Paolo Cirio:, Liverpool

Paolo Ciriop2pGiftCredit cardsPaolo Ciriop2pGiftCredit cardsIMG_2904.jpghanding out free credit cards
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p2pGiftCredit cardsp2pGiftCredit cardshanding out free credit cardsp2pGiftCredit cardsthe tshirt

PaoloCirio_liverpool, a set on Flickr.

During ISEA and ReWire I was fortunate enough to hang out with a number of inspirational artists. Since part of #rbrt (this project) will be to document their practice, I thought I’d start with just one of them.

Paolo Cirio is an Italian citizen currently living in London. I first met him handing out credit cards at a reception held for the Istanbul Biennial at the Dutch Consulate. I’m somewhat fascinated by alternative economic models, so I grabbed a card to see what this was all about.

It turns out that it’s something along the lines of a modern-day “LETS” system. You register your card online at where you’re rewarded with a starting credit of  £100. What’s not instantly clear is that this is not the kind of credit card you can use in a shop (although you could be fooled by the familiar logo appearing on the card itself). This is more like a virtual currency, the kind you would trade between friends.

On the website, Paolo likens his system to “the diagram of the UK banks rescue plan” (only, um, much more communal): Gift_Finance Gift_Finance

On the one hand, this could be used as a playful fake currency, something to use in a friendly poker game. On the other, there is a serious message being communicated – and a timely one, at that. All over the world, economic markets have been abused by the people we believed were our financial caretakers. Their greed has caused untold damage to everyday people from all walks of life. You only need to check out the recent #OccupyWallSt spread of action (& data) to see the 1% have been pulling the wool over our eyes for far too long. This art project, with its all-too-familiar symbolism, triggers important questions we might otherwise try to avoid.

But enough of economic ranting (for now). When Paolo told me his plan to distribute cards around Liverpool’s city centre during the ANDFestival, I thought it would be fun to see what happened and take some photographs. What I found so lovely about the delivery of this work was its subtlety. Watching the team don their ‘official’ white tshirts had me flashing back to The Burgess Project, where tshirts were an important part of crowd management for our promenade performance through a busy city centre. Here they formed more of a typical branded corporate identity.

The first thing that struck me was how common it seemed to be for these shoppers to be showered with “free money now” offers. Passers by either brushed the cards away, or (mainly the younger ones) saw the VISA(tm) symbol and went excitedly for the £100. Some, however, stopped and actually looked at what they had been given. One or two even stood there for a while, reading the printed information with a thoughtful stare. You can see a couple of those moments captured in the photos I took. These were the faces that really held me, their looks of confusion, then realisation, then… well I’m not sure. I still wonder what they did next, if they took up the offer and joined the website or maybe told their mates about it in the pub later. I would like to think that at least it made them think about how our current systems have locked us in a trap designed to benefit the few, and wonder what we might be able to do about it. But who knows.

Paolo has just used some of my pictures in his recent newsletter/website update, so I thought now would be a good time for me to share my copies online too. They’re CC licensed so feel free to share them… and get the word out about the concept. After all, while I’m asking #WTFisDigCult, I can’t help but wonder why it shouldn’t be something that helps us reclaim our economic models?

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