Justine Smith: Money as a critical raw material

Adriana Herrera, El Nuevo Herald

The exhibition Rise and Fall: Illusions and Delusions of the English artist Justine Smith, Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, is an example of a minimalist installation, beautiful in aesthetic and conceptually strong. It falls within this aspect of contemporary art that explores the use of paper money as feedstock. An object found that – unlike what is usually done with other types of objects that lose their original meaning decontextualized – retains its socio-economic connotations, and may serve as a critical mirror of particular geopolitical circumstances.

If in the case of painting printed 200 One Dollar Bills (1962) by Andy Warhol, had more of a pop delight which praised the iconography of the most powerful market, the 70s gave way – especially in Latin America – a tradition that entered the chart is money works loaded with political implications.Just think of the now legendary lithographs and Zero Dollar and Zero Cruzeiro of Cildo Meireles, made during the military dictatorship which then ruled Brazil and, with his imitation of a zero value ticket, tried to produce an object that would cause a change in rules of ownership and circulation. So notorious is the number of works that use paper money as a substrate in contemporary art in the last Triennial Poligráfica of Puerto Rico was an entire section entitled Dinero marginal containing works by artists like Nicolas Robbio, Matthew Lopez, Miguel Angel Rojas, Roberto Matos and Maximo Gonzalez. More significantly than curious, Warning “Monument, a carefully constructed world map by the latter notes that reflect the dynamics of disintegration, which was awarded in Mexico for Zona Maco 2010, bears a striking similarity with the work of Justine Smith A BiggerBang, mostly because while one works in Mexico, the other lives in London and not known. But the perception of the grim global economic situation is common.

The contribution of tree sculptures Justine Smith – who also has done conceptual building the text “Love” with coins, or  “firearms” making dollar bills – is to create pieces that rub the ornamental beauty, but reflect the complex interplay of forces between dominant economic systems in the twentieth century. The irony surrounding the uses of “god money”, the most powerful symbol of power and value systems.

“My work” – says the artist – “seeks to explore the money as a conduit of power and its ability to impact the political, economic and moral sense. In this exhibition the work is related to the current global economic crisis, the belief in a ‘perpetual growth’, and the changing balance of power is shifting from U.S. hegemony and Western ideology, the rise of China, the paradoxical capitalist-communist power now has the second largest economy in the world.” Smith built two bronze trees very different from each other, which gave notice in the gallery opposite corners of the gallery but are considered one inseparable piece. The empty space that mediates between the two sets a meditative transit the viewer has to go and fill it with open interpretations. The eye is carried away by the labyrinthine forest fund, built by the reflection of the cherry tree made of bronze covered with silver paper and multiplied in an octagonal mirror game. The perennial symbol of the tree plus the buttons in bloom that speak of spring abundance and are made with Chinese banknotes. But, as stated by the artist, the seductive visual multiplication of the tree also contains a picture of “sterile isolation”. The tree is located in green but winter which refers to the desolation of the Earth produced by the Western fantasy – also rooted in China – to have as much money as if it grew on trees. Razer land for economic growth produces an abundance that is ultimately fatal. “All our wealth and resources ultimately come from the earth, the ecosystem that sustains us,” said Smith.

The other tree represents the autumn weather. The fallen leaves on the ground are dollars that fall between a group of fungi covered with gold foil. With poignant optimism, Bernice Steinbaum says he sees in this picture the promise of a resurgence after the economic collapse of capitalism. The sculpture would have required additional work to increase lighting contrast between the bare branches of fantasy and fungi. In some ways, functions as an allegory key theater of the moment. Beyond the cyclical intention symbol associated with dying trees and green again, the use of money as a medium can have on viewers that run through the installation of a type of reflection in which the rise and the economic collapse not seen as stages natural, but as a product of much less invisible hands, more decks of the golden patina of wealth, of what we have learned to perceive. Paper money is not neutral or innocent: it reminds us that there is responsible for financial decisions that mark the cycles in the lives of vast populations of people.