Alternating Currency: The currency collages of C. K. Wilde
Why cut up money? The original precedent for the idea of currency collage came from Marshall Weber’s seminal show in San Francisco “The United States of Americana” in 1990. In 1995 the concept of money collage was introduced to me in college in a class on non-static forms. Marshall Weber’s collages used real dollar bills as manifest socio-economic semiotic critiques. The elegant collages of Walter Hamaday inspired me to engage in collage as a serious artistic practice. The Progressive magazine commissioned me to illustrate a story on P.A.C.s in 1997; I made a collage of a pachyderm made from dollars bills in response. I made certain that the art director of the Progressive knew about Marshall Weber’s Dollar collages; Weber’s “Buckskin” (what is that?) was reproduced in the magazine as well. I was commissioned to make several more money collages for the magazine, including the collage “Alternating Currency.”
“Alternating Currency” was the first currency collage I made with currency from all over the world. The piece was a critical reconfiguration of the system of capitalism, and the cult of personality propaganda that banknotes represent. The material used and its handling necessitated deep reflection on the use of symbolic capitaol as a system of inter-human relations. More than a superficial use of money as the material for just any image, the money collages necessitated a problematization of banknotes as a semiotic detournemeant. Banknotes are (?)encoded into self-reflexive, critical, multi-valent images. The detournement (repetition?) of these symbols allows for the revelations of a hidden narrative through the reconfiguration of the symbolic tool of oppression. Revealed is the transcript of the powerless, the poor, the victims of the system of Global Capitalism. Thus Cutting up money is a disruption of the narrative of power. Collage as becomes a way to take an iconic critical stance through the reconfiguration of currency and its’ adjutant symbols of power.
Collage as a medium has a holographic transparency unlike any other medium: The process of the making of the image is present in the material handling dialectics of the object. The viewer “sees” how the collage was made in the very materials used. Materiality is the message as much as the image it represents; interlocked are the signs and symbols along with the physical manipulations necessary to create the image, the object, and the cognitive, philosophical constructions in collage. If a picture is worth a thousand words, than a picture made out of money is worth another thousand at least. Portmanteau like the money carries not only the associations of the maker, but the viewer as well. Jazz changed music, collage changed art. It is an art practice that presupposes a viewer, an “Other”. The viewers completes the work in their body and mind with the act of perception and cognition.
My collages have referenced subjects ranging from space exploration, to mythology, religion, slavery, ecology, the history of warfare, the history of money, and art history. For instance, the collage “Quixotic Ambition” referenced Picasso’s Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, petroleum production, and warfare. The windmills were replaced with oil derricks, and the figure of Don Quixote replaced with a mounted German soldier from WWI1 occupying Holland. A visual rebus of meanings, redolent with symbolic readings, this piece is about nationalism and the untenable nature of our human desire for control. A compression of historical references into the flat plane of collaged banknote images telescopes the viewer’s associations with the artist’s work.
The process of researching all these subjects has created a feedback loop: one idea begets a hundred more. I use banknotes from all eras and nationalities - from failed states and occupying army currencies, to our own ubiquitous and quotidian U.S. dollar bill. Currency collage can be seen as nostalgia for a time when the symbol of powers’ symbol (money) was still manifest in the physical world. My fetishization of paper money comes from my childhood. I traveled to Europe often to visit my relatives. When I returned, I often still had money from the places where I traveled. An attempt to buy candy with Deutsche Marks in the U.S. brought into sharp relief the inherent contradictions of nationalism and international travel. Are we not one people on our one planet? I thought. Why is this money powerful only in one context, useless in another? This probleamatization of value has had profound effects on me. [Seeing my mother work three jobs to pay the bills made me realize that the Good and Just don’t always find reward in Power.] Always of an entrepreneurial bent as a child, I began dog walking services, erected lemonade stands, and even harvested wild onions to sell to my neighbors - all invented values for services rendered, all an attempt to find parity with the complex world of the marketplace.[too personal]
The ironies of commodifying my dissent through collaged currency are legion. In order tTo live to make more of these collages, I need money, so I sell the collages. The fact that the very symbolic manifestation of power has been rendered “useless” as currency to create another form of currency is an alchemy of sorts. That the wealthy use my visual critiques of the very system of power that supports our lives as decoration for their lavish homes; myth art as a political icon or talisman of their political awareness, is a wild thicket of ironies. To try to an articulate all this is very painful; I must confront my own willingness to forget my complicity to suffering in the world in order to maintain this esoteric practice of art making art. Is it ultimately untenable philosophically untenable to justify the production of art objects in a world so troubled? I convince myself that the world needs my work as much as I need it, that by making this work I am participating in the global dialectic of humanity. [The reality is, however, that I am involved in one of the last great cartels, the art world. A place for the wealthy to “hide” their assets, to dodge taxes, and to celebrate their influence.] Art in this context becomes another symbol of disconnection, of an all but hermetic world with it’s own rules and associations. I am a maker of luxury goods that critique the system, which allows for those goods to be consumed. The painstaking collage work that I do is my life’s blood manifest, and yet for some it is just like a car, or watch, or vacation home in that it is just another symbol of accrued wealth and power. Whither beauty and truth? Ask a poor man what truth is and he will say hunger, ask a rich man he will say power, I say Art: older than money or war.[ Externalities of commodity and value are merely expressive modalities of exchange.] In an alternating current of energy, we make our life manifest in our works: [our mind moving matter, our eye a prism for light. We change as we exchange, we are a DNA collage and record of our own making.] Humans are Art, not Money or War. There is a war on in the marketplace of ideas: Which side are you on?