Currency = Art? (Part Two)
If drawing on currency is cocking a snook at the establishment, then shredding and repurposing banknotes is spitting directly into the eyes of the powers that be. Unsurprisingly, the artists who create by destroying seem to produce work with far more explicit political messages than those that merely alter cash to crack a visual gag.
HILLARY BILLARY vs. DOLLAR DONALD by Mark Wagner
Mark Wagner uses nothing but one dollar bills to produce his spectacular collages and portraits, which are frequently political in nature. Here, as part of his I’M MARK WAGNER & I APPROVE THIS MESSAGE exhibition, Wagner reproduces the frontrunners of the US 2016 electoral race. Perhaps he is suggesting that – although one is like a robot left out in the rain, the other like hair that has birthed an angry, oversized baby – the candidates may share some common ground in being reliant on and beholden to big money.
SAML by Chad Person
Chad Person’s TaxCut series has a much more tangible aim built into its political message. Featuring a series of military weapons and vehicles rendered with meticulous detail by pasting cut-up dollar bills onto canvas, Person very literally draws attention to the huge amount of money spent on defence in the US. But there is a practical side effect to his choice of materials:
“As a professional artist, I deduct my material expenditures as a write off. If I slice up a hundred dollars to make an image, or a thousand, or just five, I am taking it out of the IRS coffers. Imaging the weaponry that I’m not buying with those dollars is a reminder for me that a little creativity can be quite empowering.”
Untitled by Scott Campbell
Campbell takes a 3D approach to his currency art, stacking up cut and uncut dollar bills to create relief sculptures transforming money into scenes with literal depth, all taking place within the familiar dimensions of the banknote. Here, George Washington is trapped in a tangled cash web, seemingly projected onto hands clasped in prayer as if begging for release from the sticky mess created by the world’s less-than-stellar major financial institutions.
Instruments of State – Myanmar by Justine Smith
Combining collage with sculpture for her Weapons series, Justine Smith uses currency to align firearms with the totalitarian regimes that use them. Giving the pieces names like Instruments of State, Absolute Power and Collateral Damage, Smith’s series makes for a beautiful if blunt indictment of state-sponsored violence.
Ikaros by Chrisopher K. Wilde
Back to pure collage with C.K. Wilde, standing out by using a wide array of currencies from different countries to create vibrant images with more contrast than can be seen in the work of his peers. Drawing on myth and iconic moments in history (other works feature Sisyphus, Rumplestiltskin, the moon landing, Thích Quảng Đức’s self-immolation), Wilde combines familiar scenes with familiar currencies to create something altogether bizarre and exotic.
With Icarus flapping his wings made of cash and hovering above a labyrinth made of money, is it possible that Wilde is repurposing the Greek myth as an analogue for big businesses’ wealth guaranteeing them preferential treatment from major financial institutions on their currency exchanges? Art is rarely served well by over-analysis, but the message here feels too obvious to ignore.