I was having a lovely meal with my friend Dara the other day, when we began chatting about money, and its strange role in our lives and in the art world. Dara mentioned the curious case of JSG Boggs, an American artist who draws single-sided banknotes and “spends” them for their face value all around the world.
He doesn’t sell his drawings. That’s rule number one. Instead he “spends” them. That’s rule number two. So far, he’s spent about $250,000 worth of Boggs’ bills. [...] Once Boggs has completed a transaction, he keeps mum about it for twenty-four hours, so the person who got the drawing has “time, unbothered, to think about what’s just transpired.” That’s rule number three. After that–rule number four–Boggs will sell the receipt and change from the transaction to a collector. Via the receipt, the collector can track down the owner of the Boggs bill and negotiate a deal “so as to complete the work.” [...] A bill that Boggs uses to make a five dollar purchase can be resold for, perhaps, a hundred times that much–a figure that fluctuates over time. And, once a collector completes the artwork, the value of the whole exceeds the sum of the cost of the parts. So, where did that value come from? Boggs’ labor? The efforts of the collector? The vicissitudes of the art market?
While Boggs’ work brings up interesting questions about the art market, what I found even more compelling were the questions that his work brings up about the very nature of money itself. Paper money is, in fact, strangely similar to traditional fine art that is hand-drawn by an artist: it is meant to be inimitable, genuine, and valuable. Boggs’ notes fulfill these criteria, but subvert the global economic system that paper money is but one signifier of.
Which led my thoughts to the subject of alternative currencies. I had the experience of attending the World Summit on Free Information Infrastructures at Limehouse Town Hall in London, in 2005. They were using an alternative currency called “the Lime” at this event, which I was initially skeptical about, but by the end of my visit was completely enchanted by the possibilities it afforded.
The Lime is a currency created for the Limehouse area. A “Special Edition” of the currency has been created for the duration of WSFII for use by delegates. [...] The Lime works like cash. We have a very simple exchange rate: 1. One (1) lime = 1 (one) Pound (1L = £1). When you buy items at local stores, you can pay in a mixture of Limes and Pounds, and will get change in pounds (or Limes). All Lime notes are printed onto green paper, and must be activated with a Red stamp. Make sure that all your Lime notes have a red “Valid” stamped onto their front. [...] The Special Edition Lime is not actually a community currency, it is backed by real cash. Our objective with this project is to initiate the currency, to get people to start to see it as a way to trade.
Initially I traded my Sterling for Limes and thought, “I hope I don’t get stuck with any of this funny money as leftovers.” Then I went to a local pizzeria and paid in Limes. As I was settling up, I noticed the huge piles of Limes behind the register. At that moment I realised that the economic impact of this influx of travellers coming to the WSFII conference was being made material to local businesses, where previously it had been nearly invisible. The Limes had made their impact – not just on delegates, but on the perception of locals.
Two organisers, Greenman and Mary Fee, explained how the Lime was used in local businesses in this way:
We described the Lime to local businesses as “Food Tokens”. Delegates to our conference would be given tokens which they would use to exchange for food. We gave each business about £50 as a deposit and asked them to accept 50 Limes worth of business. When the £50 was used up, we would pay them a visit and hand over more money. We mentioned that, if they were happy to accept more Limes than they had deposit for, we would reimburse them for those too. Stores were given an information sheet on how the “food tokens” worked, as well as a small “Limes Accepted Here”sign to post in their window.
Thoughts of limes and pizzas led me to another project that interrogates the notion of money and value, and brings the questioning of the art market full circle.
“Wants for sale” is a project by two NYC-based artist/designers, Christine Santora and Justin Gignac. They have created paintings that depict items that they desire – and are selling the paintings for the exact cost of the item. The painting of sleep costs nothing, the painting of the iPhone goes for the actual iPhone cost of $649.17, the painting of a steak goes for $18.49, and “financial security” (a painting of a stack of greenbacks, pictured above) goes for 1 million dollars. I wonder if the artists would take payment in Boggs notes, or Limes?