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Image Austin Houldsworth

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Image Austin Houldsworth

In 1948, behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner published Walden Two, a utopian novel set in an experimental community of about one thousand people who all live, eat and raise their family in common.

The functioning of the Walden Two community is guided by behaviorist principles, and its members are conditioned to be productive, creative and happy. If there is evidence that a new social practice (not saying "thank you", for example) will make people happier, it is implemented and its consequences are monitored.

There is no real governing body but members subscribe to the Walden Code of self-control techniques. Community counselors supervise behaviour and provide assistance to members who experience problems in following the Walden Code.

In Walden Two, people work for maximum four hours, they don't receive any salary but then nothing at Walden Two costs money*.

Austin Houldsworth imagined a monetary system within the cultural context of Walden Two. The payment system would challenge the established monetary function of 'a store of value', creating a new method of exchange that encourages people to actively destroy their money during a transaction. The process positively reinforces the behavior through the creation of music produced from the burning of money inside a transaction machine that doubles as a pipe organ.

Walden coins are made from potassium nitrate and sugar to produce smoke.


A Walden Note transaction

Austin was showing the Walden Note money project at the Work In Progress show of the design school of the Royal College of Art a couple of weeks ago. I knew about Skinner but had no idea he had written a utopian novel and was intrigued by the designer's intervention in the novel (destroy your money during the transaction?!?) So i had a little Q&A with him:

Hi Austin! Walden Note money is a monetary system designed within the cultural context of Walden Two, an utopian novel written by behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner. How did you apply the utopian novel to a monetary system?

Whilst reading the novel, I asked myself the question; how would money function within this society? What would it look like? My initial ideas were depressingly similar to monetary systems in use today, echoing the established system that I've used throughout my life. To overcome my natural tendency to design within the world I know, I decided to accept Skinners proposed utopia as a real place and accept that his behaviour modification techniques could create selfless individuals - and increase co-operation rather than competition.

Imagining a society made-up from selfless individuals means the traditional functions of money might start to change. For example; why would a long-term store of value be need if no one desires more than what is required? Who would create this money? Would security features be necessary if people were trustworthy, or could money be used as a way to measure the stability of the society?

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Image Austin Houldsworth

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Image Austin Houldsworth

What is a transaction like and why would people accept to destroy money?

During every transaction the seller is obliged to aid the buyer in the destruction of their money equal to the cost of the service or object he/she is purchasing. Through the destruction of money, musical notes are created which are linked to the coins denomination. For example a C is 1 Walden-note, a D is 2, an E is 3 and so on; these notes have two main functions. Firstly the pleasant sounds created help to positively reinforce this behaviour and secondly the burning money communicates the economic state of the society to the 'managers and planners'.

Regarding the creation of the money; every individual within Walden has the right to create money. The planners within the society give guidelines of an average workers pay, but the responsibility of how much was earnt lay with the worker.

The work is about the future, yet the prototype doesn't have the typical futuristic sleek aesthetics. In fact (and please don't get offended) it looks a bit rustic. Why this choice? Does it hint that people will be able to DIY their own?

I suppose the work has been created within a paleofuture, as Skinner wrote the novel in 1948. So I see this monetary system as simply one of a million alternatives rather than a single vision. Regarding the aesthetics; the people within Walden Two were encouraged to live a relatively simple rural life but also a life full of experimentation, encouraged to create new objects which may lead to a better society. So that's where the DIY look comes in; each person creates their own individual music creating money incinerator.


Now how does this wooden structure work exactly?

It works in a similar way to a pipe organ; but rather than air, smoke is used to produce the notes within the wooden pipes. Walden money is made from potassium nitrate and sugar coins; the money to be burned is sealed in the machine by the seller and then ignited via a fuse wire. As the mixture burns the smoke can only escape from the pipes and the Walden 'notes' are created.

This project is part of a 3-year research investigation into counter-fictional design. What is counter-fictional design?
Why do you think it is a good vehicle to investigate alternative monetary payment systems?

Counter-fictional design is a term I use to communicate the method that I'm developing within my research project. It borrows aspects from 'Counterfactual' history; which was originally used as a form of historiography in an attempt to determine the significance of historical events by proposing 'what if' scenarios. This method has recently been employed by designers to imagine how ideologies of different timelines, might alter the cultural constraints surrounding design.

Although counterfactual history offers the creative mind freedom, (which would otherwise be difficult to achieve), its' scope is still limited to historical events. Therefore I started to develop a method that moves beyond designing 'alternative histories', to designing within 'alternative worlds.' By using a design methodology I call Counter-fictional design; which uses past social science fiction novels as a framework to design radically different socially dependent technologies. This Counter-fictional methodology aims to both highlight the importance of the impact of fiction upon the real world, and also offer a new playground for designers to imagine radically different systems.

What is next in your exploration of alternative monetary payment systems?

Fortunately there are no shortage of social science fictions that are absent of monetary systems. The next alternative payment systems will be designed within the context of Aldous Huxleys' 'Brave New World.' During this research my aim is to create at least ten monetary payment systems within a broad array of utopian / dystopian novels.

Thanks Austin!

Previously: Crime Pays, Austin Houldsworth's exploration of an entirely cashless society.
*I stole bits of the summary from Sparknotes.

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Last week i went to the London School of Economics for the LSE Sociology Forum: Bitcoin, alternative currencies reloaded, a panel dedicated to the decentralized, peer-to-peer currency Bitcoin. Historian Garrick Hileman, sociologist Nigel Dodd and financial activist Brett Scott were sitting around a table to reflect on the question:

Is Bitcoin the new gold? Shaking up online and offline worlds, the online currency Bitcoin has increased its 'value' at immense speed in the last year. Being immune from government interference and private manipulations, it has been celebrated as a new alternative currency by some and condemned as source of unpredictable risk by others.

If, like me, you're not sure you perfectly understand the functioning and meaning of Bitcoin, then head to Brett Scott's blog post How to explain Bitcoin to your grandmother .

Going to that conference was probably the best move i made that week. It was engaging, smart and eye-opening. And thanks to the presentations, i think i might even sound slightly less clueless next time The Boyfriend tells me about his Bitcoin adventures.

Interestingly, the room was packed and when one of the speakers asked who among us owned bitcoins, no one raised their hand. I wondered how (if?) different the discussion would have been like if users of Bitcoin had been in the audience.

Garrick Hileman was the first to take the stage. Hileman is an economic historian at the London School of Economics and he talked succinctly and articulately about the history of alternative currencies and why all of them have failed so far.

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First slide of Garrick Hileman's presentation (Note to self: I should really get a new camera)

Why are we so interested in Bitcoin? An obvious reason is that the Bitcoin price index has gone up 56 times in 2013. Another reason is the mystery of Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonym of the person or persons who published the paper Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System in 2008.

With previous digital currencies, there is a risk of double spend, unless you get the help of the bank. Bitcoin makes it more difficult to replicate your currency and double spend it (all transactions are displayed in a public list. The validity of each new transaction is checked by confirming from the list that the digital currency was not used before.) It is a solution without a third party as it bypasses the banks.

Alternative currencies have a long history. They appear at some point (usually during periods when there is a high level of debt), survive for a short period and then they go away. Hileman identified three ways these currencies die: they die by regulation, by technology or by lack of adoption.

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Freigeld: One Schilling note with demurrage stamps from Wörgl

An example of death by regulation is Freigeld. Freigeld was started by an Austrian town called Wörgl during the Great Depression to kickstart the economy. You basically paid for owning or holding currency which stimulated spending. The experiment was successful but the Austrian National Bank decided to terminate it for some unknown reason on the 1st of September 1933.

The example of death by technology are the merchant tokens used in London and other British towns because of the failure of parliament to provide sufficient small denomination coinage. Merchants were desperate to get more small change for transactions so they started issuing their own. Merchant tokens were long lived: they were widely used in 17th through 19th century
They finally disappeared with the advent of fiat money.

The third type of death is caused by the lack of adoption (or demand). The example is the UK-based barter system LETS. Started in late 1980s-early 90s following UK leaving European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), the LETS still exist but are in steady decline: 350 in 1995, 303 in 2001, 186 in 2005.
Now fully virtual but previously physical currency.

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People queuing to use the world's first real Bitcoin ATM in Vancouver, Canada on October 29, 2013

Now Bitcoin faces many challenges:

Regulatory uncertainty leading to:
- avoidance by traditional financial institutions
- slow adoption of Bitcoin by consumers/merchants. Also Bitcoin has bad PR (stories of buying drugs on Silk Road, etc.)
Switching costs, real and perceived
Convenience trumps anonymity for most consumers.
Bitcoin technical infrastructure (i.e. cost, latency, it takes 10 minutes to update every transaction.)
Hoarding: desirability of Bitcoin as store of value works against use as a medium of exchange. The increasingly high value of bitcoin makes it less likely that you will spend it to buy pizzas.

But it also has many strengths:

Merchants and consumers both benefit from a change to the status quo. Makes for powerful allies.
The financial system is expensive and inefficient. The fees are high and money transfers are slow and cumbersome.
It may prove difficult for regulators to ban Bitcoin.
Bitcoin innovations go beyond currency's role as a medium of exchange/store of value
Silicon Valley investment and track record in changing behavior and driving technology adoption on a large scale (think of Twitter.)

Check out this video of another of Hileman's presentations
Bitcoin 2013 conference - Garrick Hileman - History and Prospects for Alternative Currencies where he explain all the above with more details and draws interesting parallels between Bitcoin and the Brixton pounds.

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The next speaker was financial activist Brett Scott. He is the author of The Heretic's Guide to Global Finance. Hacking the Future of Money (available on amazon USA and UK) and he's been exploring alternative financial communities, a section of which is alternative currency for a number of years now. You can buy his book with a number of alternative currencies. He's sold 30 copies with bitcoins so far.

Scott reiterated that the figure of Satoshi Nakamoto is indeed important as its mythical character creates an emotional bond with the currency. Which is probably the reason behind the existence of the dogecoin.

The problem of Bitcoin is that the public doesn't understand it. Experts explain it in reference to itself, instead of in relation and contrast to 'ordinary' currencies.

Another important point Scott brought about is that Bitcoin is not as apolitical, neutral and liberal as it is claimed to be. Society is neither apolitical nor neutral so how could Bitcoin be that paragon of liberality? He illustrated the comment with his experience of the Bitcoin Expo where there was a massive gender imbalance. The conference was 90 to 95% male. His talk at the conference was therefore about Bitcoin and gender.

The topic of gender-imbalance reappeared later in the Q&A. Is there something inherently male about Bitcoin that attracts males? Or is there something about Bitcoin that repels women? You can read more about the topic in Scott's blog post Crypto-patriarchy: the problem of Bitcoin's male domination.

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Bitcoins are accepted in stadscafé De Waag in Delft as of 2013. Photo by Targaryen

The last speaker was Nigel Dodd, an Associate Professor in Sociology at LSE. His new book, The Social Life of Money, will be published by Princeton University Press this year. The main purpose of the book is to reformulate the sociological theory of money in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, focusing on the question of how money can be wrested from the domination of banks and the mismanagement of states and restored to its fundamental position as the 'claim upon society' that Simmel once described in The Philosophy of Money.

Dodd started by stating that he is favour of monetary liberalism and that consequently he is in principle pro-Bitcoin. Except that he thinks that something is weird behind the philosophy of Bitcoin. Bitcoin is sexy but it is also misleading. He added (in reference to one of Garrick Hileman's last points) that if Silicon Valley is involved, it gets even sniffier.

From here my notes are getting a bit messier as this guy thinks and talk brilliantly but also very fast.

We need to see Bitcoin in the context of other monetary systems. There are 72 to 73 other digital currencies so there is a lot going on besides Bitcoin.

The monetary theory is another problem. For all its radical aura, Bitcoin rests on a backward monetary theory. It actually has a lot in common with the politics of austerity that regard money as a 'thing', a commodity. That's something that Bitcoin celebrates too, whether or not it realizes it. There is a limit in the number of Bitcoin that can be generated. Just like there is a limit with gold. Also it's mathematically possible for Bitcoin to be controlled by one computer and because of that it is similar to money.

So what makes Bitcoin different? Usually institutions protect money as if it were a commodity. Bitcoin does the same except that it does away with the intermediary. What makes Bitcoin attractive is that it's managed by a bunch of machines. However, that there are always humans behind the machines.

Money as a claim upon society/social life. All currencies interpret this claim in their own way, whether we're talking about time, gift giving, trust, etc. The claim of Bitcoin is technology of mistrust, you don't need trust with Bitcoin: machine do all the job. But again, there isn't a machine that operate without humans.

According to Dodd, every currency fulfills a different social need but which one Bitcoin fulfills is still unclear.

For Dodd, money is a process, not a 'thing' and Bitcoin is the only currency that doesn't acknowledges money as a process. It's the least sociological form of money we have.

An interesting question that emerged during the Q&A was the possibility to make Bitcoin taxable. Dodd explained that for most regulators, the number one financial obligation is tax. If Bitcoin starts to threaten that, it won't simply evade tax but it might also stop the whole machinery of tax.

The Financial Times crowd has long been skeptical of Bitcoin, mostly because the currency is not regulated. Bloomberg even published an article titled Virtual Bitcoin Mining Is a Real-World Environmental Disaster (a theory which is obviously questionable.)

With tax, Bitcoin would receive a certain legitimacy. Business would find that very seducing. Each regulation could actually help Bitcoin. For Hileman, Bitcoin is actually the best challenge we have to the current financial system.

Photo on the homepage by Rick Bowmer.

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Jaime Giménez Arbe, alias "El Solitario"

Nuría Güell graduated from the University of Barcelona with a degree in Fine Art and continued her studies under Tania Bruguera at the Behaviour Art School in Havana, Cuba. Güell has won several awards in Spain and her work has been exhibited in biennials, museums and galleries across the world. What makes her work particularly thought-provoking and relevant today is that she is an artist who doesn't just stop at commenting on social injustice and unethical practices. Instead, she immerses herself into the mechanisms responsible for them and then turns them upside down in order to develop projects and alternative models that will foster a critical understanding and independent thinking of the public.

In 2009, the artist wanted to understand the ongoing recession and started studying monetary politics. The result of her research is the manual How to Expropriate Money from the Banks. It's a guide packed with strategies, legal consultation and analytical texts that people can download for free and apply to their own life.

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More recently, she worked with Jaime Giménez Arbe, a famous Spanish anarchist and bank robber known as El Solitario ("The Loner") and convinced him to design the plan to rob a bank from the high security prison where he was detained. She sold the first chapter through an auction house and gave the money obtained to El Solitario.

For Deterrence, she teamed up with Enric Duran (an activist who, in 2008, cheated the banks out of 498.000 Euros he then used to finance projects that offered socially-conscious alternatives to capitalism) to teach high school students about the current financial system. That's the kind of knowledge we are all in dire need of. Yet, the concept of money and what it entails is not part of any school curriculum (at least any that i know of.)

In Intervention # 1 the artist established a cooperative and used it to hire a construction worker who had lost his job and been evicted from his house. The objective of the contract was to remove the entrance doors to empty buildings that Caja Mediterráneo (CAM) had acquired at auction after evicting families who lived there. The contract signed through a legal entity ensured the impunity of the worker. Banks use a similar strategy to circumvent the Ley de Enjuiciamiento Civil (Civil Indictment Act) with impunity and purchase evicted properties for half of their valuation.

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Intervention #1, Jaula de Oro, Alicante 2012

I could go on and on but check out her website if you're curious about her projects. In the meantime, I'm very happy that Nuría has accepted to answer my questions for the blog. If you want to read her answers in spanish, i copy/pasted her original answers at the bottom of the post.

I'm amazed by all the information provided for the project Displaced Legal Application #1: Fractional Reserve: videos, conference, a detailed PDF on "How can we expropriate money to banks?", etc. Are there lessons in this project that a citizen apply easily in their every day life?

Yes! This was the objective of ​​the work which, in addition to functioning as a potential exercise for thinking, also functions as a resource for citizens to use. I want all my projects to propose a strategy that can be replicated. Sometimes it is implicit through the process of the work but in this case, being a manual, the idea that this is a resource for citizens is more explicit. There is a chapter entitled Step by Step, which details all the steps necessary for any citizen to expropriate banks. And if anyone has any questions, they can always write us, they won't be the first to do so and we will be happy to advise them.

Check out the PDF: How to expropriate money from the banks.

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Ayuda humanitaria / Humanitarian help, 2009. Photo via art21

I actually learnt a lot while watching the videos on the project page. I learnt things that should be basic: what is money, how does a bank generate money, etc. So i would say that your work has had an impact on my own life. But more generally, what do you think is the role of an artist working on socially-engaged projects? Can they really have an influence on the issues they denounce/engage with?

I believe that we are at a critical moment, both historically and socio-politically, and that the role of the artist and the art should thus measure up to the situation, without being condescending. That's why I want my projects to work on two levels: within the art context but also outside of it, since the transformation through art projects into something real interests me far more than the mere representation. My goal is that they function not only as resources for citizens but also as potential devices for thinking through the conceptual density. I'm not interested in representing political ideas but in offering opportunities for thinking and resources through the action, that can truly counter political systems (albeit on a micro level) or generate a counterweight.

The roles of art and the artist can be many, but for me, at this time of urgency, I think that political art is the one that holds a discursive struggle that manages to subvert the hegemonic discourse that subjects and oppresses us. Hence my interest in projects that have a life outside the art context, as I want to reach other segments of the population and not only the elite who visits art institutions.

The concept of operativity is important to me when working on projects that have a social dimension. And by that I do not mean operativity in the art project itself but an operativity that transcends art and the project and that it is effective for people who engaged with the work.

Yes, I think you can exert a real influence or transformation through art. I know of people who are expropriating banks by following the manual, my Cuban husband got his nationality by marrying me as a result of an art project (and we're getting divorced!) and María, a political refugee from Kosovo who has been living illegally in Sweden for 9 years because the government has denied her asylum twice, will receive a work permit in a month thanks to a contract we did through a museum that hired her to play hide and seek with the visitors of the Göteborg biennial.

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Too Much Melanin, Sweden, 2013. Image a-desk.com

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Poster for Too Much Melanin, Sweden, 2013

Also does the fact that you are an artist helps your projects? Because on the one hand, being an artist gives you certain liberties and ensures that you will reach a certain type of audience. On the other hand, the fact that you are 'labelled' as an artist might make you seem less serious, some people might dismiss some of your work because they are actually 'only' art projects.

Right. This is another feature of art that I use for projects: Autonomy. As we all know, throughout history, art has attempted to break free from the powers -religion, monarchy and politics- that wanted to use it for their own purposes. But as you say, this achieved autonomy makes art a more permissive space with the consequence that some people, as soon as they learn that it is an artistic project, refuse to consider it as a possible force that can have transformative effects on reality. What interests me is to instrumentalize this autonomy in favor of achieving the objectives of the projects. I call it using art as umbrella, in the sense of a 'space of protection'. And I use it strategically to carry out certain alegalities which work for me as a significant resource. Somehow, I think there is also a less conscious desire to test the boundaries of art, if there's any such thing.

For now, apart from a death threat, I never had any problems, although I am aware that there is a legal risk in all my projects and perhaps at some point the protection that art gives us with won't be enough anymore.

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Jaime Giménez Arbe making mocking face at the police photos

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Wanted

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Displaced Moral Application # 1: Exponential Growth, 2010-2012 (photo Roberto Ruiz)

If i understood correctly Jaime Giménez Arbe was in a high security prison when you got in touch with him. How easy/difficult was it to communicate with him? Did you manage to actually meet him or did the whole project take place via letters? Phone or email conversations?

Yes, the fact that Jaime is locked in a high security prison has made the whole process of the project more complex, because many of the letters are intercepted by the guards. At first we communicated well through letters but at some point they cut our exchanges. The police put me on the blacklist and the letters that Jaime was sending me never arrived. Part of the information could get out of the jail with the help of the lawyer who visited Jaime, and the other part of the robbery plan was hidden within the letters that Jaime was sending to his family who later had it sent to me. Communicating via e-mail is impossible since prisoners are kept incommunicado and without access to the internet. After more than two years of correspondence, he was sometimes authorized to talk to me on the phone. Although it was always for a brief moment as they cut the call right away.

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Drawing with the instructions to build a thermic lance included in the plan

For your project, "El Solitario" wrote a book to describe various strategies to rob a bank. How could such a document get out of the prison? I always imagined there would censorship and that communicating such texts would be illegal in prison. Does the fact that this is an art project gave him more license?

In this case not even art could justify the content.

Something we had in our favor was that Jaime was writing in Spanish and Portuguese while prison guards were Portuguese wardens and therefore could not fully understand the contents of the letters and i was receiving most of the controversial information until they put me on the black list and our communication channels were cut.

For another project I've done with political prisoners in Spain it was indeed through "art" that we managed to get information about the systematic institutional torture to which prisoners living under the F.I.E.S.1 regime (Special tracking inmates file) are submitted.

Could you give more details about the result of the sale of the first chapter of the book at the auction house? Do you know who bought it and where the text is now?

What interested us the auction is that if someone bought the first chapter, it was because of the symbolic capital that the Spanish state itself and the police have given to Jaime with their criminalization campaigns that labelled him as "public enemy number one." The first chapter was auctioned and the money went to Jaime.

I do not know who bought it, the auction house keeps the anonymity of their buyers.

What do you think were El Solitario's motivations to participate in the art project?

I think Jaime had several motivations. First of all, I think, was the fact that I was already working on the project D. L. A. # 1: Fractional Reserve in collaboration with two anarchists appropriators of banks whom Jaime highly respects, that made him trust me.

On the other hand, there was an ideological affinity. In his letter of response to my proposal, he said he wanted to work on any project that exposes and visualizes banking ethics and the perverse strategies used by financial institutions to generate profits.

And finally, imagine living a life of total isolation and solitary confinement, perhaps having contact with someone from the outside will be like a window of air and light that somehow pierced through the walls of darkness within which he is confined.

Do you see many parallels between financial activity and the art business?

Yes, I see parallels with the art business. In both cases what matters is profitability, and by that I mean the creation of value out of a potential value, a key strategy in the inflation that both banking and speculation in the art business are based on. The objective in both cases is to generate maximum profit, often without regard to cultural, social and / or human values.

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Cardinal testing a Pietro Beretta Ltd's weapon, one of the major arms manufacturing companies in the world, the Vatican Bank (IOR) is its largest shareholder

I'm also very curious about one of your work in progress APLICACIÓN MORAL DESPLAZADA #2: AD PIAS CAUSAS. Can you already tell us what the project will be about?

One day before the "International Day for the cessation of weapons", I stole some hosts from the parish church of my town preventing the Priest to give the Holy sacrament to the parishioners and avoiding the collection of funds for the Holly Roman Apostolic Church. I was interested in commercialising the hosts in the art market.

With the profits from this action my intention is to order an hypothetical practical plan to commit an outrage against the Vatican Bank which is the first investor of one of the major weapons world companies. The aim of the plan is to expropriate the Bank's goods and it will be design using all the weapons that the Bank finances.

The Holly Roman Apostolic Church is the authority symbol by excellence and one of the most influential powers in the world on a political level. Its major wealth is sustained by the commitment of the faithful even thought in a political level this is backed up by all the material wealth of which the Church is the owner. As a result of the two concept of "guilt" and "sin" that have been perpetuated along the centuries, the Church has increased its earnings through the selling of the forgiveness. Throughout its history, the Church has destroyed, slavered and pillaged entire communities with the pretext of the evangelisation, helping Nazi war criminals to find refuge in foreign countries in order to escape international justice, covering sexual abuses among the priest community in the media and funding terrorism from the investments done by their financial institution.

The I.O.R. (Vatican Bank) benefits from the privileges of the Vatican Bank to move money around the world avoiding international laws and working as a tax haven. It is located in the tower of Niccolò V inside the city of the Vatican and it is a bunker that keeps cash money, golden ingots, goods, as well as art works stolen by the Third Reich and offered to the Church. Currently, it is the major shareholder of Pietro Beretta Ltd, one of the major companies producing weapons of the world.

Paradoxically the I.O.R. justifies all its actions under the concept of "ad pías causas", that is to mean by the religious qualities: its compassion and mercy.

Thanks Nuría!

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Answers in Spanish (the last question was answered directly in english):

I'm amazed by all the information provided for the project Displaced Legal Application #1: Fractional Reserve: videos, conference, a detailed PDF on "How can we expropriate money to banks?", etc. Are there lessons in this project that a citizen apply easily in their every day life?

Sí! Esta era la idea de la obra, que además de funcionar como un potencial dispositivo de pensamiento funcione también como recurso para que los ciudadanos lo puedan usar. En todos mis proyectos me interesa que haya una estrategia que sea replicable, a veces está de manera implícita a través de la operación de la obra pero en este caso, al ser un manual, es más explícita la idea del recurso ciudadano. Hay un capítulo titulado Step by Step, que relata todos los pasos para que cualquier ciudadano pueda expropiar bancos. Y si alguien tiene alguna duda, que nos escriba que no será el primero que lo hace y para nosotros será un placer asesorarle.

PDF: Cómo expropiar dinero a entidades bancarias.

I actually learnt a lot while watching the videos on the project page. I learnt things that should be basic: what is money, how does a bank generate money, etc. So i would say that your work has had an impact on my own life. But more generally, what do you think is the role of an artist working on socially-engaged projects? Can they really have an influence on the issues they denounce/engage with? 

Considero que estamos en un momento histórico y socio-político crítico y que por tanto el rol del artista y del arte debe estar a la altura del mismo, sin ser condescendiente. Por eso intento que todos los proyectos funcionen a dos niveles: dentro del contexto arte y fuera del mismo, ya que más que la representación lo que me interesa es la transformación en lo real que se puede llevar a cabo a través de los proyectos artísticos. Mi objetivo es que además de como recursos ciudadanos funcionen como potenciales dispositivos de pensamiento a través de la densidad conceptual. No me interesa representar ideas políticas sino ofrecer posibilidades de pensamiento y recursos a través de la acción, que realmente puedan contrarrestar sistemas políticos (aunque a nivel micro) o generar contrapoder.

El rol del arte y del artista pueden ser muchos, pero para mí, en este momento de urgencia, creo que el arte político es el que lleva a cabo una lucha discursiva que logra subvertir el discurso hegemónico que nos sujeta y oprime. De aquí mi interés en que los proyectos también vivan fuera del contexto artístico, ya que me interesa llegar a otras esferas de la población que no son solo las elites que frecuentan las instituciones artísticas.

El concepto de operatividad para mi es importante en los proyectos de carácter social, pero no me refiero a operatividad dentro del proyecto artístico sino de una operatividad que transcienda al arte y al proyecto y que sea efectiva para las personas qué con el proyecto se han relacionado. Sí creo que se puede ejercer una influencia o transformación real a través del arte. Sé de gente que está expropiando bancos a través de seguir el manual, mi esposo cubano obtuvo su nacionalidad a través de casarnos a raíz de un proyecto artístico (ya nos estamos divorciando!) y María, una refugiada política de Kosovo que lleva 9 años viviendo en Suecia de manera ilegal porque el Gobierno le han denegado el asilo dos veces, en un mes ya tendrá permiso de trabajo en Suecia gracias al contrato que le hicimos a través del museo para que jugara al escondite con los espectadores de la bienal.

Also does the fact that you are an artist helps your projects? Because on the one hand, being an artist gives you certain liberties and ensures that you will reach a certain type of audience. On the other hand, the fact that you are 'labelled' as an artist might make you seem less serious, some people might dismiss some of your work because they are actually 'only' art projects. 

Exacto. Esta es otra de las características del arte que utilizo a favor de los proyectos: La autonomía. Como todos sabemos a lo largo de la Historia el Arte ha tratado de liberarse de los poderes que lo querían usar para sus fines, como fue la religión, la monarquía y la política. Pero como tú bien dices, esta autonomía lograda hace que el arte sea un espacio más permisivo, hasta el punto de que alguna gente al saber que es un proyecto artístico lo desacredita como posible potencia transformadora de efectos en lo real. A mí lo que me interesa es instrumentalizar esta autonomía a favor de lograr los objetivos de los proyectos. Yo lo llamo usar el Arte como paraguas, refiriéndome a un espacio de protección. Y lo uso de manera estratégica para llevar a cabo ciertas alegalidades que me funcionan como recurso significativo. De alguna manera no tan consciente creo que también hay una voluntad de testar lo limites del Arte, si es que tiene.

De momento, más allá de una amenaza de muerte, no he tenido ningún problema, aunque soy consciente que en todos los proyectos hay riesgo a nivel legal y que quizás en algún momento la protección que nos brinda el Arte no sea suficiente.

If i understood correctly Jaime Giménez was in a high security prison when you got in touch with him. How easy/difficult was it to communicate with him? Did you manage to actually meet him or did the whole project take place via letters? Phone or email conversations?

Sí, el hecho de que Jaime esté encerrado en una prisión de alta seguridad ha complejizado todo el proceso del proyecto, ya que muchas de las cartas son interceptadas por los carceleros. Al principio nos comunicábamos bien a través de las cartas pero llegó un momento que nos cortaron la comunicación. La policía me puso en la lista negra y las cartas que Jaime me enviaba a mí nunca me llegaban. Parte de la información la pudimos sacar de la cárcel gracias a la abogada que visitaba a Jaime, y la otra parte del plan de atraco Jaime lo camuflaba dentro de las cartas que él enviaba a su familia y después ellos me las hacían llegar a mí. Comunicarnos vía e-mail es imposible ya que los tienen incomunicados y sin acceso a internet.

Después de más de 2 años de correspondencia, alguna vez le han autorizado permiso para que pudiésemos hablar por teléfono. Aunque siempre ha sido bien breve ya que enseguida cortan la llamada.

For your project, "El Solitario" wrote a book to describe various strategies to rob a bank. How could such a document get out of the prison? I always imagined there would censorship and that communicating such texts would be illegal in prison. Does the fact that this is an art project gave him more license?

En este caso ni el Arte pudo justificar los contenidos.

Algo que teníamos a nuestro favor era que Jaime escribía en español y que los carceleros eran portugueses, por lo tanto no entendían completamente el contenido de las cartas y mucha información controversial me llegó hasta el momento que me pusieron en la lista negra y nos cortaron la comunicación.

En otro proyecto que he realizado con presos políticos en España sí que fue a través del "Arte" que logramos sacar información sobre la tortura institucional sistemática a la que están sometidos los presos FIES1.

Could you give more details about the result of the sale of the first chapter of the book at the auction house? Do you know who bought it and where the text is now?

Lo que nos interesaba de la subasta es que si alguien adquiría el primer capítulo era debido al capital simbólico que el propio Estado español y la policía han otorgado a Jaime con las campañas de criminalización a su persona tachándolo de "enemigo público número uno". El primer capítulo se subastó y el dinero fue para Jaime.
No lo sé, la casa de subastas guarda el anonimato de sus compradores.

What do you think were El Solitario's motivations to participate in the art project?

Creo que la motivación de Jaime fue por diversos motivos. Primero de todo creo que el hecho de que yo ya estuviera realizando el proyecto D. L. A. #1: Fractional Reserve en el que colaboraban dos anarquistas expropiadores de bancos a los que Jaime respeta mucho, a él le dio cierta confianza.

Por otro lado había una afinidad ideológica, en su carta de respuesta a mi proposición me dijo que quería colaborar en cualquier proyecto que denunciara y visibilizara la ética bancaria y las perversas estrategias que usan las entidades financieras para generar beneficios.

Y por último, imagino que viviendo en un régimen de vida de aislamiento total e incomunicación, quizás el hecho de tener contacto por carta con alguien del exterior debe ser como una ventana de aire y luz que de alguna manera agrieta los muros de la oscuridad a la que está condenado.

Do you see many parallels between financial activity and the art business?

Sí, con el negocio del Arte sí veo paralelismos. En los dos casos lo más importante es la rentabilidad, ósea generar valor de un valor potencial, estrategia clave dentro de la inflación en la que se basa la banca y la especulación del negocio artístico. El objetivo en ambos casos es generar los máximos beneficios, en muchas ocasiones sin tener en cuenta valores culturales, sociales y/o humanos.

I'm also very curious about one of your work in progress "APLICACIÓN MORAL DESPLAZADA #2: AD PIAS CAUSAS". Can you already tell us what the project will be about?

One day before the "International Day for the cession of weapons", I stole some hosts from the parish church of my town unabling the Priest to give the Holy sacrament to the parishioners and avoiding the collection of funds for the Holly Roman Apostolic Church. I was interested in commercialising the hosts in the art market.
With the profits from this action my intention is to order an hypothetical practical plan to commit an outrage against the Vatican Bank which is the first investor of one of the major weapons world companies. The aim of the plan is to expropriate the Bank's goods and it will be design using all the weapons that the Bank finances.

The Holly Roman Apostolic Church is the authority symbol by excellence and one of the most influential powers in the world in a political level. Its major wealth is sustained by the commitment of the faithful even thought in a political level this is backed up by all the material wealth of which the Church is the owner. As a
result of the two concept of "guilt" and "sin" that have been perpetuated along the centuries, the Church has increased its earnings through the selling of the forgiveness. Throughout its history, the Church has destroyed, slavered and pillaged entire communities with the pretext of the evangelisation, helping Nazi war criminals to find refuge in foreign countries in order to escape international justice, covering sexual abuses among the priest community in the media and funding terrorism from the investments done by their financial institution.

The I.O.R. (Vatican Bank) benefits from the privileges of the Vatican Bank to move money around the world avoiding international laws and working as a tax haven. It is located in the Torreón of Niccolo V inside the city of the Vatican and it is a bunker that keeps: cash money, golden ingots, goods, as well as art works stolen by
the Third Reich and offered to the Church. Currently, it is the major shareholder of Pietro Beretta Ltd, one of the major companies producing weapons of the world.

Paradoxically the I.O.R. justifies all its actions under the concept of "ad pías causas", that is to mean by the religious qualities: its compassion and mercy.

The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.

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Brett Scott, a campaigner, former broker and a Fellow of the Finance Innovation Lab. Scott is the author of The Heretic's Guide to Global Finance. Hacking the Future of Money published by Pluto Press (and available on amazon USA and UK.) The book "is a friendly guide to taking on the world's most powerful system. It sets up a framework to illuminate the financial sector based on anthropology, gonzo exploration, and the hacker ethos, and helps the reader develop a diverse DIY toolbox to undertake their own adventures in guerilla finance and activist entrepreneurialism."

We'll talk about the book, the bitcoins, Brixton Pound and other radical approaches to global finance of course but also about Scott's plan to start a London-based school of financial activism.

The show will be aired this Wednesday 16th of October at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.

The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.

My guest tomorrow will be Ilona Gaynor and she'll be talking to us about forensic science, police reconstructions and the not so technically sophisticated (but very smart) way to rob a bank in broad day light on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Ilona is a young artist and designer who got the attention of the press - from blogs to the Financial Times- in 2011 for her RCA graduation project Everything Ends in Chaos. The work explored economics, finance, global markets, risk management, insurance and mathematics.

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Downtown Los Angeles, 20x20m Block

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Scale Model, One Wilshire

Over the past 2 years, however, Ilona has been working on Under Black Carpets. The research project is a thorough investigation and planning of the robbery of 5 of the richest banks located in downtown LA. Posing as a LAPD officer, Ilona has researched not only how to 'investigate, intervene and be forceful' but also how to efficiently rob banks.

Ilona Gaynor also runs the design and research practice The Department of No.

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Los Angeles Police Academy. Training ground

The show will be aired this Wednesday 3rd of July at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am (I know...) If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.

The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, is aired tonight.

My guest at Resonance today is Austin Houldsworth, a young designer with whom we are going to discuss money, its physical disappearance and the financial crimes that could be committed within a completely electronic marketplace.

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Austin Houldsworth, Crime Pays

As you might remember from a post i wrote a couple of weeks ago about his project Crime Pays, Austin's research explores the near future possibility of living in an entirely cashless society. Today, card transactions are on the rise and it is also forecast that at some point over the next few years, mobiles will have overtaken cards to pay for goods and services. But it's not just banks who want you to go cashless, governments also want to see the end of coins and bills because a cashless society is easier to trace and control and they see cash as the currency of the black economy. Now the value of the black economy varies from country to country. In Italy, for example, the black economy is thought to be 27pc of GDP and to fight its expansion, the previous government has decided that any transaction of over 1000 euros has to be handled by card exclusively. Similarly, Spain has recently banned the use of cash in transactions of 2,500 euros or more. And the movement is spreading... Although the black market might be less widespread in the UK, the government is still spending 20 to 40 billion per year combating organised crime.

So we're going to talk more in depth about Crime Pays but also spend some time on a competition Austin is curating at the moment. The Future of Money Design Award has a pretty appetizing theme this year: artists and designers were invited to design a crime for the age of electronic transactions.

The show will be aired today Thursday 14st March at 17:30. The repeat is next Tuesday at 6.30 am (yes, a.m!) If you don't live in London, you can catch the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.
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