This summer, the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art is the place to go to contemplate The End of Money. Turning to the left at the information desk, I was immediately faced with a very literal representation of the theme for the show. According to the exhibition pamphlet, 2008 by Christodoulos Panayiotou…
… is a pile of shredded banknotes that contains all the pounds that the Cypriot Central Bank recollected [sic] during its shift to the Euro.
Six meters in diameter and nearly 2.5 meters high, it was an impressive pile of shredded paper, mostly in shades of green and grey. Is this what happens to old currency? The shredding, I mean.
Perusing the pamphlet, it didn’t take me long to realize I had entered deep waters. To quote,
This work is less about an “end” of the pound, and more about a narrative of transitions and replacements in which each denomination constitutes a formalization of an entire system of value. Through this simple gesture, Panayiotou hints at another perhaps utopian geography that has been gradually constructed through the dissemination of the euro. And in yet another sense, devoid of its historical connotations, this work also expresses a metaphysical problem that ties money to the artwork: Turned to shreds, these banknotes are now worthless as currency; yet the value of these shreds of paper is no longer nil because, by the hand of the artist, they have become art.
And this is the shortened version without several comments in parentheses. I proceeded with caution…
Next, I sat through At Face Value, a 22 and a half minute video by Zachary Formwalt about postage stamps. In particular, German postage stamps during the hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic, and stamps issued by the U.S Postal Service during the Great Depression, or, in the words of the pamphlet,
The informalization of currency under extreme economic conditions
The video was more interesting than it sounds, partly because of the historical perspective, but also because the artist discussed stamps from the personal perspective of his father’s philatelic collection, and the reasons why people might collect stamps. (Lesson: Savings accounts offer better value.)
The End of Money features works by 17 artists spread over 12 rooms and 4 corridors on two floors. I will certainly not attempt to comment on everything I saw, but a couple of things stuck in my mind.
Fischli & Weiss, a Swiss duo collaborating since 1979, contributed a 3-channel photo installation called Sichtbare Welt (Visible World). To be honest, I skipped this one, but the names kept tugging at something in the back of my mind. When I got home, I did a bit of googling and realized that they were the two guys behind a jaw-dropping work I saw at Tate Modern in London last year. Here, I quote my own notes about seeing Untitled by Fischli & Weiss.
… an installation by two Swiss guys who, honestly, must have far too much funding. The installation was a large room filled with the debris you find in a carpentry workshop or on a building site. Everything from piles of lumber, tools, buckets, tires to empty cigarette cases, a dusty stereo, a pile of VHS tapes, empty yoghurt pots etc. etc. etc.. At first glance, it looked like the museum was in the middle of constructing something in the room, and I suspect that’s what a lot of people thought when they glanced at it and moved on. However, every single item in that room was hand-carved in polyurethane and painted to look like the real thing. It was mad! But mad in a good way. One of the artists was quoted as saying,
There’s certainly a subversive pleasure in occupying yourself with something for an unreasonable length of time.
For another take on the room at the Tate and a snapshot, read this blog post by London-based Gertie’s Girl.
Fischli & Weiss are also the artists behind Der Lauf der Dinge (The Way Things Go). The video is nearly 30 minutes long so choose a quiet moment to watch it.
To return to The End of Money, I will sign off with the snappily named Technological Development is for the Time Being Mankind’s Only Future (real-time closed-circuit television installation with teleprompter, camera, computers, DVD players, MX50 Panasonic video mixer, blue screen and LCD screens). Basically a manifesto, it could have been printed on a poster and pinned to the wall, but I suppose all the equipment emphasized the point. As I followed the text on the teleprompter, this statement stopped me in my tracks:
Autonomy created by technology is considered freedom.
There you go! An arrow straight to the heart of the freelancer! The freedom to answer phone calls and emails anywhere, to zip translations around the world to take advantage of time zone differences and cheaper rates, to take work home to do in the evenings or on the weekends. Freedom, indeed.
The artist is Pierre Bismuth, who sold the idea for The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman, and ended up with an Oscar for his efforts. I didn’t see that film. Would you recommend I do?