Conceptual Art or Performance Art?

Will share an interesting story here…

Back in 1994 – here in the UK – an art collective decided to burn a million pounds.

For the sake of art.

Due to inflation – that is the equivalent of burning 1.83 million pounds today (which is 2.41 million US dollars).

I always found it an interesting piece of anti-conceptual art. You see – most conceptual art exists as an interesting concept. For example – Damien Hirst has an interesting piece which contains a grill which zaps flies dead, a bowl of sugar cubes, a dead cows head surrounded by a pool of blood. The piece is called ‘A Thousand Years’. All of this is contained in a ten foot long cube made from glass.

The idea is that this self-contained universe might exist for a thousand years. Since there is enough nutrients in the ‘cube’ to allow generation after generation of flies to be born, die and slowly rot. Which helps provide the nutrients needed for the next generation of flies. To me it is a brilliant piece of nihilistic art.

When the most important collector of modern art, Charles Saatchi, saw this piece, when Hirst was an unknown art student – he apparently stood speechless in front of the piece for ten minutes.

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Or another favourite conceptual piece was at a local art gallery. I never saw it – but somebody explained to me the concept.

It was a small wooden table – which had three legs. On top of the table was a large pile of fruit. And attached to the pieces of fruit were electrodes which hooked up to a small electric buzz saw which was attached to one of the legs of the table.

Now – as the pieces of fruit started to rot – it would release small electrical charges – which would occasionally cause the small buzz saw to move a small distance. And over time – it would gradually saw through the leg of the table.

The art piece was called ‘Entropy’ – and eventually – after a few months – the leg was sawn away – and the whole table came crashing to the ground.

For the art piece – you could see video footage (sped up) showing this process.

Again – as a piece of conceptual art – I find this really enjoyable. It is particularly interesting for those who know about physics and the second law of thermodynamics.

And – again – just the idea is enough to appreciate the art. You don’t have to witness it in person to appreciate it – as you would with a traditional painting.

So – what does this have to do with setting fire to a million pounds?

Well – if you think about it. The idea of setting fire to money – is quite common and unimaginative. Instead – as an idea – it becomes interesting only when you actually do so. At that point – it jumps from being an unoriginal idea – to a quite shocking piece of performance art.

So – in this instance – it is a conceptual art piece whose power lies not in the concept but in the act. And that is quite different to most pieces of conceptual art.

Of course there is a hidden twist to this piece of art. At the time – the artists and journalists all assumed that the million pounds had being wasted. And that the money could have being used to help people.

Well – what people forgot – is that due to the nature of fiat currency, all money is nothing but a concept. Backed by nothing but an idea and other people’s faith in it.

As such – when the million pounds was set on fire. Nothing of value was destroyed. Instead – the rest of the money in circulation, increased in value by a tiny tiny amount. Due to a tiny tiny drop in the rate of inflation – which was caused by the burning of the million pounds. Since there was now a million fewer pounds in circulation chasing the same amount of goods.

Indeed – if you want to see the value of money truly being destroyed and lost forever. You only have to witness the printing presses of the US and the UK over the past few years. But in those cases – it was dressed up as economics and not silly conceptual art.

And there was no video footage to help visualise the destruction going on.