Currency Converter, 2018
Agnieszka Kurant

UV print on Plexiglas with aluminum mount (photo); pigment print on archival paper (map)
95.9 x 137.5 cm (overall); 95.9 x 117.2 cm (framed map)
Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles

Agnieszka Kurant’s piece is a continuation of her longstanding interest in the notion of “phantom capital”, the dematerialization of money and labor in contemporary economy, the subsequent rise of influence by social capital, and the increasingly popular digital or nonphysical manifestations of financial exchange such as bitcoin and forms of shadow economies. In Currency Converter (2018), Kurant explores the history of objects used as money from antiquity to the present day. The work is comprised of two elements: a picture of a custom shelving unit containing over fifty objects which represent the great variety of alternative monetary forms, and a corresponding map which traces their global circulation. Examples from earlier civilizations include salt slabs used to compensate Roman soldiers (the word salary derives from the Latin word for salt, salarium). Other examples include brightly colored candy wrappers traded in communist Poland, when companies were no longer able to afford colored packaging for the goods they produced, and anything with color became a valuable commodity. In isolated communities such as prisons, a variety of goods including tobacco or vacuum-packed mackerel become part of a functional system of currency and trade.

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