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The memorial

Museum Link:

Source Link:

Date Minted: July 9, 2020

Artist Description: You're the designer of the memorial, so you must decide what type of fiat currency to use as texture for your sculpture.

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

It doesn’t take much in the way of mental gymnastics to uncover the meaning behind The Memorial, Carlos Marcial’s tribute to “all the victims of fiat money's political, economical and social violence.” Usually, art that criticizes tends to criticize selectively. Not so in The Memorial. The actual piece on display in the Genesis Collection is a layer of the master artwork Memorial to the Victims of Fiat Money's Violence, and displays a small pistol, wrapped in one of 13 possible skins which can be cycled between with a click. The skins themselves are each drawn from the aesthetic of a country’s currency, named to identify both the type of currency and the country in question. The 13 are as follows: Venezuelan Bolivar, Canadian Dollar, Argentine Peso, Hong Kong Dollar, Japanese Yen, Mexican Peso, U.S. Dollar, Chinese Renminbi, Iranian Rial, Israeli New Shekel, E.U. Euro, Zimbabwean Dollar, and the British Pound. Notice the lack of clear connection between the countries in question. They span five of six populated continents, and do not bend to distinctions of Eastern vs. Western, Capitalist vs. Communist, Superpower vs. Developing Nation. Really, in scrolling through these thirteen skins, acknowledgers are asked to confront the differences between these places, if there are differences between these places, and thus, most importantly, try to understand what binds them thematically.

Really, though, we’re being asked to look past political and economic differences. This is a piece which obliterates differences via juxtaposition. The artist describes this piece not as a memorial to victims of capitalism or victims of war or victims of corruption, but as victims of Fiat currency. Countries with any kind of centralized currency tied not to an external denomination of worth like gol but to a country’s own perceived stability, that’s the issue in question here. And it’s an issue which affects just about every nation-state equally. This, Marcial seems to be saying, is the root of the issue, countries that must constantly be justifying and growing the value of their currencies at any cost, with that cost often being paid by the poorest and most marginalized members of any given society.

The imagery here is powerful, albeit uncomplicated. A gun wrapped in currency. Each could be a vehicle for the other. The currency could be manipulating the gun. Or the gun could simply be a denotation of violence while the currency around it more an emblem of the perpetrating force than the fault itself. 

Now, I’m always reticent to explore specific political criticisms which are central to a piece. Oftentimes they’re self-explanatory, and I prefer to keep discussions rooted in the aesthetic as possible. It would not be productive to use this piece to discuss exactly why Marcial chose these 13 countries, their individual politics, whether their placement in this piece is deserved. It’s more beneficial to remain distant, to look at the root cause of this issue as Fiat currency in general, and to recognize the ultimately hopefully context that this piece exists in. 

Because The Memorial, by recognizing the harm that Fiat currency has done in the past, intrinsically understands the fact that there is now an alternative to Fiat currency. Surely, it would be quixotic for Marcial to outwardly claim that Cryptocurrency, decentralized and international by nature, is the solution to the endless, tangled web of financial one-upmanship which lead to much worldwide suffering. But for the first time, we are widely able to take Fiat currency as a whole and make it a separate category. It is not longer capital-C Currency, all-encompassing. Now, Fiat is merely a type of currency. And though that may seem linguistically insignificant, it’s a rather gargantuan sea change. Even if we extrapolate the piece’s title outward slightly, The Memorial signals an end to something. Memorials are markers of finality. It’s Fiat currency’s victims that are being memorialized, but could it be Fiat currency as well? Marciel may very well feel that we are at the end of one era —where Fiat is the only option, and its damages unavoidable— and the beginning of a new one, where at least we can question our systems and choose possible alternatives. 

Strange, to have this static image of a gun present itself in a way that is as hopeful as it is lamentative. Ultimately, this piece tries to tell a story that’s bigger than it (and any art piece really) is able to. It doesn’t have the enormity, the wit, or the universality. To its credit, however, it isn’t trying to. It asks to be read into, but it doesn’t make any overtures about trying to be more than it isn’t. It sparks certain connections, attacks certain predispositions and assumptions, and does so in a way that’s respectful, tame, even timid. Call that a failure, if you will, but I’d simply call it a quirk. For Marciel to have wrapped this gun in paper and turned it into so much more is a major victory, intellectually and politically. It’s not easy for such a simple piece to draw out such sprawling opinions, implications, and prophecies. 

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