The emperor in Goethe’s Faust Two, is one of the earliest literary figures to discover the lure of paper money. On being told the public purse is empty, he demands that more is created. He cannot resist the siren call of printing money, to fill the coffers when his treasury ran dry. His successors: the mini emperors who run the world’s central banks, have proved they are no better at resisting the same temptation.
The issue of public debt has served as an unlikely muse for a number of creatives.
Since Whitsun Sunday 2009, the artist Christin Lahr has given a small donation, of one percent of her earnings, to the German Federal Bank through an online transfer. Each transfer is accompanied by a quote from Karl Marx”s Critique of the Political Economy. “In the the section of the transfer form ‘intended purpose’ is a quotation from Karl Marx.” Eventually she will have sent the whole book over in single quotes.
“Over the next 43 years, the entire text of the book will be transferred to the state’s central account by online banking and the capital will grow. I am counteracting the growing mountain of debt in homeopathic doses,” she explained.
It is a tiny act of bureaucratic rebellion. “Every day I upset the state’s equilibrium,” she said. Because the civil servants, always at pains to balance their accounts, are left wondering what to do with the donation.
Johan Holten, director of the State Art Gallery of Baden-Baden, has taken the subject further with an exhibition “Good and bad money,” that opens in Baden Baden this week.
He has assembled 120 exhibits from 67 artists, to tell the story of the economy in pictures: From the 4,000 year old Mesopotamian promissory note made of clay in the art gallery to the gilded vase in the neighboring casino, the base of which contains an enormous charge of explosives, a sculpture by Adel Abdessemed from the year 2013.