A Dialogue about Systems and Values
Isa Abislaimán/ Jeannette Betancourt
Money is worth nothing; it gains value only when it is surrendered and exchanged for something else. The works of Abislaimán and Betancourt converse to give us two complementary perspectives on the symbolic nature of money and how its anonymity turns ever more dangerous with the increased digitalization and dematerialization of global currency. Virtual transactions that do not require presence or physical exchange make it easier to hide or ignore what our money really buys in the long run. In the world of cryptocurrency and digital banking, the pennies captured by Abislaimán lose their original function and become instead archeological objects. Betancourt’s credit card cutouts represent transactions that hide dark and corrupt consequences. Both artists explore marginalization in their own way: Betancourt by exposing consumerism and social stratification; Abislaimán by zeroing in on rejection and solitude at the individual level.
What do we hold valuable and what do we discard or choose to ignore? Ironically, any one of Abislaimán’s lost coins costs more to produce than what it is worth on the street; the smallest unit of our society’s precious currency has become meaningless and of no use if it cannot be a part of a bigger whole. Perhaps there is no greater loneliness than that of the coin which has been tossed, drowned, buried or stuck; nothing with a greater need to connect in order to be capable of action and negotiation. And nevertheless, here lies a hidden treasure, the seemingly insubstantial presents possibilities once it has been seen and acknowledged.
Betancourt also reveals what is hidden in plain sight: the true price of consu- merism and convenience. Her credit cards —in black, platinum and gold to differentiate their holders’ status— reflect both socioeconomic differences as well as a removed reality where goods and services are acquired with resources that are not owned but which nevertheless unleash very real consequences. Betancourt’s graphics show us the darker side of our shiny new stuff: prostitution, drug and arms trafficking, and the illicit sale of exotic animals, to name a few. Here, nature and our very humanity are intervened and broken by consumerism.
Betancourt and Abislaimán invite us to take a closer look at what we value and what we are accountable for as individuals and as a society, to consider the ethical and moral price of our transactions. What do we obtain? What is hidden? And more importantly: what is lost and needs to be rescued.
November 10, 2022
San Juan, Puerto Rico