Martin Zet: BUCKS AND EYES

When I heard that the financial support of the Soros Centers for Contemporary Arts in Eastern Europe will be lower and lower with each coming year from their founder and main, and usually only, sponsor, it wrung my heart. What will happen with contemporary art in this unhappy region? In some cases contemporary art in the contemporary sense of the word started to appear here only secondarily, after the founding of these SCCA (surprisingly often with better results than in the countries tied up with the tradition of modernism). Dismal thoughts slowly changed into an urgent sense of co-responsibility.

MONEY MAKES MONEY

On the 7th of October 1998 in Ústí nad Labem as part of the art event "Five Days Project" I obtained 1000 Czech crowns (CZK), which too originated from the tax write-off of the above-mentioned American financial magnate. After making the public announcement (similar to the paragraph above), I took this sum and fearlessly stepped into the jungle of the money market. I decided, enlightened, that I try to make it as George did and thus I also started with the British pound. For 1000 Czech crowns, the bank presented me with 20 British pounds. Then everything continued like a piece of cake: 20GBP to 30USD; to 40CAD to 120FRF; to 220ATS to 2000ESP.

sekac05.jpg - 14591 Bytes When after that first successful afternoon I informed the people involved with (and dependent on) the cultural project that everything was going well - that if things continued like this I would be soon able to take care of them, because after two hours of using the services of six local banks I had made two thousand from one thousand - nobody wanted to believe me. Seduced by the unexpected ease of these transactions, I went on with them next week in Prague: 2000ESP to 3000PTE to 4400GRD to 23,000ITL . Because I had promised myself before I began that when I made more than "the magic 20,000" I must make something of it - on the14th of October 1998 I founded the ZET CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY ARTS-LIBUńÍN.

MONEY

Money - it's an odd thing. Somehow with my advancing years and the fundamental political and economic changes here, I have been forced more and more to deal with it. And at one point when doing so, I realized that I had no idea what it is. This knowledge signified the beginning of my research. After a number of rather shallow analyses and a number of usually deep personal experiences - as for example changing money after the 1993 split of Czechoslovakia, when almost overnight the money became mere pieces of paper and metal - I started to have greater respect for the abstract side of the phenomenon of currency. Money used to be under the gold standard, then under the standard of the work of the people (at least as I remember under socialism). Now it has become merchandise. But merchandise without any value - only the representation of value. The absolute abstraction of value. And trust, subordination, manipulation, defenselessness, resignation of people. But this instrument of oppression is also a sort of agreement between the state and its citizens. A sort of civic circumcising of reason. As long as citizens use their country's currency they are somehow demonstrating their trust of its representatives. As long as people use the currency of any country they are helping to maintain this world system. Money is a symbol of value and trust - materialized deity.

This, among other things, also led me to explore the basic currency units and their mutual relations. I started with the Czech crown (CZK) and American dollar (USD) and with the relation of the crown to the dollar, the very symbol of money, symbol of symbol. I believe I am the first investigator who on the basis of scientific research successfully discovered the objective and indisputable rate of value between these two currencies, which surprisingly conforms with the actual market rate.

I could not resist making occasional "atheistic" exercises during my research, which as always when some limits are crossed, gave me the momentary illusion of freedom and independence.

BANKNOTES

20CZK = 8320mm2 thus 1CZK = 416mm2                    1USD = 10,589.4mm2
50CZK = 8705.52mm2 thus 1CZK = 174.1104mm2 2USD = 10,443.8mm2 thus 1USD = 5221.9mm2
100CZK = 9798mm2 thus 1CZK = 97.98mm2 5USD = 10,605.7mm2 thus 1USD = 2121.06mm2
200CZK = 10,256.4mm2 thus 1CZK = 51.282mm2 10USD = 10,611.97mm2 thus 1USD = 1061.197mm2
500CZK = 10,610.6mm2 thus 1CZK = 21.2212mm2 20USD = 10,596.06mm2 thus 1USD = 529.803mm2
1000CZK = 11,862.2mm2 thus 1CZK = 11.8622mm2 50USD = 10,466.22mm2 thus 1USD = 209.3244mm2
2000CZK = 12,306.2mm2 thus 1CZK = 6.1531mm2 100USD = 10,522.8mm2 thus 1USD = 105.228mm2
5000CZK = 12,654mm2 thus 1CZK = 2.5308mm2

THE AVERAGE SIZE OF A BASIC UNIT OF THE EXAMINED BANKNOTES:
1CZK = 97.6425mm2 1USD = 2833.9875mm2

THE RELATION BETWEEN THE AVERAGE SIZE OF 1CZK TO 1USD:
1USD/1CZK = 2833.9875/97.6425 = 29.0241 1USD=29.0241CZK

MONEY MARKET

If money becomes merchandise, then it is also dependent upon the person who assigns the price at which it will be sold. I first sold "SECOND HAND MONEY" in Omi, New York on the 26th of June 1998 - on an occasion when hundreds of people came there for an art event. Even though I took much greater care in the preparation - I was split myself perfectly in two in clothing that was on the right side wealthy and on the left side poor and I sold all money I had - I was not satisfied with the "artistic" context.

The sculptor Barbara A. told me about the madness in front of the Central Post Office in New York before midnight the 15th of April, when taxpayers have their last chance to file their taxes without penalties. I did not happen to meet her that evening in 1999, even though we had planned it, so I proceed alone. I took a gold-colored candy box filled with one and five dollar bills tagged with their new price of 25 cents each and went to sell them first in front of the World Financial Center, then before the New York Stock Exchange, and then while sitting under the hand of George Washington on Wall Street. Businesspeople and all other "suits" walked along, read the price information and continued on their way. Even one bum who came along did not buy anything. He returned after a while only to ask with disgust, "How much? Twenty five cents?", as if it was too much and left. Around half an hour later the wind started to blow the bank-notes out from my box, so I left as well. It was about 6 p.m.

Before midnight, I went to the place where everybody somehow thought about Mammon, about how to save on their taxes, in front of the Central Post Office along with the reinforcement postal trucks for the crowd. By chance, I met Jeff S., a friend and bartender from my NYC asylum - the Corner Bistro, who proved to be an excellent photographer. After trying to sell the bills to people waiting in the first two lines, again, it all seemed to be hopeless. People were afraid that the bank-notes were counterfeit or that I was an undercover law enforcement agent, tempting them to engage in an illegal transaction. Then one bold fellow bought a five dollar bill, checked it and it broke through their inhibitions. After this, no matter how much I would have had, it would have been sold in the twinkle of an eye.

ANYTHING GOES

There is a restaurant "Czech Club" in the Czech Center in Moscow, in which, because we consider ourselves to be part of the western world now, one can pay with U.S. currency only. They must have had some problems with U.S. coins which they solved ingeniously (and for financial politics of ZET CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY ARTS-LIBUńÍN very inspirationally) by printing their own bank-notes of this unshakable currency for 10, 20, and 50 cents. (When I made a random public survey in the U.S.A. in April and May 1999 asking people while showing them a one dollar bill: "Can you imagine that this bank-note could ever represent only the value of the material it is made from?" I did not get one positive reply, not even among left-minded intellectuals.) These Czech-made U.S. cents had all the necessary signs: number, signature, year of issue and number of series. Ten and twenty cents - laminated pieces of paper - had the stamp of the Czech center on its back; the half-dollar even had the stamp of the Czech embassy. For the potential, more broadminded activities of ZCCA-LIBUńÍN, I decided to follow this model but on a more ambitious scale (since I myself have never seen any U.S. bank-note larger than 100 dollars) and thus I printed an cheerful and colorful series of one-thousand dollar bills.

sekac09.jpg - 14382 Bytes

CONCLUSIONS

After a sufficient amount of analysis, calculations and experiments with Czech and American money I can responsibly pronounce with certainty that:
a) The larger the nominal value of the banknote, the smaller the (material) value of the unit;
b) The U.S. dollar proved to be in all tests of better quality than the Czech crown. It is easier to cut, to burn, to shred; it better absorbs Indian ink and it is more easily covered with latex.
c) The relation between the USD and CZK: One "buck" is approximately thirty "eyes" (Now out-dated slang for one Czech crown is "voko", i.e. "eye", the equivalent expression for one dollar in American English is "buck".). This applies even in the situation when the eyes on Czech bank-notes are bigger than the eyes on American bills. This rate is calculated from the relation between the average size of 1CZK and 1USD of the examined bank-notes.
d) It is easy to sell dollars, even second-hand ones, but only if you happen to gain the trust of a buyer.
e) It is not that difficult to make good money.

ECONOMY

To protect the ZCCA-LIBUńÍN against the scandals plaguing our political parties, I strive towards full economic transparency and disclosure from the very beginning: To date, I have made 23,000 through bank transactions and have printed 35,000. This brings the base capital to 58,000. Activity on the account will be reported in statements and it will be possible to review a financial report with approval of a written request. Inquires may be sent to the following address: ZCCA-LIBUńÍN, P.O. Box 21, 273 06 Libu÷ín, Czech Republic.

M.Z.
June 1999, Libu֒n

Photographs by Jeff Sheehan.