Séverine Hubard: Et que ça mousse!

Matienschön, 2013. Curators: Camille Cousin, Luz Peuscovich and Agustin Jais.

In exchange for a glass of champagne, the artist invited people to wear a bathing robe and get inside a jacuzzi made of discarded wood and filled with found chopped money bills. The French artist also created and displayed a series of watercolors collaged with the found money confetti. The title, «Et que ça mousse!» works as an invitation to celebrate amongst the economic crisis, transforming the uses and economies of the space.

The other day I experienced an aesthetic event. I was in my study, overwhelmed by work, and decided to go out on the balcony to get some fresh air (the apartment is on the ninth floor). I leaned over the railing and suddenly, in front of me, suspended in the air, I saw a bubble. It was a large pomp, the size of a ping pong ball, spherical, translucent, floating motionless without my being able to suspect the circumstances that had brought it to that place. In aesthetic experience there is magic, momentary suspension of credulity, abolition of all causes, eternity of the moment. Then I blinked, the bubble burst, I looked down and saw dozens of bubbles blown back and forth by the wind and the screams and laughter of two girls playing in the backyard of a house with a cylinder, water and detergent.

The bubble brings together the most perfect geometric shape (that sphere in which, according to Borges, Alain de Lille believed he found God and Pascal found nature) with the most fleeting of existences. Perhaps hidden in the irresistible temptation to create bubbles is the secret desire to contain in it a cry, a laugh or the air that escapes from us and make them drift like a bottle into the sea. When the economy of a country enters a fantasy stage, it is said that it inhabits a «bubble» (speculative, real estate, inflationary, etc). This means that the financial system no longer represents the relations of production; there is a detachment from reality, like two train cars disengaging, but in this case one swells and takes off, while the other runs uncontrollably downhill. When an economy enters a bubble state, there is a party, there is laughter, there is excitement, time speeds up and experiences intensify, enhanced by the imminence of the catastrophe. When many, many bubbles come together, compress and clump together, they form the foam. About bubbles, fantasy, art, economy and foam, «Et que ça mousse» speaks to us!

Séverine Hubard’s work contains everything that can be asked of contemporary art: painting, installation, performance, provocation, chance and crime (although the latter cancel each other out). As we already know, the project originates from the chance encounter of our artist with numerous bags of money in a garbage container. Is there a more recurrent dream in modern civilization than finding a bag full of money in a garbage dump? Miraculous oxymoron, the find of the most valuable content in the most vulgar continent contained, as in fables, a frustrating paradox: the money had been reduced to small pieces the size of a dime; it was a fortune … on confetti. But art, as a reverse of speculation, involves alchemical wisdom to transmute values: the resignification of materials can also lead to their revaluation, by grace and mercy of the philosopher’s stone of the signature of the author. How much is the rusty can of Shell lubricant worth with which Berni “paints” Juanito Laguna’s landscape?

But here things get complicated, because the «waste» is money, which had been explicitly destroyed so that it would lose its value (the discovery was at the door of a company that is dedicated to taking out banknotes). As Marx explains in Capital, money promotes the illusion that there is a natural equivalence between all things (the well-known «exchange value») when in reality the only thing they have in common is the amount of human labor (or «force of work») necessary to produce them. Thus we arrive at the famous «merchandise fetishism»: things are related to each other as persons and men as things. Hence, it is not surprising (on the contrary, it is absolutely coherent) the absence of human figures in the works of the Picada series, which are part of the exhibition: a diverse catalog of objects with no other relation to each other than the money that floats, grows and it spills into the pictures in the form of little circles, like bubbles, like foam.

«Money is one of those powers whose peculiarity lies in the absence of peculiarity and which, nevertheless, can color life with very different nuances,» wrote Georg Simmel in his Philosophy of money more than a hundred years ago. In an inverse process, Séverine colors her paintings with money, and thus its materiality becomes visible to us for the first time: we discover in amazement the colors, textures, and watermarks of the paper that we overlook in our daily manipulation of the currency and that, as Simmel also points out, it is the only object that we have no qualms about receiving or giving to a stranger. Great objectifying agent, money reifies our relationship with people and separates us from things, from the sacred character that they once possessed, when the words that called the production of objects and artistic creation had the same name (poiesis). Hence the moving gesture of Hubard’s work: bringing out money from its place of end and put it as a means through which we can reconcile ourselves with the things (and the people) that surround us. «The purely rational attitude towards human beings and things always has something cruel,» warns Simmel, and in the face of this emptying of meaning the German sociologist only finds a refuge, a single extreme opposition to this advance: «Of all works of men, the work of art constitutes the most closed unit, the most autonomous totality».

But going from the universal to the particular, we have to point out that Séverine Hubard’s work is staged in Argentina, one of the countries most obsessed with money, where its value, its circulation, its issuance, its availability are topics on the daily agenda. To the point that a history of the dollar in Argentina would tell us as much (or more) about our country as a history of football, or of political parties, and without a doubt it would have to be jointly written by an economist and a psychoanalyst. Argentines’ compulsion for money leads us to a meta-interest: not to worry about how much money things are worth but about how much money is money worth. For decades the moods, emotions, projects and ambitions of Argentines have danced to the rhythm of the peso’s price. Hence, it is impossible not to link the British Telecom booth with the dream come true that the decade of the Menemist “stability” brought us: Argentina was finally in Europe; nor the helicopter with the political crisis that signaled the nightmarish awakening of that dream, while the pesos were gaining the height of the bubbles, inflated by the devaluation.

When an «inflationary bubble» is unleashed, the value of things becomes diffuse and, as we relate to objects for their value (through money), that character is transferred to the things themselves. We no longer know if we are paying a little or a lot for something and if the process accelerates, the economy enters a phase of psychedelia (and if it accelerates a little more, of psychosis). My childhood memory of the hyperinflation of 1989 is of my mother telling me the price of the dollar as she served me lunch when she came home from school. They say that in the hyperinflation that overthrew the Weimar Republic, people collected their pay by wheelbarrow (yes, Séverine painted one). The inflationary bubble is an unfair wealth redistribution machine, which operates by concentrating more money (money, money) in fewer hands. Also, some say quietly, a disciplining whip of financial power: few rich get richer and many poor get poorer.

The figure that illustrates the collapse of money out of control can only be another oxymoron: a poor man’s jacuzzi, in which we can immerse ourselves and reflect together and half-naked on the contradictions of capitalism with a glass of champagne in hand.

And make it foam.

-Ariel Idez