Interview: THE ART OF MAKING ART… OUT OF MONEY

In the light of our current show ArtHAUS, curator & gallery director Ryan Lanji interviews Michal Ohana Cole & myself about THE ART OF MAKING ART… OUT OF MONEY (see original article here).

While the economic climate fluxuates and money is on everyone’s mind it’s impossible to not notice the use of currency as the medium of artwork amongst today’s young artists.

Cash Can’t Buy LoveNicola AnthonyAmerican Dollars on Archival Paper

During the opening of ArtHAUS at DegreeArt’s Execution Room last week, some of the most controversial pieces were the the creations of artists Nicola Anthony & Mixed Media winner Michal Ohana Cole. Their intricate use of money caused many reactions in spectators throughout the evening. Some were baffled by the use of currency and some where engaged by the creativity that it portrayed.

Michal Ohana Cole & Nicola Anthony’s work in ArtHAUS

“Many people view the use of money as a medium for art as defacing currency; however, think about the average artist who spends hundreds of pounds on their paints and canvas… these two artists are simply using money as their medium, money that would have been spent on the art anways.”

- Ryan Lanji, Gallery Manager

We took a couple of minutes to talk with Nicola Anthony and Michal to see what they thought about their choice in medium:

WHY HAVE YOU CHOSEN TO USE MONEY AS YOUR MEDIUM:

COLE :

I started cutting money after the global economic breakdown in 2008, when everything looked so unstable and bleak. As an artist, it de-shuvveled everything,there was huge uncertainty about the art market too. Relationship around us began to fall apart as the strain of the recession hit hard all of our banker friends, many whom lost their jobs, that made me start thinking about relationship, power and money and the interaction between them.
I started then cutting £50 notes as a contrast to the situation and as a visual metaphor to power.
ANTHONY:
Like a lot of my work, the material itself is often the inspiration from which the concept of the artwork grows. The dollar seemed fitting not only because of all that it symbolizes and represents, but also because of its richly patterned surface, wording, and everyday significance.
The Inspiration for the ‘Ha’ Dollar’ series came last Autumn when I had an exhibition in LA, and returned from the states with a pocket full of crumpled up dollars. I found it curious that with UK currency a ‘note’ is a higher denomination of at least 5 pounds – so a $1 ‘bill’ is respected differently. This coupled with the fact that to me now in London, my handful of dollars was worthless – not in the value it represents, but because I could not exchange it for anything. I began devising a playful artwork that linked into the questions we all have about worth and value, not purely in terms of the economy, but also more subjectively to us as individuals. It made sense to me re-appropriate the dollar as a material.
Another reason I use money is my fascination with the things we see all the time but don’t really notice or truly look at it. I love making my audience re-look at the familiar – could you say what’s drawn on the notes in your wallet?
HOW DO YOU SEE IT AS A FORM OF ARTWORK?
COLE:
Money is a material like any other,after-all its a piece of paper we as a society decided to attach significance to.  I enjoy looking at the money notes in its pure visual sense, it’s beautiful lithography, the colour combination, the composition, and then above it all the significance and its symbolism both in the global sense and on its individual note.
ANTHONY:
I have a real fascination with words, letters, and language, so the text on a dollar is fantastic to play with. Some pieces involve me rearranging slices of dollars so that letters re-arrange to create new meaning, other pieces just fragment the words and become slightly dizzying. Again this entices people to re-view a commonplace object and perhaps read a dollar for the first time ever.
Working with the intricate patterns and imagery is also very interesting. Through me getting close to the surfaces I began to find out more about the significance of the depictions and appreciate the detail my eye would never usually catch. I find myself gazing at money all the time now – I have a stunning Qatari note in my studio.
Dissecting the dollars makes them both abstract and still very recognizable. The linear effect is akin to recent pencil drawings I’ve made, and at the same time the vertical slices could evoke a cityscape or financial graph.
WHAT IS THE RELEVANCE OF MONEY IN YOUR WORK?
COLE:
The relevance of the money is everything and nothing.
Everything: because there is a global significance to its value, to what it represents to the financial power of the artist who can afford to use it as a material. Its is the single most important thing in the world, it seals faiths, life and death,  happiness, relationships, it determents one’s life journey and often-their death.
Nothing- because once I cut it I actually strip it off its value. It is no longer a £50 or $100 note. The only value it posses is as a work of art, it is as though I have taken all its loaded value and stripped it naked, then turned it into something brand new.
ANTHONY:
The use of money in art is well established, and it allows me to link into themes such as worth of art, the reality (or fantasy) of value, art as currency, and what happens to the value of a material once that artists has altered it.
Naturally the state of the economy is on all of our minds in one way or another. I’m not aiming to make any particular intepretations or statements, but I wanted to make an artwork that is very much in tune with our times.
I am interested in the concept that money – something we have been said to ‘worshio as a new religion’, placed our faith in, and naively assumed as a constant – has revealec its fragility and exposed our misplaced trust. That to me gives money a wider symbolic relevance regarding the nature of society, the nature of humans, the things we believe in – and the delicate nature of our trust, faith and belief in these.
HOW IS IT AS A MATERIAL TO WORK WITH?
COLE:
Its a fantastic material to work with, it has a bit of a wax coating feel to it, and while cutting through you sometimes go through the sliver string and stamps, it manipulates very well, and aesthetically it is very beautiful. The only downside is its scale which means all artworks are cut very small , this is where the challenge lies- the delicate cutting of a face or a body in such a small scale is difficult yet it must be 100% accurate.
ANTHONY:
Good fun – I used a scalpel to dissect, and archival glue to reposition. I wnted the overall effect to be very tactile and intricate. I enjoy constructing sculptures and drawings using layers of paper, so it was a very natural material to work with… I am currently creating some sculptural pieces using pennies, which are very different !
WHAT IS YOUR RESPONSE TO ‘IT’S A WASTE OF MONEY’
COLE:
I have seen so many ” bad art” that in my opinion some artists purchasing a canvas really is a waste of money….:))
ANTHONY:
Lots of artists make works with very expensive materials. It is interesting that by using something that represents value, people have more of a reaction to it than by using something that has its own inherent value. It’s more because of what symbolizes to them than what it’s actually worth: a 50 GBP note versus a 50 GBP tube of paint, for example.
It is technically a little bit ‘naughty’ to cut up money – I won’t go into that – but whilst I enjoy ‘Ha’Dollar’s’ ability to playfully bring about this kind of questions, I’m not particularly aiming to be subversive. You only have to lok at Hans-Peter-Feldmann’s $100,000 covered walls or a diamond encrusted skull to see this theme being pushed to its limits.
DO YOU VALUE THE NOTE ITSELF AS CASH OR CURRENCY?
COLE:
Off course! I am very conscious I will lose a bit of money should i cut it in-acuratly. It is a very stressful job to do.
ANTHONY:
Whilst it does question the note’s value, the purpose of ‘Ha’Dollar’ is not necessarily to de-value money, but to allow me and hopefully my audience to get enough distance from our everyday concept of cash to see that it is something that represents a value rather than being inherent.
Thank you ladies for your time, it is brilliant to look deeper into the subject and discuss where the value really is!
Below are more artworks that have utilized money in the past:

Srjdan Loncar, ‘Value’, Installation View

For The Love Of God , 2007, Diamond Encrusted Skull, Damien Hirst

$100,000 Covered Walls, Hans Peter-Feldmann

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About Nicola Anthony

London and Singapore based artist, art writer, sculptor, lecturer. I create sculpture & drawing, write for art journals and magazines, create events & connect people. http://www.NicolaAnthony.co.uk I also co-ordinate the Edible Art Movement. http://www.edibleartmovement.com

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