E-flux, the New York-based distributor of information on art, has taken the initiative of setting up a worldwide system of time-based currency for artists and curators. Anton Vidokle, co-founder of e-flux and Time/Bank talks about the motives behind this alternative economic service.
Prior to this project, there was the e-flux video rental (2004), where one could rent art videos for free, the Unitednationsplaza (2006-2007), which offered an extensive programme of lectures and debates in Berlin, and Pawnshop (2007), where artists could pawn their artworks. With the founding of Time/Bank, e-flux once again demonstrates its ongoing interest in alternative economic systems, this time in the time bank phenomenon, or in other words, a platform where time, skills, services and goods are exchanged without the use of money. The question is, what motivated the Time/Bank founders Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle to introduce this initiative (which originates from the time of the industrial revolution and which has gained a following all over the world by mostly local organizations) in today’s art world?
‘While Time/Bank is a project that responds to the shortage of money and resources, Julieta and I did not start it because of the current economic situation only. For us, it’s more of a response to a perpetual condition in the field of art, where historically there have been a lot of imbalances with how time, resources and compensation are distributed.Most artists and curators are very generous with their time: they often help people in the field, colleagues and students and others, to develop ideas, offer knowledge and criticism, expert skills and so forth. For many of these services there’s no expectation or a practical way of getting compensation. Usually you don’t let this stop you. But if you spend a lot of your time doing things that are not compensated economically, it will become difficult to get by. Time/Bank is an attempt to create a parallel economic structure that could create compensation and enable you to spend more time doing things that you really enjoy doing.’
‘Time/Bank can potentially become a source of a different type of economy, which could support new and different types of social relations and cultural practices. Karl Marx wrote extensively on the proposal that art, religion, culture and other human institutions are superstructures based around economy. If one agrees with this analysis, then it follows that a new kind of economy would produce a different kind of art.
In the field of contemporary art there is a strong desire for new ideas, new ways of making art, and new audiences. But it’s hard for something genuinely different to happen when resources are almost always tied to the old sources of power and to social hierarchies connected to either government or private capital. How can one obtain independence in such a scenario? For example, have you noticed how these days the new artist-run and alternative spaces immediately appoint a board of influential people from the artistic community because it is useful for getting more funding? They start producing editions to sell them at art fairs and so forth. In other words, before they even try to experiment with a different kind of programming, they have already replicated existing power relations.We were extremely lucky with e-flux [an announcement service for art institutions – ed.], because it enabled us to be fully independent of the existing economic and power structures of the art world. With Time/Bank we want to go a step further and create an economic structure that can be shared with others and support their needs to some extent.’
‘Yes. We want to enable a complex economy, one that is not just “you do something for me and I do something for you”. Time banking is not simply barter of skills, but was conceived to be a very comprehensive economic system that can work with goods as well as services. To facilitate this, it was necessary to print and issue our own currency, the “Hour Note”, which was designed for Time/Bank by Lawrence Weiner. Similarly, the Time/Store we opened in New York is both a visualisation of this alternative economy and a very practical place to get things that you need.The way all this works is like this: you can open an account with Time/Bank online and earn time credits by helping others; then you can either use time credits online to get other members of the bank to help you or convert the electronic credits to paper currency, which you can use at the Time/Store and other places. Eventually we want to convince the art institutions we work with to accept Hour Notes as a form of payment for admission, book stores, cafeterias and so forth. This year we also want to try to open a time/restaurant, where you would be able to pay for food with time.
‘Most time banks are quite small and local, rarely more than a few hundred people. Our Time/Bank has more than a thousand members now and probably will become more and more productive as its community grows and adds a multitude of different skills and locations. We hope that once it reaches a certain critical mass, it will become a fully independent self-governing, self-sustaining entity, where the future directions of its development would be initiated and decided by the members of the bank rather than by Julieta and me.’
Jolien Verlaek is web editor of Metropolis MSee also: http://www.e-flux.com/timebank/