Money is a figment of our imagination. Strictly speaking, it serves merely as a medium of exchange to facilitate our everyday transactions. Bearing no intrinsic value nor bound by any tangible assets (such as gold), money need not take physical form in order to exist. It endures purely as information and in turn, governs almost every facet of our daily lives because of the meaning we give it. Consequently, money –or rather, the love of money– is considered to be the root of all evil. If that were the case, what then, could be the root of all money?
At the 11th edition of CreativeMornings Utrecht (22 February 2013), Dutch artist Dadara (Daniel Rozenberg) summed-up his response in a single word: love. As founder and CEO of the Exchanghibition Bank, Dadara has engrossed himself entirely in monetary affairs and is now in the business of turning art into money. By designing and printing one-of-a-kind banknotes of exuberant denominations (millions, billions or zero) and inviting people to exchange them for legal tender at his pop-up bank, the artist-turned-banker is challenging the original construct of money, exploring alternative options in its place. Fascinated by the arbitrary precedence that money has been given by society, Dadara has become expertly obsessed with its inner workings.
“The whole project started from an art perspective,” the CEO said during the morning’s post-lecture interview. “I’ve always been an artist my whole life and I always created things because I felt I had to do it. It’s like total intrinsic motivation. And then, at a certain age you start realizing that the world works in a different way because people don’t do things because they want to do them, but because they earn money. I always compare the world to a giant playground with a parking meter.” Frustrated by this “pay-as-you-play” reality, Dadara was initially anti-money, paying no mind to its worldly significance.
Over time, the artist gradually changed his perception, accepting the fact that money is only a means to an end. “I was anti-money [concerning] the way money functions at the moment,” he confessed. “But when I realized that money is just a means of exchange and it can also take on different forms and different ways of functioning as it does now, that’s when I [realized that] money itself is a neutral tool. It’s just the way it works that I was anti about.”
Indeed, the relationship between art and money is abstract at best. While art is an ideal in itself, it is often forced to come to terms with economic realities (personal or otherwise), particularly during periods of austerity. In response to the Netherlands’ overwhelming budget cuts across the cultural domain, Dadara established the Exchanghibition Bank with the knowledge that governments are no longer willing to support the arts, but do not hesitate to blow billions to bailout banks.
“Another thing that triggered me when I started this project is that art for me is very important [from] a spiritual perspective,” the CEO claimed. “It is very personal. It’s something that touches you. But then you realize that you only read about money on the front page of the newspaper when it’s about big money being made. Like when a Picasso gets sold for 100 million or Cezanne for 250 million, that’s front-page news. Then you wonder, what’s the value of that news apart from financial value?”
Dadara’s monetary exploits come at a time when fundamental changes to the global economy are giving rise to alternative systems of exchange that are based entirely on reciprocity and goodwill. Social ventures such as car sharing, couch surfing and time banking have enabled us to procure services without the explicit need for currency. “Sharing is becoming more important,” the artist said. “Two years ago, there was nothing and now, every other week, there’s a new system. Maybe in a few years that whole system of buying might even change. You don’t go into a shop and buy something, but maybe you buy [an opportunity to] share into things, which means it’s more about doing things together.”
This “emerging economy” has had a profound effect on Dadara’s anti-money views, specifically in terms of how money is perceived. With the intention of exhibiting the Exchanghibition Bank at the Burning Man festival in 2011, the artist-cum-bank director launched a crowdfunding campaign in order to raise the capital needed for the bank’s transportation. Since logistics companies did not accept his millions, Dadara had to rely on the generosity of other people.
“That was the first time I realized that money, indeed, can be love,” he said. “Because people would donate money, but every time they would [do so] –it didn’t even matter if it was 2 bucks or 150 bucks– they would write an e-mail afterwards saying, ‘we really love what you’re doing’, ‘this is so cool’, ‘the world needs this so we’re going to support it’. So the money was not just money; it was a gift, it was a reward, it was a token of appreciation. Maybe I didn’t realize it then, but it was love.”
Enlightened by this experience, Dadara currently produces and circulates an original banknote with no designated value, only Love. The artist is convinced that by adding Love to our daily transactions, we can ultimately change the world. In doing so, money is no longer just a medium of exchange or a means to acquire more wealth; it now serves as an agent of positive change in the world, no matter how small the transaction. After all, money is only as valuable as the meaning we give it, while Love, on the hand, is priceless. ✌
☞ For more information on Dadara, The Exchanghibition Bank, CreativeMornings Utrecht and CreativeMornings™, visit the websites listed below: