demons into the open to be seen for what they really are and to drain them of their power through realization of collective emotional experiences. Her work concerns the most serious topics of poverty, inequality, fear, and repression; but it is also seriously funny, as she playfully explodes the scaffolding that gives $ its psychological power, watching it topple and laughing as new possibilities emerge from the rubble.
David B. Smith is a conceptual multidisciplinary artist living in Brooklyn, NY, who seeks to expand perceptions of reality, articulate the creative process, and to challenge traditional art-making practices. To this end he makes immersive architectural installations, is in the one man band, Doom Trumpet, curates conceptual exhibitions, and teaches art at SUNY Old Westbury. He has shown at spaces such as PS1, Exit Art, NADA Miami, The International Center of Photography, and John Connelly Presents. He has also built large scale sculptural installations at BOFFO, Bring to Light, Harold Arts, and the (e)merge fair of contemporary art.