Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dadara/Exchanghibition Bank Interview

Can you tell us a little about your background as an artist?

I started drawing cartoons from a very early age. Then beginning of the nineties I got involved in the upcoming electronic dance music movement, designing hundreds of record covers and flyers and doing live-paintings etc. I started making paintings and over time these paintings evolved into large scale sculptures and installations, which provide a surreal mirror for our society. Creating dystopian Utopias, such as for instance Checkpoint Dreamyourtopia - a border control checkpoint to enter your own dreams. For years I used to destroy my big projects. I feel that when a project, or art, a new youth movement or a new piece of music comes into the world it has a certain kind of power, or magic. Eventually that magic fades, and it turns into a business, and starts earning money. In order to preserve that magic, I blew up projects, set them on fire, or smashed them to pieces, preserving that energy, and turning it into a kind of Urban Myth. These installations are turning more and more into interactive performances, and this year I am working on my first theater play.

What’s the Exchanghibition Bank project all about?

A few years ago as an artist I started my own bank - the Exchanghibition Bank. This seemed a pretty good idea in times when governments had no money for Art anymore, but billions to bail out banks...I started the Project from my artist background; it somehow puzzled me that art seemed to be mostly valued because of its financial worth in our society. I mean, when do you ever read about art on the front page of a newspaper? When a Picasso gets sold for a hundred million bucks, or a Warhol for forty million, or the Lehman Brothers Bank goes bankrupt and their art collection gets auctioned for millions. But what does that say about their spiritual, artistic or social value? So it started by looking at the value of art. I wasn't that interested - yet - in money, because, as so many artists, I come from an anti-money background. But a lot has changed since: as a true bank director I became fascinated and even obsessed by money!

As an artist you need to study your material: when I use acrylic paint, I have to learn how it works, when I use explosives, I have to learn about them, and now that I was using money, I needed to study money. And that's when I quickly became fascinated by this abstract material, not backed by any tangible asset, existing in a purely virtual way, and created as debt with one click of a button by banks. So, in a way, there was very little to be against, or anti-money. It's just an agreement, a form of energy, which, when it is exchanged, has value. But we don't want to exchange it, we want to hoard it on our bank accounts, and treat it as something special. And at the same time it influences all our perceptions of value.

I sometimes half-jokingly say that this Project made me go from hating money to seeing money as Love. One of the latest banknotes released by the bank has “Love” as its value - We are involved in exchange each and every day in our society. But instead of loving our exchange and each other, we started loving the material means of exchange: Money.

And instead of using those Exchanges to make beautiful things happen around the world, we use them to earn more money. And we hoard that money, not backed by any tangible asset, created as debt by just a click of a button, on our bank accounts. Instead, we could use it to make the things we love happen, and the places and people we love thrive.

In the process of spending money, and buying things we think we need, we tend to forget that buying is actually an exchange, and not just a one-way transaction. We don’t just obtain something material, but we give something in return: money. Money does still have value as an agreement between people. Moreover it also has its energy, propelling its future use. And by giving money back with love to the people, and initiatives we love, and of whom we know that they use that same energy with love as well, we change the world.

Money (still) has more users than Facebook. So I think money would unite, if we would realize that whenever we use money, it's not a one-way transaction. We do not just buy something from someone, we give something back as well - money. And when we realize that money is just an agreement, and can be used as energy to make things happen, we should realize that the act of giving the money is as important as receiving what we bought. And we should only give it to those we love, and do things we love. Also using money as a means of exchange instead of this magical thing, which seems to have taken control of our lives.

What is the name of its official currencies and how the banknotes are used within this system?

The currency has no name. I like that. That way it’s not defined by words, but by its image. And it also focuses the attention of the user on its meaning. For instance one of the banknotes has Million as its denomination. This means you can be a Millionaire. A millionaire of what? Who cares? Most important is just to be a millionaire after all, isn’t it?
I am using currency as a way to make people think and deliver a message. The medium is the message. And money is a very powerful medium. I am surprised governments have not started printing advertisements on money yet.

All the denominations, such as Million, Zero, Infinite, etc are created to make people think and question value. But after a while I noticed, that no matter how absurd or thought-provoking these values are, they were still numbers. And one of the problems in my opinion of money is that it has quantified everything, and is turning all qualities of life into quantities. Isn’t what we value most after all, as we say “priceless”?

So I decided to stop creating denomination with numbers and start focusing on real values. The first one was a banknote with value “Love”. I explained its meaning in the question above. And now there’s also a banknote with value “Like”. Those banknotes can be added to your payments to show that money can have more than financial value.

The notes have an expiration date. Why’s that?

Only the 2012 banknote has an expiration date. Its expiration date was the 21st of December 2012. Back then some people thought because of the Mayan calendar that the world would end. So it seemed a nice touch. And also, as in all other details, it provokes thought. Because after it’s expiration date it lost its financial value, but it would still be art. So would it not have more value then?

What are the Ideas for Change and how are they related to the Exchanghibition Bank?

Because of the quantifying nature of money it seems that we are losing the ability to value that which can’t be expressed by numbers. But not all values and qualities can be converted that easily into a pile of banknotes. And financial value is only one of many important values. Spiritual, moral, artistic, and social values, to name a few, are also important.

So the 2012 banknote could not be ordered for money alone. In order for the 2012 banknote to have more than just a financial value we people to think about the way they’d like to change the World and describe that idea to us. Thus, their specific idea for change became an inseparable part of their uniquely numbered banknote, and they would get the banknote home together with a special certificate with had their Idea written on it. That way the banknote would also get an extra personal value. A value, which could not be expressed in digits.

What places have you guys been to with the Exhanghibition Bank booths?

We went to the Stedelijk- and Boijmans Museum in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, BoomFestival (Portugal) and Glastonbury (England), but also to real Banks, such as ASN Bank and ABN AMRO, and Amsterdam Central Station. I like the combination of cultural places, such as museums, but also reaching the 'real' world. After all, money is something that all of us are using every day, so it's important to reach a lot of different people: we also operated the bank at Occupy and in shopping centers. I also think that art is a great way of raising questions about aspects of our society, and only operating in the white cube environment of the Art World can make raising those questions a bit too harmless, too safe. The context of the placement of a piece is important, and adds to its meaning.

We have also heard about a Project called Transformoney Tree, what can you tell us about it?

I also started another Art as Money project: the Transformoney Tree. The Transformoney Tree is a tree, which has the Exchanghibition banknotes hanging as leaves from its branches. Participants can glue real money onto the tree itself. By gluing real banknotes onto the tree itself, and drawing on them, these banknotes become financially worthless, but get turned into art. This interaction transforms the tree, but also our own perceptions of value, art, and money. It’s an exchange of value in a world, where only financial values seem to get valued. But isn’t what we value most “priceless”? Interaction with the tree could help us with the shift from a fragile mono-money-culture to a diversified world of many alternative currencies, providing tools for exchange of various forms of value as a necessary alternative for our current debt-based-system, which focuses on infinite economic growth on a finite planet. Are the roots of this tree the roots of all evil or the roots of all happiness? Hopefully, they’ll become the roots of a new consciousness. It's amazing and beautiful to see how much impact it has on people's life when they draw on a banknote. Even though everybody uses money every single day, rarely do people think about what it is, how it may be refined or redefined and changed. It's just a tool, and tools can change in an ever evolving society, but money has always been presented to us as an absolute given fact. By drawing on money, people regain power, and look in a total different way at what it is and represents. That alone I think is a big accomplishment.

What’s behind the idea of Karma Laundering?

When we took the bank to the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert we needed a different approach. Burning Man is based on a gift-economy and money does not exist there. But it sometimes feels more like a vacation of money. People maxing their credit card to rent expensive RV’s, buy costumes, food etc and then not use money for one week. But still it’s special. I often give talks about money nowadays, and almost ask the question if someone in the audience did not use money for an entire week? Hardly anyone ever has. And that is kind of weird; almost everybody in this world uses money every single day, but hardly anyone thinks about what it is, how it works, and how it might maybe work in another way.

But to get back to the question. This money-less desert seemed fertile thinking ground to look differently at how we use money. So we asked people how they used money the other 51 weeks of the year. And if they ever did anything bad for their Karma, bad for the planet, for their relations etc in order to earn money. Then they could sign a Spiritual Karma Laundering Contract, thus bringing their Spiritual Karma Debt back to Zero. And after that they would get a symbolic Zero banknote.

What are your new projects as an artist?

I keep developing the Exchanghibition Bank project. I am currently working together with the ABN AMRO bank on their crowdfunding platform Seeds, and will become the artist-in-residence at the BE performance festival in Birmingham, which has money as its theme. And I am also working on a new Art as Money project, where I want to combine two illusions, which we tend to view as real. Two human constructs; Time and Money. Is Time really Money?

Besides becoming a banker, I also now started my own religion: Like 4 Real. We are guiding people on their path to Spiritual Enlikement. A project which looks at the value of social media. Can Social Media strengthen our human relations, or will we turn into a bunch of autistic Like-clicking zombies? We built an altar with a Big Golden Like at the Burning Man festival last September, and this year it will turn into a theater play in cooperation with cross over dance company ISH.

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