Thursday, 10 July 2014


By Michelle Rheeston- Humphreys

The first 'In The Window' exhibition commission, of the 2014-15 AirSpace ‘In The Window’ programme, was 'Walden-note Money' by Austin Houldsworth (12th-28th June 2014). 

'Walden-note Money' is part of a 3 year PhD research project Austin is undertaking at The Royal College of Art. It focuses on the development of a new design methodology, which the artist calls: ‘counter-fictional design’. Exhibiting at AirSpace ‘ In The Window’ provided Austin with an ideal opportunity to experiment with siting his work in the public realm and enabled him to test theory through practice.

‘Walden-note Money’ is based on the ideas explored in behavioral psychologist, B.F Skinner’s novel ‘Walden Two’. Interestingly the utopian novel preceded behavior analysis as a scientific methodology, and was in fact considered as belonging to the science-fiction genre at the time. The story, an anti-establishment social experiment, sees a small community habituated through behavioral conditioning. Controversially, it denies the notion of free will and operates on the hypothesis that environmental parameters, and the systems that generate or govern those factors, create a sociocultural system that approaches utopia; that the self-governance and flexibility of its design leads to a peaceful and functioning society. Notably in the novel the community is not reliant on a monetary system.

‘Walden-note Money’ appeared to be what looks like ‘a machine’; a hansom design consisting of a copper pipe and simple plywood construction; an invention for an alternative monetary system as the artist states: 'Walden-note money is a payment system designed to challenge the established monetary function of ‘a store of value.’ He explains: ‘During every transaction the seller is obliged to aid the buyer in the destruction of their money equal to the cost of the service or object he/she is purchasing. Through the destruction of money, musical notes are created which are linked to the coins denomination. For example a C is 1 Walden-note, a D is 2, an E is 3 and so on; these notes have two main functions. Firstly the pleasant sounds created help to positively reinforce this behaviour and secondly the burning money communicates the economic state of the society to the 'managers and planners'. 

Indeed Walden-note Money is a machine, a machine that functions (for a time at least). In The Window at AirSpace, the machine had the addition of a bright industrial yellow compressor, complete with coiled wires. The compressor is there to mimic the original action; the burning of the compound (money) tokens, in an act of exchange. This original action could be seen in the form of footage (intermittently as the sun fades) on the monitor adjacent, as well as on the stills sited above. It detailed a performance, ‘Walden-note Money’ in narrative action with resonance, steam and all. Not so in the window- no steam or smoke but the pipes loud enough (surprisingly) to be heard through the traffic. The machine went ‘off’ by set timer or a contact switch pad (for public engagement), which was attached to the window. After some deliberation this sensor was attached to the side panel, as not to be too obvious as to attract the unwanted attention of overzealous ‘evening’ passers by but still locatable to those intrigued by the piece. On reflection, due to the closed off nature of the window space that does not allow fully for participation (the reason for the hand contact sensor addition), the work might be more suited to a space offering further physical interaction with its audience.

The ‘In The Window #1’ exhibition was not without it’s problems; most particularly the ‘failings’ of the additional mechanics/ electrics of the compressor and timer switch. Opportunely this ‘testing’ allowed Austin to learn more about the mechanics of ‘Walden-note Money’. Testing and re-designing is at the core of the artworks ideology; in the novel, ‘Walden Two’ works by employing a malleable design; continually testing the most effective, evidence-based approaches in order to organise the community. In the story ‘Frazier’ states that ‘Walden Two’ therefore avoids how most other societies collapse or grow dysfunctional: by remaining inflexible in their politics and social structure.

These (so called) ‘failures’ are interesting in this context; the notion of ‘failure’ is often explored as an artistic strategy. Failure is the assumed ‘binary’ opposite of success; indeed no better binary set exists. Though undeniably the creative possibilities opened by failure are at the epicenter of artistic success.

The art community experience, interpret and utilize failure in a multitude of ways, so too, AirSpace Gallery and its Artists. At a recent AirSpace PAD event ‘Beneath The Pavement’ two established arts practitioners quoted one of my favorite Samuel Becket lines in their presentations “Try again- fail again. Fail better”. It was fitting that ‘Walden-note Money’ was ‘In The Window’ to coincide with the event, as it shared many of the same sentiments and concerns discussed during the two days events to re-imagine the city. It got a lot of attention from the participants and generated further dialogue. In addition politically it interrelates with two recently commissioned artworks for ‘The Bird Yarden’, which each explore nature’s detoxification of the capitalist monetary system, utilizing text from economists Friedrich Hayek's and Milton Friedman.

Walden-note Money (in the window) aptly, for an era of global banking corruption and current national austerity, is another monetary system that ‘failed’, albeit an attempted utopian one!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Cooper Freer specializes in air compressor service, installation, maintenance of air tools and air compressors. Established for over 43 years, Copper Freer is an independent air house with clients as far afield Leicester, Peterborough, Corby, Northampton, Nottingham, Derby, UK, Milton Keynes, Kettering, Coventry, and Lincoln.

Post a comment