Artist Talk with Friederike Sigler at the opening of the exhibiton "Abgelehnt aus Bonitätsgründen", Ex14, Dresden

 

Friederike Sigler (F.S.)

I have seen on the internet that you have an entry on Wikipedia. It says there: “Philipp Valenta deals in his artistic practice predominantly with values, creation of values and commensurabilities. In different media, including installation, object, performance, video and printmaking artistic works are conceptually developed from topics like money, luxury, religion or politics.“ I would like to strike in there because this exhibition also deals with money and politics, at least the title suggests that. My first question is therefore going to be: What does creditworthiness mean and what do credit standing and solvency mean for banks and politics and is creditworthiness even relevant for artists? Put more generally: Does the title of the exhibition mainly refer to recent political events or are there parallels to the living conditions and the situation of artists?

Philipp Valenta (P.V.)

I can answer that with a short story because this relates to a task I had while working as an intern at the Deutsche Bank in Weimar. The business with personal loans did not go very well, therefore the client database was browsed for clients who might be interested in and, more importantly, entitled to such a loan. This meant that all clients who had a monthly income below the limit of exemption from execution (in German law there is a minimum amount which cannot be impounded) had to be “rejected for reasons of creditworthiness“ (Abgelehnt aus Bonitätsgründen) because there would be no execution possible if they failed to pay back the loan. Creditworthiness would therefore be solvency and liquidity. Interesting for me was that you always had to reject yourself, too – one sits in a bank but is in the same situation of earning too little with the difference however to be able to set this small note for others. Many of my friends are certainly in the same position by earning less than 1100 € in net-income per month.

F.S.

The title of the exhibition is also the title of one of your works that can be seen here. Did you use this title “Abgelehnt aus Bonitätsgründen“ and what it implies to select the other works for the exhibition or what parameters were important for you?

P.V.

Basically I had the questions in mind: What is money really, and what does it mean to us all? If one is “rejected for reasons of creditworthiness“, one will realise that money or its system does have a great influence to deny access to certain things and areas. Yet money can do so much more, it can be not only a measure of payment but there are also political and social features. Maybe it is even possible to perceive it as a social constant, as a measure of communication. Creditworthiness also communicates something – a status that is attached to a person (or an institution or company) – although only creditworthiness is assessed here, the person attached to it is rated, too. With this in mind, the questions of different forms of assessment, all other works were selected.

F.S.

During your internship, the targets of the evaluation for “creditworthiness“ were mostly individuals. At the present time more and more institutions and states are assessed in terms of their credit rating and solvency and evaluated by rating agencies. Especially in times of financial crisis, “creditworthiness“ plays an important part – in what way does your work refer to such political processes and, formulated pointedly, does your artistic work only work in times of financial crisis?

P.V.

My work does refer to these recent situations. I do a lot of research, therefore I get a lot of intel – apparently everything is getting bigger, the markets generate more and more “bubbles“ - news like this plays its part in the creative process. Not all works are developed in this way though, sometimes there is a historical event or story that I consider interesting and then link it to recent events. In terms of crisis, I would even stipulate that maybe my work becomes difficult or has to look different in a worsening crisis because even now I sometimes have the feeling that some events are too strange or too absurd and every comment would be superfluous. A ready-made would then be sufficient.

F.S.

I also noticed that your work, referring to the financial crisis, still deals with material money, with banknotes and coins, although it has been stated for a longer time now that more money is circulating than can be covered and the economic value is generated not by products but by gambling on stock exchanges. You however refer to this material form of money and maybe even go back to the material quality of money so one could ask if this is, in times of digital and invisible cash flows, an anachronism, something like “back to basics“?

P.V.

I have read that over 90% of all money circulating is only digital money. In comparison to this, material money almost seems rare – I am however interested in this particular materiality, I even use money in some works directly as a material. Like I said before, the communicative aspect of money appeals to me too – also the haptics, that maybe belongs to communication as well. There are many techniques and technologies combined in money, especially remembering all the security measures implemented: It is processed with laquers, watermarks, different printing inks and materials such as cotton or polymer – a good example for this are the banknotes from the emergency currencies in Germany around the 1920s, some of them were printed in a highly artistic way and by viewing them as a series, all the different banknotes combined often told tales, legends and local events. Working with analogue money may seem anachronistic, though especially concerning the present questions arising in terms of privacy and control, cash is an instrument which is hard to trace and easy to command individually.

F.S.

You advocate for more money and less flows of stock?

P.V.

For me money is just an exciting medium. Although it seems almost impossible to see money without its financial use and ethic components, one can find, similar to books and images, history, stories and ideas that are worth considering and remembering. This fascinates me.

F.S.

I would like to turn to a few selected works and first talk about “The Absurdity Of Certain Hypes Lacking Concept“. In my opinion a work where your interest is in the aesthetics of an outer appearance of the coins surfaces. For this you made British pound coins visible by using a grid and the frottage technique (brass rubbing). How did you come up with this idea?

P.V.

The idea has its origin as a reference to Damien Hirst‘s “Spot Paintings“ which are in some way manufactured by his employees but sold for six-figure numbers although, to be blunt, it is only dots on paper. These paintings seemed almost like securities to me, they are almost like a different form of money. The question arose, what difference there is between money in the form of coins and dots, a “spot“, if you draw it. This was the beginning of my own “spot drawings“. By using brass rubbing there is a childlike hint in it, many kids supposedly did copy coins or surfaces by using this technique. The work can be scaled as well by adding new drawings, the same way Hirst‘s “Spot Paintings“ are going on to be produced; additionally the work has a similar, ornamental feature. Only British coins that found their way into my pockets have been used, as a supporting reference to Hirst‘s background.

F.S.

So here the economic value only unfolds in reference to Damien Hirst. Other than that, these coins are then only objects in this moment, bereft of their original function and to be used as materials?

P.V.

Exactly, basically the coins work like a stamp – their reference is clear, but it is merely a symbol, a hint. One can clearly identify the “spots“ as coins, the colours match the original ones as well. By using them as a material it was important for me to not use one coin twice or more – there is no repetition.

F.S.

Another new work is “Herbarium“, which deals with the ornamental and aesthetic parameters of money as well. How did you develop this?

P.V.

While being on Guernsey for a residency program I noticed that the banknotes on the island bear several blossoms from different f lowers that are common on the island. In German the word “Blüte” (blossom) can also refer to counterfeit money, a coincidence I particularly liked. I got the idea to put together my own, artificial “herbarium“, which exhibits all these special flowers. It is more of a ‚modification‘ of the banknotes in this case, highlighting on particular aspect.

F.S.

Is it important for you that the viewer is able to recognise the banknotes and see that they are fragments or do both strategies work, can you also perceive them purely as flowers without having the connotation to banknotes in mind?

P.V.

Spoken from my point of view it is almost impossible not to see banknotes in them – but it is indeed important that each flower is a fragment of a banknote. It is not important for me that the viewer immediately gets that the flowers are made out of money, on the contrary, I do think this moment of uncertainty is

relevant too because the works do have aspects of kitsch and decoration. The approach afterwards however can be made in many different ways. The cultural component becomes prominent here again. On the one hand there is no relation between flowers and counterfeit money in English, not to my knowledge, on the other hand each flower might be easier to identify and may have a bigger meaning in terms of cultural identification for the people.

F.S.

I think it is interesting that this work is about the appearance of the banknotes but you do pick up the reference to the region. Money is therefore not only divested of its function but is enhanced by getting a new one. The work “Fen-Fan“, for instance, is a fan, an everyday-object.

P.V.

Some do find the work quite funny, because “Fen“ is a Chinese currency and “fan“ describes a tool to wave air. By doubling these sounds you do have something similar to a childish imitation of the Chinese language. Fen is the smallest unit of currency in China, a friend told me that even in the country itself the Fen had no real value anymore, it, therefore, became meaningless. Basically the paper is worth more than its denomination. All these banknotes do have an emblematic character, they show industrial devices of transportation such as a tractor, plane and ship, then again they also have a strong or- namental character. Additionally the fan is a traditional Chinese cultural symbol which can be constructed by using and combining the ornaments of each banknote.

F.S.

Is it then possible to say that money be-comes ephemeral in you work because you prevent it from being exchanged in a bank by cutting and processing it?

P.V.

Yes, I think this is true.

F.S.

I would like to turn to two other works which are much more abstract, one of them is “Turtle & Sputnik“. The reference to money is much more encoded here and the content is not easily accessible.

P.V.

Correct, particularly because the symbol is not present anymore. You can see the international currency-symbol, some might know it from old Mac-keyboards, it is still present in the ASCII character set, too. As far as I have been told this symbol was used to bypass communication problems between computer, word processing and printer, this means if there was an exotic currency symbol in the text and the printer could not process is, a replacement was automatically put in and printed – this symbol. This naturally had the effect that all numbers were devoid of meaning and could only be interpreted with the help of context, if at all, which makes the symbol pretty useless in an economic sector that strives as much for accuracy as the financial world. It does have two almost official nicknames: turtle and sputnik, which then became eponymous, also in terms of colour.

F.S.

What significance does the graphic quality of the symbol have you, as it is indeed shown as a graphical work here?

P.V.

The character stays a symbol, of course, but there is now another, aesthetic quality to it which becomes apparent in the form of the diptych and even supports the ambivalence of the symbol. Despite its representativeness is did lose its function, it became unnecessary because demands and technology changed. This was interesting for me because with this in mind it is almost a relict and therefore only pictographic.

F.S.

The other much more abstract work that has however the maybe most direct approach in dealing with the impossibility to visualise and materialise the flows of stock is “Vector“.

P.V.

This work is basically an image of one moment, one second taken from the DAX, the German stock index. The arrows you can see are representing the 30 individual companies within the index, whose chart development was translated into arrows or vectors. There are five values, strongly ascending, ascending, stagnating, descending and strongly descending, which are assigned accordingly. The main aspects of this work maybe are that I cannot influence how it looks because the appearance is generated purely out of the stock development and, besides that, the whole data is, even in the moment when it is printed, economically completely irrelevant.

F.S.

So if you were to present this work in another exhibition, there would be a completely different image?

P.V.

Yes, it would look completely different, on the one hand because of stock/chart development, on the other because of the different settings and features of the exhibition space. I consider the possibility of two identical works to be very unlikely. The moment I look into the stock index will usually be the day of the respective exhibition opening, usually only a few hours in advance – because of this I chose this simple form of representation: Laserprints on reprographhic paper, quickly checked, quickly printed, quickly hung. Despite the fact that the stock market may look different every second, the status quo you see on the wall is virtually frozen on that second.

F.S.

Alongside all works relating to money you are also dealing with the topic of religion which might become visible in another work in this context: For the work “Dido“ you picked a moment from Greek and Roman mythology. What is this work about and what is the relation between money and religion?

P.V.

Dido was a phoenician princess who landed on the African shore and tried to buy some land from the Berber king Jarbas to fund a settlement. The king told her she could take the land that fitted “beneath a cowhide“. Dido, resourceful, asked the king if she could therefore take the land that fit within the borders of a cowhide – the king agreed, not realising he was about to be tricked. After that, Dido cut the cowhide into thin stripes and made a very long string from it. With this string she could define a huge amount of land where, according to legend, Carthage was founded. Interesting for me was that the name “buck“ describing the dollar today actually derives from “buckskin“, from a time when people did actually pay with hides. This formed the idea to create an analogy and do the same thing with a Dollar that Dido did, namely cutting it into thin striped to increase its “range“ - despite its length of about 10 meters this attempt is unfortunately absurd and in vain, of course. I think what becomes clear in this work and maybe many of the other works as well is that money has a lot to do with belief. One needs to believe that a piece of paper with a few numbers printed on is worth a certain amount to exchange goods for it. In my opinion, this is a foundation of our monetary system and at the same time a strong similarity to religion.

 
 

Friederike Sigler, art historian and cultural scientist, Academy of Fine Arts, Dresden

 
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