An interview given in the occasion of my residency for transmediale, mentioning also the Drachma Project, published in the weekly magazine Athinorama (an equivalent of Timeout or Zitty).
On Monday the 24th of October the German artist Olav Westphalen hung a large print of his work “Drawing Of My Last Deutsch Mark Coin”, drawn in 2000, shortly after the Deutsche Mark was phased out, across the gate of the Athens Polytechnic University on Patission Street. Westphalen was invited by the Drachma Project in Athens, which also proposed the location. The drawing should be still there available for viewing.
The display of the drawing of the 1 DM coin in such a politically loaded location, the site of the students uprising against the colonels in 1973, has multiple connotations in the context of the current economic crisis that has devastated Athens. The dependency of Greece on foreign, particularly German, financial support comes at a high pice in terms of the political sovereignty of the country and also of the well-being of its people. Monetary and fiscal policy lie in the centre of public discourse and government policies, substituting political considerations of national independence, social justice, even democracy with the imperatives of economic policy. The importance of the monetary system becomes apparent, being both the cause but also the solution for many of the troubles that the greek society is facing. With the euro, comes austerity (and corruption), without it probably, chaos and poverty. The question of course remains how to divide the costs of the restructuring of the greek economy and how to wage the negotiations democratically. The Westphalen’s drawing could also be seen a price tag for the Polytechnic School, a further reminder of the privatization of higher education and the debate around cuts, student’s unionism and the independence of the public university in Athens. Is this drawing just another reminder of the crisis in greece and its european (maybe even German flavor). Obviously so. A gesture of protest against the brutal and impoverishment of the greek society. Of course. But it also a beautiful piece of art, subtle but radiant in its whiteness, that can dissolve (if only momentarily) by its uncanny presence among political posters, slogans, and people rushing by, the drama of the financial crisis and shift the perspective from the grim reality of the economic crisis to the imaginary constitution of money.
The Symposium “Drachma; Iconography and Symbolic Value” took place at the Historical Archive of the National Bank of Greece on Tuesday the 5th of April 2011. The presentations and the discussion were, we think, very exciting and gave a further push to the project! All the presentations will be translated and published in a special issue of the re-public.gr
Drachma Project Call for Papers to be Published on re-public.gr
INAUGURATION OF THE DRACHMA PROJECT ON THE 30TH OF OCTOBER
Dear friends we would like to invite you to the first public presentation of our ongoing research on the Drachma, on the occasion of the MarathonMarathon Project, this Sunday the 31st of October at the Acropolis Museum, in Athens at 16:00. The Drachma Project is a research initiative, involving artists and theorists across disciplines, with an interest in the Greek economic reality and the Greek currency as a symptom of this reality. We are interested in the Drachma not so much as a means of exchange, the Drachma has been replaced by the Euro already for a decade, but more as a symbol of economic value and political power. We believe that these issues are expressed concretely in the imagery of the currency. Ultimately, value is to be judged in terms of the divide between its ‘natural’ image, maybe gold is such an image, and the fate of its ‘artificial’ representation.
Our project reflects on how identity, community and value is articulate and represented in currency, and how these social coordinates play out in a network of economic cohesion. The history of the drachma, is intricately connected with the establishment and the development of the state of Greece, shaped by the struggle of liberation from Turkey, the hope for self-determination, but also from the heritage of the classical Greek civilization. Our aim is to trace the process of national identity building from the viewpoint provided through the representations in the currency. These representations yield an opportunity to reflect on the Greek construction of classical antiquity as well as the celebrated allegiance to direct democracy. Furthermore, we would like to consider how issues like history, territoriality and nationality are negotiated and how these elements are related with economy and value. Finally, we would like to speculate on how all these elements would play out if a new currency would be issued today and to suggest an alternative design for the principle of currency, informed by the Greek cultural tradition of autonomy. This is not so much a proposition of an alternative currency, say to the Euro, but rather a conceptual and operative production in the context of the Greek reality of social antagonism and financial collapse, anticipating the unavoidable failures of the financial architecture.
In order to understand the iconography of currencies, we should interrogate how this iconography can support the circulation of money and more generally how the representations of monetary value are anchored to the individual and to the collective psyche. There is the necessity that money should signal its affinity to legitimate power and this rapport with power is the foundation of its value and its purchasing power. One can recognize the condensation of value in the markings on notes and coins, and can analyze the metonymic effects of the symbolisms of power that are omnipresent in money. It is no surprise that money is engraved with the most potent and omnipresent symbols of power; the head of the sovereign, the most prominent national symbols and personalities, the geographical area of the state. Alongside such emblems of state sovereignty we often find religious symbols. Such symbols aim to combine secular with religious associations, trying to elevate the profanity of money to a different more sacred plateau. They relate with and manifest the religious character of value, where mystification and fetishism are supporting the ritual of exchange and accumulation.
A different, somehow derived, but nonetheless important, dimension of the iconography of currency is that the constitution of a uniform standard of abstract value creates a unified system of exchange and in consequence an economic community. Monetary union signals and at the same time contributes to the emergence of a political community. This economic constitution of political community is not organized on the basis of a single market, but rather on the sovereign right to enact laws and issue currency that creates a homogenous economic area. In that sense it is important for the common currency to communicate not only the power that supports (and sanctions) it but also the homogeneity of the community in the name of which money is issued and used. Money employs representations of national culture and achievement in order to fulfill this integrating function and to signal the necessary cultural cohesion both internally and externally. These representations are the targets for our critical practices and for our theoretical interrogations.