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The Art of Money

Gangsta Abe, Russian plagiarism, and how to pay for food with your art.

Previously, we’ve looked at how artists use ordinary materials to transform them into incredible art creations — from paper to cardboard to toilet paper rolls to whole books. Today, we turn to the one “material” that makes the world go ’round: Money. Here are five of our favorites.


After our recent obsession with surgical book sculptures, we’re turning to tattoo artist Scott Campbell‘s incredible carved currency sculptures. Beyond the indisputable aesthetic merit of his work, there also seems to be a subtle undercurrent of political commentary, which we quite enjoy.

There’s an excellent recent New York Times story about Campbell and his work — worth the read.


You may recall these Japanese moneygami from pickings past — the delightfully irreverent origami portraits of world leaders gracing various bank notes, outfitted with entertainingly incongruous hats and head attire.

Explore the rest of these bad boys for some comic relief at the expense of expenses.


Art Money is a curious project that seeks to offer a global alternative currency — a barter object to use instead of money that is both an exposure vehicle for participating artists worldwide and a financial crutch that allows them to support themselves while focusing on their art.

The idea is simple — artists create an original art money “bank note” measuring 12x18cm, which becomes the equivalent of 200 Danish Kroner (roughly $34), growing in value by five Euro per year for seven years. This money can be used as currency within the Art Money ecosystem, which includes various registered shops and businesses, as well as Art Money hosts who accept this payment for accommodation for traveling artists.

We love the idea of “paying” for necessities with original art — we’ve seen it before with Wants For Sale, and this recent news of the world’s biggest taxi tip offers another delightful example of art as a transactional alternative. Intrigued? Join the project and create your own art money or register your business to accept it.

Thanks, @haverholm


For his senior thesis project, Cuban design student Yordan Silvera embarked upon an ambitious exploration of the aesthetic qualities of money. The result was The Art of Money — a design analysis of the typography, iconography, color and techniques used on different currencies from around the world.

The resulting book is absolutely stunning — we just wish Silvera would make the content available online and/or offer physical copies of the book for sale.


Brooklyn-based artist Mark Wagner is a master of the X-acto knife. His intricate currency collages look laser-cut but are all meticulously hand-carved to a remarkable effect.

The one dollar bill is the most ubiquitous piece of paper in America. Collage asks the question: what might be done to make it something else? It is a ripe material: intaglio printed on sturdy linen stock, covered in decorative filigree, and steeped in symbolism and concept. Blade and glue transform it — reproducing the effects of tapestries, paints, engravings, mosaics, and computers-striving for something bizarre, beautiful, or unbelievable… the foreign in the familiar.” ~ Mark Wagner

So brilliant are his collages that they’ve incited the highest form of flattery — shameless plagiarism by Russian design getup Art Money. Case in point.


If you find yourself fascinated by the design and art direction of currency, we highly recommend checking out Currency Museum — an incredibly rich, albeit tedious to navigate, collection of banknote designs from 155 countries, which is just 40 short of all the world’s recognized political states.

*** UPDATE 04.29 ***

Thanks to commenter C.K. Wilde, who pointed us to some of his incredible money art on Alternating Currency — arguably the most ambitious and, we imagine, painstakingly crafted of the bunch.

See more of Wilde’s work here — it’s absolutely amazing.


Follow The Money: Visualizing the Structure of Large-Scale Communities

Visual economics, or what virtual currencies have to do with real neighbors.

Money makes the world go ’round. Or so the saying goes. Whether or not that’s true, money does go around the world, wrapping it in an invisible web of socioeconomic and geopolitical patterns.

Northwestern University grad students Daniel Grady and Christian Thiemann are on a mission to visualize these patterns. Their project Follow the Money investigates the structure of large-scale communities in the US through the prism of how money travels. Using data from the popular bill-tracking website Where’s George?, the team identified geographically compact communities based on how much currency is changing hands within them as opposed to between them.

This may sound like dry statistical uninterestingness, but the video visualization of the results is rather eye-opening, revealing how money — not state borders, not political maps, not ethnic clusters — is the real cartographer drawing our cultural geography.

When we made the video, we wanted to produce something that anybody could watch and understand what was happening, but at the same time we didn’t want to have to dumb down any of the ideas.” ~ Daniel Grady

The project was a winner at the 2009 Visualization Challenge sponsored by the National Science Foundation and AAAS and.

But as cash nears extinction in the age of plastic and electronic transations, we’d be curious to see a visualization of payment networks in all the forms and formats today’s money lives in — physical, electronic, and even virtual currencies like Facebook’s AceBucks, World of Warcraft’s gold, or Second Life’s Linden dollars.

via Visual Complexity


The Apology Line

How to exorcise your indiscretions, or what art from the 80’s has to do with modern guilt.

In 1980, conceptual artist Allan Bridge began his Apology Line project — a telephone hotline, where anonymous callers could unburden themselves from their guilty confessions on an answering machine. Two decades before PostSecret and a quarter century before We Feel Fine, the project pioneered crowdsourced layman voyeurism and went on to collect hundreds of daily confessions for over fifteen years. It was featured in the most groundbreaking cultural commentaries of the day, from an article in then-toddler Wired to an early episode of This American Life.

Though Bridge’s original tape anthology, The Apology Line: Uncut Gems From Year Zero (1980-1981), is long lost in the analog ether, after a few hours of relentless poking around the intertubes, we were able to uncover the only surviving digitized recording of the project, which you can download for your listening pleasure. Uncomfortably honest, sometimes funny and often shocking, these anonymous confessions offer a raw slice of human complexity, with all its tortured tribulations and daily dramas.

But something much richer than a digital recording is taking the project’s legacy into the present era.

In 2007, UK filmmaker duo James Lee and William Bridges revived The Apology Line, launching it across the UK and inviting Britons via posters, flyers and newspaper articles to call the anonymous line and unload whatever is weighing them down. They then made a short documentary about it, which went on to grain critical acclaim across the film festival circuit, showing at Sundance and Cannes in 2008 and being awarded at the Prix UIP Best European Short Film at the Cork International Film Festival.

Now, the team behind The Apology Line is using Kickstarter (which we so love) to bring the project to the US. Their goal is to collect confessions from Americans all over the country, eventually unleashing an art exhibition beginning in New York and traveling all over America.

You can pledge anything from $5 to $100 and help create an avenue where we can safely scratch the itch of guilt for lunching on someone else’s sandwich in the office fridge and telling grandma you’re abstaining until marriage. In exchange, you’ll get a varying magnitude of voyeurism fixes with randomly selected apologies from stranger.

Go ahead, microfund the apologetic exorcism of guilt. You won’t be sorry.

via Coudal


Popular Science, Digitized

137 years of human curiosity, or what lawnmowers have to do with nuclear detectives in China.

Thousands of magazines have stuffed our mailboxes and collected dust on our coffee tables over the years, but very few have captivated the attention of geeks and dreamers as long as Popular Science.

A hundred and thirty-seven years ago, Edward L. Youmans founded the publication to help bring scientific knowledge to the educated layman. Topics ranged the scientific gamut from the birth of electricity to the mystery of the brain. In addition to staff writers, our modern world of science has been covered by the likes of Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, T.H. Huxley, and Louis Pasteur.

Luckily for historians and the ever-curious, Popular Science has teamed up with Google to archive all 137 years of the magazine. (You may remember Google’s groundbreaking similar partnership with LIFE Magazine in late 2008.) Not only is this spectacular treasure of information free, but it’s available in original format — which means that besides enjoying antique articles about human-powered flying machines, you can also enjoy the advertisements of eras past. (Cigarettes, whiskey and riding lawnmowers seem to populate the 60’s.)

The archives aren’t indexed by volume. Instead, a fairly accurate search function brings up all the relevant articles from the past century for you to wade through. This time machine of science is beautiful to navigate, and even looks fantastic on the iPhone.

For those of you who are new to the archives, we’ve taken the liberty of finding a few nuggets of nostalgia to get you started:

The Moon — So Far (May, 1958): “Look hard, next full moon (April 3, May 3). Our oldest-established permanent satellite looms over the trees, familiar and close, yet mysterious and distant…We are ready to stretch across 240,000 miles to touch it…”

A nuclear detective looks at China’s atom bomb (Feb, 1965): “To an atomic scientist, what are the implications of China’s atomic bomb? We asked Dr. Ralph E. Lapp, a physicist who participated in the World War II Manhattan Project…”

Traveling telephones — new technology expands mobile service (Feb, 1978): “There’s a button labeled SND on Motorola’s futuristic –looking Pulsar II radiotelephone. I pushed it, and a number stored in its microcomputer memory began stepping, digit by digit, across the red LED handset display.

Go ahead, dive in.

Len Kendall is the cofounder of the3six5 project. (Featured on Brain Pickings here.) He enjoys being clever, quippy, and constructively grumpy.


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