I Promise to Pay

(2017)

MA project:
Printed objects
Laser-etched food
Timelapse film
Do you remember cash? If you do happen to have a £5 note lying around right now, take a look at the words on it. This is a list of them:

£5
LONDON FOR THE GOVERNOR AND COMPANY OF THE BANK OF ENGLAND
(Signature of Victoria Cleland)
CHIEF CASHIER
£5 BANK OF ENGLAND
BANK OF ENGLAND
5
I PROMISE TO PAY THE BEARER ON DEMAND THE SUM OF FIVE POUNDS
£5 BANK OF ENGLAND
£5 BANK OF ENGLAND
£
BANK OF ENGLAND
Five
Five Pounds
E II R
FIVE
5
5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5

Wierd, isn’t it, when you look at its words like that? And why does it say ‘I promise to pay...’? Surely, in handing the note to someone, you are paying.
   The financial crash of 2008 really awakened my interest in just how conditional our economic structures are. Wandering past long queues of elderly customers outside the Northern Rock, desperate to rescue their life savings from the stricken bank, really drove it home.
    Lessons were learned, apparently. And yet. And yet the blind pursuit of ‘growth’ continues, at what still seems to be any cost, including the tears and scars in our social fabric that Covid has so cruelly exposed. And all this against the eternal backdrop of stock market skittishness, anthropomorphising ‘the markets’ as some kind of restless beast. A god that must be appeased.
   This quote sums it up for me: ‘Money is worth what people feel it’s worth. They accept it in exchange for goods and services because they have faith in it. Economics is closer to a religion than a science. Without millions of individual citizens believing in a currency, money is coloured paper... confidence isn’t a side issue. It’s the only issue.’1
    This project involved questions about the properties and materiality of ‘physical’ money. A currency note is a fascinating transactional document. It is anonymous, and only yours until you give it to someone else.

Personalised single transaction documents.
What if physical cash was no longer anonymous?
   If every piece of money was accountable and attributable, and couldn’t be hidden?
   These are imagined personalised single transaction documents to replace currency notes. Pre-purchased tear-off books with a barcode (to be scanned by the recipient for transference of funds), the payer’s name, address, date of birth, registration number, photo ID, personalised ‘wallpaper’ and even an expiry date.

Perishable currency.
What if currency expired?
   I took the expiry date a step further with perishable currency in the form of food. Perishable currency was an idea originally proposed by economic thinker Silvio Gessell2 in the early 20th century, having witnessed firsthand Argentina’s deflationary crisis in the 1880s.
   He argued that money, as a store of value, enjoyed an unfair advantage over goods and commodities, but if it depreciated the longer it was held onto, this could prevent hoarding and stimulate a flagging economy by increasing the ‘velocity of money’.

Perishing currency timelapse, over six weeks.



Commodity currency.
What if money no longer existed?
   What if the goods themselves were the currency, to be bartered? These are examples of commodity currency in the form of bread and water. I assigned them each a commodity value, which invites further questions about the definition of ‘value’ in the measuring of things: but I guess this shows why money came into being in the first place.



Shriver, L. (2016) The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047.
2 Gessell, S. (1916) The Natural Economic Order

Mark