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Speculative Numismatics


Description of idea

Describe your idea and concept of your work in relation to the festival outlines:

The workshop tasks participants with designing a currency—a process which raises questions about the power of (exchange) standards, the representation of value, legitimacy (and as a corollary, its relationship to violence), and the transformative and antagonistic potential of graphic design practice... Perhaps to the point of destabilizing the practical boundaries and sphere of concerns of said practice. The workshop tries to depolarize "debt" and "currency/money" as being "bad or "good" and rather takes it up for its potential to be mobilized as a critical tool.

What kind of communication approach do you use?

It is basically a workshop format that often begins with an informal presentation by myself that I try to open ASAP as a discussion that is roughly structured around an essay I wrote recently for the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest: http://www.joaap.org/issue8/chrislee.htm

It can also be helpful for participants to share their respective situations, i.e. where they are coming from in relation to the question/problem of currency, labour experiences, to articulate a motivation, to recognize a frustration.

Then we work! But often there are lengthy debates that can be paralyzing, and I take on more a role of facilitator and try to intervene w/ critical questions here and there, or just to get things moving again.

What are in your opinion concrete benefits to the society because of your communication?

The confidence to approach currency and economics critically through practice—a demystification of these things. What becomes available is another field in which to act, experiment and struggle.

What did you personally learn from creating your submitted work?

The importance of recognizing and articulating one's situation, especially an experience of humiliation or injustice—it really gets me going, and other people too I think. I also learned that these workshops have often been too short! (the longest was 3 days, and it's just enough as an introduction).

Why is your work, GOOD communication WORK?

A lot of it depends on the workshop participants because I try not to prescribe too specifically a desired outcome. It's also important for the participants to treat the workshop as an experiment, and not something to "learn" from. I think what is powerful about the workshop when it goes well is that the participants discover that they can indeed articulate sophisticated critique, or at least create some kind of "generative device" that propels thorough reflection.

Where and how do you intent do implement your work?

If accepted, I would like to hold a workshop for some duration during Memefest. Right now, I am transient (living in Amsterdam), but when I settle back home in Canada at the end of this summer I intend to develop this workshop into a long-term project with committed partners and allies.

Did your intervention had an effect on other Media. If yes, describe the effect? (Has other media reported on it- how? Were you able to change other media with your work- how?)

The most recent workshop in Zagreb was featured on Croatian morning television ahead of a segment apparently discussing the emergence of shops buying gold and silver—but I couldn't understand a word of what they were saying!

Curators comments More info on Curators & Editors ›

What I really like about this work is the way in which it refuses to accept the-way-things-are-now as the only-way-they-can-possibly-be. I can’t stress enough how important I feel this is in a world where so much of our experience is shaped by contingent factors that have been naturalised and normalised, but are in themselves in no way necessary.

The workshop is a wonderful form in itself, allowing people to come together, converse, listen, formulate and challenge both individual and collective ideas in an environment that is outside their everyday; qualities I am sure you are very aware of.

While it is a beautiful and very valid tendency to let the ephemeral form of the workshop exist as something fleeting and intangible, as someone looking in on the project from outside I find myself searching for a chance to experience the work (shop) from a far, and in turn begin to engage with the demystification of currency and economics in a practical way for myself.

This is where documentation comes into play, with increasing importance, for its ability to open up works to audiences in disparate times and places.

You have spoken of your plans to continue developing the workshop, but have you thought of how you might give the experience and findings of the workshop a life beyond the actual event? What would be an appropriate, relevant and unique form, a form that would at once document and extend the inner life of this work to those on its peripheries?

View other works commented by Alana Hunt  ››

This is a very interesting proposition, and as a graphic designer, I appreciate the folding of the field into others as a form of critical (antagonistic) practice, and the challenge it poses to traditional notions of "political" design practice.

Your essay is a thorough investigation into the subject matter (and again, as a graphic designer, nicely illustrated) at a timely moment, about systems that certainly need to be re-imagined. The workshop format is also simple and powerful, breaking the stereotype of the designer working in isolation.

I am very curious to see documentation of the workshops, and I wonder why none has been included in this submission? I wonder if the "antagonistic" and critical nature of your text is followed through in "action" (as it were). What have the workshops resulted in, not that results are necessary, but documentation of the process would at least allow for a better evaluation.

I would be happy to see something happen in collaboration with memefest!

View other works commented by Kevin Yuen-Kit Lo  ››

Money is (obviously) so commonplace and vital in and to society, that we rarely take the time to consider or deconstruct its influence, beyond the fact that everyone apparently wants and needs more of it. For this and many other reasons, 'Speculative Numismatics' is significant in its power to shift the institutionalized and pre-programmed macro assumptions about currency and surface themes relating to commerce, power and global economics. In parallel, it also shifts micro (personal) paradigms of self-worth, societal 'standing', class hierarchy etc and encourages us to (re)consider the role money plays in our own lives - how each of us are grouped into a set of hierarchical social categories based on papers and coins.

I especially appreciate that the piece is defined by the open dialog (community) that unfolds from and for the individuals in the group workshop and subsequently takes many different forms, depending on its own participants (which countries they are from, the economic standing of those countries, the personal 'wealth' or debt of each individual etc) and the interesting conversation that derives from these differences. The direct verbal exchange that happens during the workshop (through the group's communication of ideas and new understanding of money) nicely aligns with the similarly direct 'understanding' that occurs when one makes a transaction or 'exchanges' money with another person.

'Speculative Numismatics' is compellingly subversive and punk. It challenges and unearths the ridiculousness of global monetary systems (built on the ownership and physical embodiment of freakishly decorative pieces of paper and shiny objects) by stripping down the system itself and exposing the ridiculousness of its parts to their very core. It empowers individuals (both in the workshop and afterwards, through documentation of the workshops findings) by helping us all to see the basic formulas of commercial culture - who benefits and who is oppressed.

The role government plays in declaring its own currency also takes on an absurd tone, in the context of this art piece. The production and control of legal and illegal tender and the 'seriousness' of manufacturing either is quickly exposed. Bank and government control (monopoly) over the emission of coins and banknotes for its own area of circulation (meant to secure and assure) and the regulations on the production of currency through monetary policy, are quickly humbled by 'Speculative Numismatics', to the benefit of the participants and its audience.

For this reason, it might be interesting to visually standardize the workshop 'outputs' and documentation (graphs/charts etc), so that the findings, differences and essence of each group are more readily digestible and understood by viewers afterward (who might be distracted by the visual differences produced). I am very curious to see EVEN more documentation of the group's findings in some accessible archive to explore what themes/clusters/similarities etc overlap. There might be opportunities to enter group information into some sort of open source, public database and see how people shape this information even further. Also curious to know if this workshop would be as successful or how it would differ and/or the shape it would take, if the participants were from 'less fortunate' cultures/countries of the world.

p.s The notion of considering new ways of counting as an exercise sort of blew my mind and flipped my understanding of the me+world upside down. Great job!

View other works commented by Katie Bush  ››

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Curators comments

This work has been commented by 3 curator(s):
Alana Hunt Kevin Yuen-Kit Lo Katie Bush go to comments ›

Entry details


Speculative Numismatics


When Goldsmiths became (History's most Powerful) Graphic Designers

Concept author(s)

Anja Groten

Concept author year(s) of birth

Jan. 4, 1983

Concept author(s) contribution

Anja co-developed the workshop we did at the Glasgow School of Art's graphic design department earlier this year.



Competition category


Competition field


Competition subfield


Subfield description

I'm not sure if it's art, but I am submitting a proposal for a workshop in which participants are tasked with designing a currency. I have done workshops like this at a conference (Portland, USA) graphic design schools (in Glasgow, UK and Arnhem, NL) and gallery spaces (Eindhoven, NL and Zagreb, HR).