In an artifice that demonstrates the extreme slyness he sometimes used in his pontifications, André Breton called Salvador Dalí by his anagram Avidas Dollar to underline the Iberian painter’s incorrigible hunger for money and wealth, which would soon become his work’s primary motive.
From Breton’s mischief to the cynicism of Frank Zappa’s legendary album We’re Only in It for the Money, the relationship between art or, better put, a work of art and money is explicit in many artists’ work. Blunter yet: money, wealth, is one of art’s central subjects, whether directly or as a sub- text, through the various ways in which money and wealth are manifested in art one being, for instance, death.
Death is the only thing that money can’t resolve, the only incorruptible force. Death is the impossible dream of wealth and money. Everything can be bought except for more time than we have been allotted.
But has death been predetermined for us? Do we die with our days already numbered? Or is it that our lives, like our deaths, are determined by chance, plain and simple?
Fritzia’s work contains a permanent dialogue between money and chance and, therefore, a discourse on death, how to live with it, and how to tran- scend it.
Taking a look at Fritzia’s work provides a sharp, abrupt, frenetic illustration of a key subject in classic political economics: the dialectic between use value and exchange value. This absolutely central topic has been abandoned by economic debate and political philosophy, but it appears in Fritzia’s work as a forceful, novel, and emphatic pillar of her own discourse.
Money has worth not because of what it is, but rather because of its capacity to be exchanged for other goods. The immediate utility of money and its multiple forms is minimal, laughable. Gold is useless in itself; its value emerges from the fact that we can swap it for something else.
The perversion of capitalism, classical economists have said, is that the exchange value ultimately dominates the use value. Money (and Fritzia’s materials are among its various forms: salt, silver, gold, or diamonds) is civilization’s most exalted good despite its miniscule use value, its negligible intrinsic utility.
Gold is useful to us as long as it serves as a means of exchange. Anyone who has gold won’t go hungry. Gold allows us to obtain anything except immunity from death. Fritzia brings this assertion to its literal extreme when three volunteers swallow gold spheres. King Midas dies of hunger among golden fountains, leaves, and fruits. But not Fritzia’s volunteers: they feed on gold.
It’s a radical provocation: the greatest violence that gold can suffer is the denigration of its power as an exchange value and its subjection to the humility of being a mere use value: the degradation of powerful gold until it becomes a lowly foodstuff, an item in the basic food basket. It is a wonderful subversion that reveals Fritzia Irizar’s deep understanding of this key issue in political philosophy, as well as her capacity to transform it into a work of art.
I can’t contain my enthusiasm: contemporary capitalism, as evidenced in every crisis (the one afflicting the globe in 2008-2009 was the bloodiest of the past 90 years), shows money’s power over society. In the 1980s, Michel Aglietta wrote a book with a beautiful title, The Violence of the Coin, illustrating the violence with which money can assail society in times of severe crisis.
Fritzia’s revenge involves exercising that violence against the coin itself: dollar bills used as wallpaper in Mexico City’s Centro Cultural de España (Spanish Cultural Center); hundred dollar bills completely shredded into confetti; burning bank notes; bills disappearing after extreme physical torture. Violence against coins, like that old doubloon flattened by a train, is how Fritzia turns the world on its head an inversion that ultimately grants it clarity and transparency.
What’s absurd about money is that an object with minimal utility is the most widely coveted one. Fritzia’s installations are exactly that: a search for money, in order to reveal, in the end, the uselessness of the object itself. To hunt for diamonds in bags of salt; to bury fortunes; to make monetary wealth disappear; to search for its ghost.
Fritzia has a final proposal that makes her particularly original: a proximity to coin-collecting. Coins, especially in Mexico which has had one of the world’s best currency houses for five hundred years are sometimes beautiful, too. The distance between a work of art and a beautiful coin can be a small one. We might say, in the vein of Marcel Duchamp, that a coin could come to be a ready-made, as in that slender golden tower made of ten-peso coins.
As I have said, Fritzia’s dialogue between money and chance (like those silver dice: chance and money, the coup de dés) is also a dialogue with death. Let me correct myself in enacting the coin’s violence against the coin itself, in evaporating money and dissolving the fantasy that exchange power exercises over us, what remains is the use value: life itself.
There is a special piece in Fritzia’s work. In Untitled (Collectivity and Selectivity), six participants are chosen to enter a space, one by one. They become the work of art, but in order to leave it, they must depend on one another: the others help save each other. Collectivity and selectivity are ultimately transformed into solidarity.
Indeed, we live in a world where our lives are governed by chance and money. But we have ourselves, and collectivity and selectivity can lead to community and, if chance permits, to brotherhood and salvation.
Fritzia Irízar: The Money Seller