Follow the Money: Koert van Mensvoort on “Money as a Medium”

Follow the Money

Koert van Mensvoort

Money is one of the oldest virtual realities in our society/culture and points to the deep penetration of the virtual in our society. Reality and authority is underestimated as we are moving from a world of things to a world of info.

In 2006 Ailin Graef became the first virtual real estate millionaire in Second Life with virtual Linden Dollars. In 2009 China put ‘New Limits on Virtual Currency‘ when the virtual economy became so big that China decided to regulate it.

Virtual money is actually a pleonasm as money has always been virtual (except for livestock, physical cattle as currency). Over time currency became smaller and smaller and eventually turned round into coin currency. A big pile of coins led to the invention of bills and from 100 BC the banknote as a form of currrency was accepted. In 1973 the Gold Standard was abandoned which implied that money is now worth X because we tell you it is worth it. While coins that “In God we trust” it actually means “In the government we trust.”

The Currency Fountain by Koert van Mensvoort et al is an installation that translates the virtuality of money into something physical again: water. It aims to display the implicit financial data. “With natural phenonema, like for instance the weather, usually explicit as well as implicit data is available. ” Explicit weather data can be found in weather forecasts and if we look outside we find implicit weather data in the form of a data visualization: clouds, sun, rain etc. “For abstract cultural data, like for instance financial information, the implicit data is missing!” (Van Mensvoort).

Innovation in the financial sector can be found in Africa, in Kenia which has a weak banking structure but over 160 million prepaid cellphones. Prepaid cellphone cards used as money in the form of the M-Pesa. Telecom providers become banks and banks become telephone providers.

In the history of money the signifier becomes the signified followed by a tendency towards the intangible and finally reality is closely lined to authority. The database becomes our reality as our world is starting to consist of info instead of things. In addition to the geosphere (inanimate matter) and the biosphere (biological life), the noosphere (the sphere of human thought) has emerged. Van Mensvoort compares the ecologies of the rainforest to the financial system and found that the former is stable and the latter shows a rapid growth but both are endangered. The environmental value needs to be monetized by making it explicit. We can love nature but if there is no ownership there is no responsibility. Proposed is the Eco-currency as a currency for environmental value. Depending on the urgency of the environmental crisis the value of the Eco will go up and down. Things that are not in the database (eg nature) do not exist which requires a recultivation of the financial system.

Follow the Money

Fluctuation of currency installation

Stifo@Sandberg presentations in De Balie


Introduction by Martijn de Waal
The Stifo@Sandberg workshop used to have a revolutionary edge to it which has now gone because the media have established their legitimacy. As media have matured, the workshop no longer focuses on the revolutionary media type but on the media specific grammar. The workshop now zooms in on a specific medium and tries to understand, expose and use it’s language. How can we use a particular medium to achieve a certain goal?

Lotte Meijer & Erin Moore – Tuesday
Stifo@SandbergTuesday is an interactive tour made for the Museum of Modern Art New York (MoMA). Lotte describes how the museum oozes a form of complete perfection which transforms the museum into a non-place. Yoshio Taniguchi, the MoMA architect responsible for the redesign of the museum said the following when presenting his redesign:


This disappearing of the museum transformed it into a non-personal sterile place and Meijer and Moore wanted to bring back the stories and turn it into a personal space. Lotte Meijer collected stories about the museum from it’s employees, ranging from educational guides, to cleaners and nightwatchers during her one year internship.


Visitors can connect to the MoMA wireless network with their iPhone and discover unknown stories about the museum: Jim is a painter at the museum and paints the same spots every single week: parts of the walls the guards lean into during their shifts. A nightwatch who moves one of the museum benches through the emergency exit into the staircase where it’s dark so he can get some sleep. These stories show a more “human” side of the museum to its visitors.

The application is called Tuesday because the museum is closed on Tuesdays and Meijer collected most of her stories on Tuesday.

Lidija Zelovic & Rogério Lira – The Grey Zone

The world is a polarized place. We like to think we live in an open-minded society where our media is free but we still only get a partial perception of stories. We use debates and discussions to expand our view of the world but we sometimes conform or adjust ourselves to the ones around us. The concept of the Grey Zone is that we need a new platform that make us aware of preconceived ideas. The Grey Zone collects videos on a certain topic and wants to test how open minded we are.

After watching a video which expresses an opinion the question is asked where you stand on a certain topic. The view points are than mapped onto a white/gray/black area. The platform wishes to introduce people to the grey zone.


Lidija Zelovic & Rogério Lira wanted to make the tool as intimate as possible. Current social networking tools focus on creating your own image where people sometimes put a lot of time and effort in constructing their online presence. In the Grey Zone, however, it is completely anonymous and no one is judging your reaction. There are no comments possible so there is very little information noise in the videos. Every argument is an idea that stands for itself, you don’t value the maker but you value the idea. You can upload your own video reaction/standpoint and you can edit existing videos to combine different arguments that are there already. The question is: How much control can users have in creating their own topics? In order to avoid abuse there is a so called alarm button for provocative videos.

The concept in itself sounds quite idealistic in the sense that they focus on the user group of artists and media students. This seems a public that is very much dedicated to opening up a debate and provide a grey area that also needs to be discussed, however (mis)use of the system from outside of the focus group seems likely.

Teun Castelein & Sylvain Vriens – Stadsduif

The pigeon is a symbol for peace and love but in Amsterdam it stands for grey-winged rats. Amsterdam needs a new pigeon. In the era of ‘city-branding’ (I amsterdam) why not use pigeons? On the website (city-pigeon) you can design your own pigeon. Eindhoven, the light city, could use a pigeon that glows in the dark.


The carrier pigeon has lost its function but a glow in the dark pigeon would regain an actual function. It would also give the pigeons a new and positive image after ruining your balcony for years.


The stadsduif project gives us a critical look into the world of citybranding and manipulating species by “designing” them.

Ghalia Elsrakbi & Florian Conradi – State 2.0
Elsrakbi and Conradi provide us with a state for the stateless. The virtual world seems to be an endless territory so why can’t we claim a state for the stateless people? The application imports data from Facebook and Flickr in order to embody your new state.

It reminded me of the place of Palestina on the web by Richard Rogers and Anat David-Ben at which deals with the acknowledgement of the non-existent state of Palestina on the web. Have a look at these visuals of Mapping the Palestinian Web Space (2008).

More pictures of the event can be found on Flickr.

Arjo Klamer @ New Cultural Networks Conference

Arjo Klamer addresses the question of “how can we bridge the gap between economics and culture?”

Klamer gave up on PowerPoint a long time ago because the flip-over has several advantages over Powerpoint: You can keep referring to it and you can draw and add notes while you are speaking to clarify things. This makes it a superior technique that is very effective. Presenters often read off the PowerPoint which not only makes it a very boring presentation but it also makes people feel stupid because they can read themselves. Klamer gives us a live demonstration of the advantages of another “old forgotten” presentation technique: the overhead projector. This old presentation technique immediately causes some problems because the right sheets and pens are initially lost.

Arjo Kramer

Arjo Klamer is professor of the Economics of Art and Culture at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, and holds the world’s only chair in the field of cultural economics (from This chair has changed dramatically over the years as there used to be an enormous gap between economics and culture. Economics was a suspicious subject especially when you were critical of government subsidies. Nowadays more and more people in the world of the arts have adopted the language of economists but Klamer thinks this adoptation has gone too far. We are now thinking too much in economic terms. If you deal with cultural goods, goods with a symbolic value, then the market is not the most appropriate space to realize them.

The connection between economics and culture is now understood by politicians, both left-wing and right-wing who have discovered the power of culture. This insight is completely new but has a lot of consequences. Richard Florida explored this shift in “The Rise of the Creative Class” where he describes the role of the creative class in the urban regeneration. Florida places creativity in the center of the new economy. We no longer live in an information economy but in a creative economy. (The guy who is setting next to me writes down “NO MORE FLORIDA!” but unfortunately I never find out why.)

Arjo Kramer

We are currently very worried that outsourcing our labor processes to China will influence our economy but we must keep in mind that the actual production is only a fraction of the cost. What we really pay for is the idea, the image and the symbolic value. We pay for the experience and the the symbolic value that is attached to it.

Klamer explores the great divide between economics and culture. How do we transfer the creativity to the business world? Not only are the values different, the rhetoric and the way people talk are also different. How to we translate the rhetoric and bridge the gap? The problem is that we place the logic of the government against the logic of the market with its demand and result-oriented approach.

Koert van Mensvoort & Arjo KramerWe need a third sphere where art gets realized which Klamer refers to as “the oikos” (Greek for: fireplace, the law of the household). This sphere has its own logic which we take into other spheres. This third sphere is a social space that might be a critical sphere. The third sphere, the creative commons, requires and depends on contributions. The logic of the third sphere is the logic of reciprocity. Another name for this sphere is the creative commons in which we can also place the web, open-source software and its community. Klamer states the Internet arose in the logic of the creative commons.
This is where I disagree with Arjo Klamer.

In my view the Internet arose in the logic of the government because the ARPANET was developed by the United States Department of Defense. The ARPANET, as predecessor of the Internet, was developed in close connection with researchers at universities but all the terminals were sponsored by ARPA. In the late eighties the Internet shifted from the logic of the government to the logic of the market when the first Internet Service providers were formed. (History of the Internet).

The Internet is not as open and democratic as is presented by Klamer. Alexander Galloway described in ‘Protocol’ how the Internet is both radically distributed and highly controlled. According to Klamer we can take the logic of the third sphere into the other spheres. Has the web shifted from the logic of the government to the logic of the market to the logic of the oikos? If we choose to place the web within the logic of the oikos than we must keep in mind that it is still tightly bound to the logic of the market. The Internet still resides in all the spheres with their own logic. We must not place things in a linear way but rather use Foucault’s concept of genealogy.

Arjo Klamer is currently involved in setting up a university in the third sphere. The Academia Vitae is an institution that reflects on the divide between economics and culture. It also acts on the divide with firms that pay for the student’s Master degree. It uses the logic of the third sphere where the reciprocity is that students have a (paid) graduation project and firms receive projects. There is a focus on how the students can use their creativity without losing their own integrity. In order to stay in the third sphere you need to retain your own authenticity and integrity without going into the spectacle.

Article Series - New Cultural Networks

  1. Mieke Gerritzen @ New Cultural Networks Conference
  2. Arjo Klamer @ New Cultural Networks Conference
  3. Régine Debatty @ New Cultural Networks Conference

Mieke Gerritzen @ New Cultural Networks Conference

Mieke Gerritzen, head of the Design department at the Sandberg Institute, opened the New Cultural Networks conference organized by Stifo@Sandberg.

She addressed the general idea of networking online where we constantly have to fill in our profiles. The irony is that when I applied for this conference I received a confirmation e-mail which included the request for my postal address. I kindly asked why they wanted to have my postal address and they answered “so that we can send you a printed invitation next year if you would like.” It is interesting that an institution that organizes a conference that addresses the topic of new cultural networks wants to include me in their old postal network. I declined the offer of printed invitations in the future and replied that I will keep myself up-to-date using one of the many new cultural networks such as or the nettime mailinglist.

Gerritzen stated that creating a profile feels like creating a homepage. This idea is based on the somewhat dated idea of the homepage as the place to build your online identity. I think this idea is no longer maintainable because the homepage was a central place that you had control over. You built your own homepage and thus controlled your own identity. Identity online is no longer a central control issue but identity is now distributed. Your identity is built by your distributed presence on social networks, mailinglists, Google, Flickr, etcetera. In the age of the API and the mashup you no longer have complete control over your identity.

Creating profiles equals creating a marketing strategy to promote yourself according to Gerritzen. This can be seen in the case of LinkedIn that revolves around this idea of marketing yourself. Gerritzen even states that nowadays we are all part of the creative industries and that we should all be able to make money. That sounds like a overly optimistic statement to kick off this conference.

New Cultural Networks @ OBA

My New Cultural Networks Conference pictures are located at Flickr.

Article Series - New Cultural Networks

  1. Mieke Gerritzen @ New Cultural Networks Conference
  2. Arjo Klamer @ New Cultural Networks Conference
  3. Régine Debatty @ New Cultural Networks Conference