It’s five o’clock in the morning and I’ve just arrived home from work, from the Rickshaw. I opened a beer and I’m cooking some pasta. The subject of my residency here at the United Kingdom is money, money of the Queen as well. I believe this will be the first of a series of texts I will write for the Artist Links website, for the Canal Contemporâneo, and for the website 2pontos during my stay in London.
Last year, I lived in this country with my wife and our respective daughter and son. It wasn’t very easy considering the pound was almost four reais and I didn’t have many opportunities to show the ideas that come out of my head and that I keep on calling art. I worked in the Costa Coffee, an Italian multinational like Starbucks. I learned how to make a cappuccino and lot’s of coffees and earned the minimum salary, calculated by the hour (£5,52/hour). The worst job I’ve ever done in my life, as you may see in this video I did custom for 2pontos at the time:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18lapoE_9Lk and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DeV1vmosls&feature=related
It’s a very boring and long video, just like my job was, but if one has patience, sometimes it is funny. But go ahead. In this job, I read in a very tawdry and famous newspaper, “The Sun”, that 80% of the English wouldn’t notice if one thousand pounds disappeared from their bank accounts. My friend from work told me he would notice. I reminded him he was Italian, and that I, being Brazilian, would notice even more. By the way, no English worked in that coffee shop. This was a little over a year ago. Maybe today the English may notice, after this “global crisis”, the credit crunch. Well, I had that thought in mind. I spent some time in this job, but I ended up firing myself, because I thought I ought to have some time to create and invest in my artistic work. Bullshit, self-excuse to leave a place I couldn’t stand anymore.
So I spent almost six months sending projects that weren’t accepted anywhere in these lands of the Queen. I became indebted. I owed my wife and my mom a lot of money. Money was what I thought about all the time, my children, a 975 pounds rent, etc. In the midst of these ideas for the turned down projects I thought about the news in the paper and wanted to make a flag of England using one thousand pounds. It would be perfect, I would work with money and my logical deduction was this: when I did O Varal [The clothesline] I worked with clothes and people gave me lots of clothes (I wear some of them until today), now I will work with money and earn a lot of money. Simian reasoning, but it was the only intuition I could cling to in that moment of financial fiasco. And in a sense it ended up being true.
Anyway, I thought the idea was visually instigating. I would have to calculate geometrically with existing bills totalizing one thousand pounds the design of the English flag. Not the United Kingdom flag which is more famous, but the flag of England, because Scottish, Irish and Welsh notice the inexistence of a thousand pounds in their bank accounts. To know the relationship between these countries and the flag see this image. This design was done and I felt happy when I managed to adjust the variables: red, white, cross, proportion, 10 and 5 pound bills. But “the” biggest problem remained: the money. An extra one thousand pounds was a lot for me. I would have to obtain 39 £10 bills and 122 £5 bills. I even saw an arts announcement, which the prize was exactly this, but they didn’t see artistic quality in my idea and didn’t select me (hahaha).
Time went by, I did some gigs as a pamphleteer, a course in customer service for unemployed but the debts continued to accumulate. It’s true I went to Brazil three times to participate in five art projects and worked on some projects here to be exhibited there. The problem was the pound wouldn’t allow my payments in real be worth anything. One day Tatiana, my beautiful wife, reminded me of a project that I always thought would be awesome, but that I hadn’t pursued: Rickshaw. We organized ourselves, trained for two days and got started. The Rickshaw is a taxi bicycle that exists here and that was invented in China or Japan. With no fitness it was hard, but there I went through the streets of London, without knowing places and speaking a bad and shy English. By the way, I still speak bad English, but I’m not as shy linguistically, unless when I am in the presence of Guy Brett. I get a little nervous and nothing comes out fluent.
At first it was hard, but there came the day that I got the hang of it and started to earn money, a lot more than in the Costa Coffee or pamphleteering. So I worked to pay out the old debts and not run into new ones. The flag roamed my mind, but an extra one thousand pounds was still a dream for one that owed more than four thousand pounds.
One day I got all of our rent money and 25 pounds more and stuck the bills on the wall with blu-tack to be able to see the flag. I saw. It wasn’t sewed together like I had wished, as so to see front and back, but I could feel it already. How wonderful, and how terrible it was to have to un-do it to pay the rent. I resisted until the last day, but I unglued everything and paid the rent.
It was then that my wife had a brilliant idea: to sell shares of the flag! The shareholders would be people that believe in the project and in my artistic/commercial/financial future. Half of the flag would be made with money from my work in the Rickshaw and the other half with money from the people interested in investing. Whomever desired to invest could donate a 5 or 10 pound bill to be sewed onto the flag. As well as choosing the place in which their bill would stay, the investor, evidently, would receive a stock certificate of the buy.
A great deal! Because when I sell the flag in auction for at least 5 thousand pounds, the investor may trade the share with me for five times the value spent. And in case it is sold for more money, the investor will gain proportionally, that is, if I sell the flag for 10 thousand pounds and he invested £10 then his share will be worth £100.
My wife Tatiana is very intelligent. Therefore this work touches on the two pillars of the English economy: immigrant labor and financial speculation. As they don’t have industries here. Of course it is a lot cheaper to set up an industry in China, in India or in Brazil and pay minimum wage and the social obligations of these countries than those here. So, the service rendering here, carried out by the immigrants, and the selling of money – which, by the way, the English are very competent at – are what mainly move the economy of the Queen’s island. And what a strategic location this island has, half way between Tokyo and New York, according to Tati: “it’s the jug of the world”.
Now everything became easier. I would only need 505 pounds for my share of the flag, which is a little more than half, as I should be the majority shareholder and, this way, could sell the other shares until I complete 495 pounds.
Said and done. The flag was done this way. Before the end of last year I made all the money. The name of the work is Jack Pound Financial Art Project and has 43 investors from ten different countries. They have varied profiles, which go from the dance student Fernando Lopes Silva to the visual artist Cildo Meireles, from the art critic Glória Ferreira to the Rickshaw Rider Botond Laczko-Szentmiklosi from Transylvania. From adult literacy teacher Eunice Silva de Araújo to the Portuguese collector Antônio Branco, all have their share. I took pictures with the investors at the buying moment and each one of us has a copy of the stock certificate to validate the buy. I finished sewing the flag two weeks ago.
Of course, during the process I had other ideas relating to the United Kingdom money, the pound, the strongest money in the world, and my condition in this country. I will talk about them later, in other texts. These ideas are part of the residency I am doing at this moment in England, now sponsored by the British Council and Arts Council England as part of the Artist Links program. These are projects that work with the conception of what this country is in the perspective of those who were not born here, and also take into account one of the things that influence the most this point of view: money as matter. Works related to the City’s geography – like Rickshaw, courier and pamphleteering – and the money earned in them as substance to materialize ideas. A Topografia Suada de Londres [A Sweaty Topography of London] made by a foreigner/immigrant sponsored by the Queen in times of financial crisis. God save the Queen!
PS: it’s already 7:30 pm and today was my first Rickshaw day this year after six months working with art in Brazil. It was a terrible day money wise. I made only 35 pounds in a sunny Saturday. In Saturdays like this, I’ve gotten to 250 pounds. Does the scholarship that “betters” me as an artist “worsen” me as Rickshaw?...
Lourival Cuquinha firstname.lastname@example.org