I woke up last night in the middle of the night which isn't abnormal because I just learned that I have Central Sleep Apnea. Central Sleep Apnea means I wake up several, sometimes hundreds, of times a night gasping for air. It's when your brain stops communicating with your respiratory system to breath. You don't die from it - I don't think you do. I hope you don't. I hope I don't. But what I'm trying to say is that I always wake up several times a night in order to catch my breath. Sometimes I fall right back asleep but other times I think of ideas. Last night when I woke up and couldn't breath I was able to develop a new theory. The theory is that DEBT IS ART.
It is. It makes so much sense so it has to be a theory. Let me break it down for you.
Everyone thinks that the idea of debt and credit came AFTER money was created as a way of keeping track of how much you owed someone when you borrowed money from someone. For example, a student wants to go to college. The college costs $40,000 so the student borrows $40,000 from Sallie Mae to pay for the college. After the student graduates from college, the student now owes that $40,000 that they borrowed (plus a ton more because of interest) to Sallie Mae. That amount the student owes Sallie is the DEBT.
But actually debt began BEFORE money. Dating back to at least 3500 BC, debt/credit was used as a sort of tally system to keep track of who owed who what. No one was carrying money around or saving money or anything like that. It was just a record to keep track of informal exchanges you made among one another. The idea of college getting a dollar value wouldn't (didn't) exist. You would just go to college. Your professor would get a tally for educating you. You would essentially be indebted to that professor but what you had to give back in exchange would be more vague (a cow, a back massage, milk, a woman).
So what we need to remember about all things we currently define as "economic" - money, value, debt, credit, coins - is that it is all made up. They are abstract ideas that people started to use. They are art. Art is an abstract idea. Debt is an abstract idea. We started to use debt. We can also use art. In ancient days and even in modern days, we use the abstract concept of debt to fill in spaces when we don't have something, when there is a lack, when there is a void. It's a solution to not having X.
Isn't that inspiring?
Art is a lot of things. But the art that I am interested in is the art that imagines new ways of being in the world. These imaginaries or performativities can actively change the way society organizes itself or can exist forever as utopian ideals attempting to change the collective imagination - both outcomes are relevant. The question "did it work?" isn't interesting here because they are all attempts at change. Some things catch on and others don't. The point is about the empowerment of art. The empowerment of debt.
To further explain my theory that Debt is Art, I'd like to use this space to outline examples of projects, actions, movements, works that I believe adequately create newness in spaces where there is lack. This newness comes from finding the abundances that are around us without having to acquire "resources" that we don't have. An example in my art is realizing that I don't have a job or money so asking my landlord if he could use a skill of mine. Another example is the project 596 Acres where communities are given access to vacant lots in the city in order to start gardens and other green spaces when yards are hard to come by in a big city like New York. On the smaller scale is a woman selling churros in the subway to station to make money to feed her family. The examples I provide will outline people performing informal and alternative economies who are using the abundant resources they do have to get what they need outside of the overarching economic ideologies of capitalism.