DISCLAIMER: This is not a course about the management of money, and it is not a course about the art market. It is a course concerned with the origins of money, the nature of exchange, and how money and themes of exchange are manipulated by artists for aesthetic and ideological purposes.
In “Money” students will be exposed to an anthropological and aesthetic history of money (contrasting the economic version with alternative histories from anthropology and the art-world). Students will explore theories of money as cultural inscription and as an extension of social and cultural exchange-networks based on trust. Changing technological modes of money will be contextualized within a history that examines how culture changes as exchange changes. This discursive exploration will be framed by an examination of specific artists (from the ancients to the contemporary) who investigate money (cost, value, exchange) or use it as the material in their work.
An emphasis will be placed on the role of new media in contemporary exchange. “The genealogy of the money form is the study of a new logic that is the money of the mind” (Shell, 1993, pg.11). In the digital age, physical money as a material structure is on the threshold of obsolescence. Trading is now enacted digitally through databases, flash trading algorithms, micro-transactions, and online auctions. Modes of networked digital money are proliferating: RFID cards, NFC, alternative open source currencies (BitCoins, etc…) and mobile transactions (Google Wallet, PayPal, Square, Card.io etc.). Art is also becoming conceptual, virtual and data-driven. This transition from material money to virtual trade, from material art to virtual visualization, constitutes a shift in culture, and an opportunity to explore the interdependence of economic exchange and cultural inscription.
This course aims to destabilize conventional notions of money as simply an economic necessity. Students will be enabled to critically discuss money from a perspective informed by art-history, critical aesthetics and anthropology. Money as material has existed since antiquity; its origins are speculative. Obsidian, copper, cowry shells (first manufactured in China in 1000 B.C.), salt, silk, silver and gold (introduced in Qin dynasty 221 BC) preceded minted coins and bills (which first appeared on leather circa 118 B.C. in China). An aesthetic view of money might consider the sycee gold ingot form used in China up until the 20th century as a sculptural form. Students will gain an expanded understanding of the history of money, an understanding of how technological systems influence transactions, and an exposure to art-activism concerned with money and exchange.
One goal of the course is to inculcate a view of money as a dynamic non-trivial cultural system informed by networks that are simultaneously abstract, embodied and digital. Money activates physiological desire systems intimately linked to imagination and subconscious creative impulses (as such it is a natural subject for art).
By the end of the course, students will be able to plausibly conjecture about the future technological trajectories of money as it becomes increasingly mobile, virtualized, transparent, networked and immaterial. Students will also be expected to link this anthropological understanding to art-works that investigate exchange.