(This is the second part of a two-part interview. Go read the first!)
NB: One thing I’m really interested about is also the fact that, after creating the Bijlmer Euro, you also want to expand the project to other nations that are involved with the Bijlmer, like Suriname. I was wondering if you were thinking of another type of money exchange that doesn’t involve the physical exchange of bills, to create a more global kind of banking system.
CN: Yeah, totally. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do. Having a semi-digital object that has this weird thing attached. Now telephone company are starting to become banks, right? So people are sending minutes to Suriname, to their relatives. When sending money via something like Western Union, you get a little percentage cut. When you send 100, the person on the other end gets 97. There is no taxing paid to governments on telephone minutes. It’s a big growth area, but also the possibility for a diasporic banking system. I’d like to become a bank.
There are 20 different nationalities living in this kind of post-colonial context, and those communities have really strong connections. There are family members, but there are also business relationships. There is a real possibility to have a whole socialist banking, a diasporic banking system. In terms of monetary value, they are much higher than global aid, and that has such a profound effect on how the world will develop. So I think developing a system that either cuts a lower percentage or is totally free, depending on what kind of model we go for, it could be super powerful. We can essentially put Western Union out of business. It’s possible, I mean.
There’s a really interesting change happening in banks. People talk about micro-finance, something that really helps a local area. Like the Bijlmer Euro, but there is no global transaction. Because a place like the Bijlmer, geographically, has routes to so many different places. If you really try to map the Bijlmer, it looks like an octopus, with lots of fingers. We should try and find a way to present it as a strength, and not a weakness. Here in Holland there is a lot of discourse, you know, about foreigners, and people are coming and seeing that kind of global context as a real strength, and I think it’s really powerful. The Bijlmer is normally seen as the Dutch Bronx, but I like to see it as the Dutch Nasdaq, which is a different, more complex identity for the neighborhood.
NB: I was thinking about the traceability of the Bijlmer Euro transactions, which is in contrast with the kind of obscure finance that people see as something hidden and incomprehensible.
CN: I want to make it tangible, physic. I’m not trying to trace people, I’m trying to track the money. The institutions track people and I think that’s much more dangerous.
NB: I also wanted to ask you about the messages on the bills. This is more like an inheritance of your old projects, a personal reflex, or were you thinking of something different? Like empowering the exchange, for example…
CN: It’s meant to be quite strange. I quite like the oddness of it. I think money is a really strange object and I like people to think about their relationship to it. But it also made me think that in China, for example, they write messages on banknotes sometimes, because it’s a way to send a message around. Or in Iran, during the Green revolution, people have been sending messages on banknotes. Money has such a power in carrying other messages. It can be personal, it can be political, it can be whatever. It made me think a little bit about this communication medium, which it is. Money is all about relations and the idea of this kind of messages I think is really interesting.
NB: Another thing you probably have a lot to say about: the role of the artist. Of course, your art practice is unconventional – the practice that you do, not so much because of the technology, but mostly because of the social involvement with the community. Do you think it’s particularly meaningful today, when art is being used as an artificial rhetoric to boost creative cities like Amsterdam, and eventually create more social polarization? The Bijlmer would for example be at the outskirts of this phenomenon. What do you think about the artist in the actual global setting of politics of cultural rhetorics?
CN: It’s a complex question. Culture is being used to regenerate and gentrify areas, the whole kind of Richard Florida idea, but fundamentally culture is made by people. I find the way that the government is talking about culture is very interesting. They think of something like a liquid that you can move around, but culture is something made by people, which can’t be repositioned as you like. You don’t put an X amount of funding and get an X amount of culture out…
I always thought art education is a useful thing for people, but once they’ve come through the education they should live it behind them. I’m trying to think about how to get economic funding, different sorts of money. The problem with the art funding is that they’re very interested in the initial publicity, but after that they cannot support it and make it really work.
NB: How do you circumvent this?
CN: I’m trying to work with different organizations. Charities, for example. They have a much longer view of these things – going for long-term, with a particular agenda. They have 300.000 volunteers across the UK, so they have a kind of grassroot and a policy of engagement that an art organization would never have. Finding different organizations to work with is where the challenge is.
But my kind of method goes counter to their way of doing things. A lot of charities still talk about behavior change, and for art that’s a very difficult term to even engage with. There’s a still a frustrating negotiation when you work with different organizations, even when you may have a sort of emotional connection with them. Their way of how do you change the world is very different. Maybe the strongest vehicle of art is the method, making those methods, and engaging with them socially.
NB: Yeah, I think art is being more and more about interfaces for people to use. I think this is a very evolved type of art practice, very interesting. Let’s talk about the feedback that you had from the shopkeepers. You said they actually check the visualization. Did they report any increase of sale and diversity in their customers?
CN: Some have, some haven’t. I think it’s a difficult thing. Some have obviously benefited from it economically, some have been involved but haven’t gotten any benefits. Like the bike shop, their customers come in every six months and of course they are emotionally very involved, but a lot of their customers are actually from the big banks. You know, traveling. For them the project is not so useful, it’s more conceptual. The Turkish restaurant, on the other hand, had more customers, because offering 10% discount on a meal is a very tangible benefit. This is really making me think more of the individual business models that this kind of shops have. It’s been a really interesting thing. I’m an artist of whatever it is, and I never went into the individual business models this shops have. It’s really making me think about it, it’s changing my way of thinking about this kind of generic stores and it’s pulling me into this whole dynamic. I’m learning from them.
Thanks again to Christian Nold for participating in the interview!