Shannon Cochrane on Rare Parity by Tanya Mars

Rare Parity = all things being equal hardly ever. Sounds familiar in our modern times, doesn’t it? We are the 99% and when we woke up this morning we realized our wallets were just full of pretty paper. 

When you Google “money laundering in Slovenia”, the top result is not Rare Parity, the two-part, 8-hour performance in Congress Square (part 1) and on Butcher’s Bridge (part 2) by the Grand Dame of durational performance, Tanya Mars.

What Google does offer in the top spot when you search “money laundering in Slovenia” is an article dated July 13, 2013 with this headline: “Slovenia court sentences ex-top managers over money laundering.” This explains why every passerby, young and old alike, who experienced Mars’ mise en scene, seemed to have a kind of insider’s kinship with the image of the artist in the pavilion in Congress Square on her hands and knees in front of two plastic buckets full of soapy water, meticulously scrubbing and hanging to dry on a typical Ikea clothes rack dozens upon dozens of antiquated, and in some cases, current (pun intended) paper money from all over the world. A low-fi, international money laundering scheme. Or, looking at it through the lens of domestic labour, Mars is demonstrating the world’s second oldest profession - the village laundry woman. That is, if historically the local washerwoman wore a miniature black velvet feathered top hat (a nod to the royals typically pictured on much of the world’s money) with a stripe of gold paint across her mouth, which appears to me both as hastily applied clown’s makeup, and a symbolic muzzle for privilege. (Mars also paints the mouths of the figure-heads on the bills gold.) Rationally, I know that most of the money hanging on the laundry rack is worthless, out of circulation, from countries I will never visit. I know that Mars is making a comment on global economies, on the disease of capitalism, on greed. I get it - it’s a catastrophe. But I can’t help it, I want to grab as much as I can and run.

In part 2 of the performance, Mars takes the freshly laundered bills from the day before and spends 4 hours ripping them in half, and then hand sewing two ends of two different bills together – different countries, different denominations – with red string. If Mars was Igor the first day preparing the operating room, she embodies Mary Shelley’s Victor the next day, Frankenstein-ing bits and pieces of old money into science fiction super money, monster currency. And like Victor who blindingly moves towards his goal without a thought to the outcome, we are both pleased and bit horrified with this creation. It doesn’t make any sense. It won’t work. But it’s beautiful. And I want it. I want more than one of these new future puppet-bills. I want all the pretty ones. I want to take a bunch of Mars money (half Benjamin Franklin/half Peso, half Euro/half Yen, half Tolar/half Dinar) and go to the Starbuck’s on Wall Street in New York City, and with a straight face try and buy a tall vente half-caf low foam extra hot chai latte with it.

Like much of Mars’ performance work, there is also a great turnaround at play. Ironically, and in keeping with the tenants of capitalism, Mars new money is endowed up-cycled value as an art object in the form of an artist’s multiple, created by hand, and therefore highly desirable in the art market. Cheeky.



Related project: 
Rare Parity