Its Money Jim, but not as we know it

MAM Mario Mauroner Contemporary Art, Vienna

11.09. — 15.11.15

Participating artists: Carlos Aires | Iván Argote | Alain Biltereyst | Danilo Correale | Jochen Höller | Nicolas Kozakis & Raoul Vaneigem  | Cristina Lucas | Alfadir Luna & Antonio Vega Macotela | Federico Martínez Montoya | Tom Molloy  | Pilvi Takala | Lina Theodoro 

It’s Money Jim, but not as we know it is a group exhibition that reflects on the changing status, nature and perception of money, as well as its use and role in the contemporary world. Since the appearance of the first coins in ancient Lydia (now Turkey) in the 7th Century BC, the development of paper money in China in 7 AD, the establishment of banks during the Renaissance, and the advent of electronic money more recently, the concept of money has been transforming over time.

Contemporary money systems are based on fiat money, something without intrinsic value as a physical commodity, in comparison to commodity money that was represented in some physical form: that is, objects that have value in themselves. Fiat money derives its legitimacy and value from the fact that governments declare it to be legal tender. By the turn of the twentieth century, most developing nations used some form of gold standard, with paper notes functioning as a system of exchange.

After World War II, at the Bretton Woods Conference, most countries adopted fiat currencies that were fixed to the US dollar. The US dollar was in turn fixed to gold.  In 1971, however, one of the most important economic policy decisions in modern history was taken, with far-reaching implications for the global economy. The US government at the time severed the link between the US dollar and gold. The result was that the world's currencies ceased depending on the value of gold or some other tangible commodity. Global currencies became unbacked by anything, except the governments' fiat of legal tender. Basically, instead of being backed by something tangible, the monetary system began depending on the trust investors might have in a specific currency. Since then, the monetary system is based on so-called ‘floating’ fiat currencies. Coupled with the rise of the debt economy and the introduction of virtual money, the world economic system thus became less tangible, more volatile and increasingly dependent on unstable, psychological parameters such as ‘trust’ and ‘investor confidence’.

Today, apart from the currency reserves held by central banks, the majority of the world's money exists only as numbers, bits and bytes, which circulate through digital transfers. Bank money consists of computerised records and an implicit reassurance that your money will be there when you need it. Less and less of the money we use is in physical currency. Money and finance have become more and more abstract and immaterial. In 2009, Bitcoin was conceived, bringing into being the concept of a cryptocurrency: a digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank.

Capitalism itself has diversified from industrial production to the production of services, intangible forms and complex financial products. Terms such as cognitive capitalism and bio-capitalism have come to signify the accumulation of wealth through the exploitation of knowledge as well as the entire human body and its faculties. At the same time, while industrial capitalism and tangible production have not eclipsed, but are rather increasingly ‘disappearing’ into the Global South, financial capitalism – quite simply the production of money by means of money – has acquired a dominant position in the global economy.  Money is now being made out of nothing. All that was once solid has now melted into thin air.

Successive deregulation (to facilitate private enterprise) has allowed the power of money to grow with its quantity. Paradoxically, though money has become much less ‘tactile’, its power has exponentially grown, much to the detriment of other values. Though some critics speak of a ‘tyranny of money’, at the same time money is a language everyone understands and something most people desire. It could be said that ‘Money makes the world go round’ now more than ever.

The artists in the exhibition It’s Money Jim, but not as we know it reflect on the materiality and the immateriality of money, as well as on how it functions and circulates in our society today. How has the concept of money evolved? How do we understand money today? What shapes and forms does it take? From the coin and the note to the emergence of plastic money, virtual transactions and Bitcoin, the artists in the exhibition explore the unprecedented power that money exercises on the human imagination today. -  Katerina Gregos

* The title of the exhibition is a twist on a verse in the song ‘Star Trekkin’ (“It’s life Jim, but not as we know it”) released in 1987 by The Firm. It is a parody song of the original TV series Star Trek (1966-1969).

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