Artists’ fee and budget in one-penny coins laid on gallery floor
Curated by James Green
Exchange Gallery, Penzance, England
Cornwall is known for its history of copper and tin mining, while Newlyn is famous for its nineteenth-century copper industry. The principal use of copper is as a conduit for water, electricity and telecommunications. This gallery was once a telephone exchange.
Today’s one-penny coin was initially minted in 1971 from bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. It is the lowest denomination of currency in the UK, barely worth picking up. World copper prices rose, making the ‘use value’ of the metal greater than the exchange value of the coin. By 1992 the penny was worth less than its weight in copper, and the Royal Mint substituted copper-plated steel for the bronze, thus debasing the coin.
We asked for our artists’ fee and production budget to be delivered to the gallery in one-penny coins. With a team of helpers, we arranged the coins by hand – heads or tails upward as they came – to cover the gallery floor. The labour of laying the coins did not transformed their material properties. After the exhibition they were returned into circulation.
Though the multitude of coins does not represent anything, it may resemble many things. The installation can be viewed as a vast puzzle, but one in which all the pieces are the same. The ‘picture’ formed invites reflection on the definition of labour and the paradoxes of the relationship between art, money, and the value of time.
‘The Abolition of Work’ is the title of an anarchist pamphlet by Bob Black, who asserts that ‘work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world’ and advocates the complete transformation of society towards a way of life based on play.