It was Alexander of Macedon, whose portrait was the first in history to grace a coin around 300 BC and it manifested his claim to be the ruler of the known world. Money was the visible mirror of Alexander’s power and his image, stamped on a coin, also stamped his rule on the territory in which it circulated. But circulation of money not only affirms a delimitated space. In a globalised world the distribution of currencies reflects power beyond the national borders in which they are legal tender and stakes out visible claims of colonial and hegemonial influence.
But one decade into the 21st Century, money is becoming an increasingly invisible – faceless – force that seems to spiral out of control. With the world tumbling from one financial crisis into the next, the same national governments, that once emphasized their power on the currencies they released, seem to loose the ability to control the unfettered force of a globalized financial market. Financial trading is increasingly becoming a virtual realm, beyond a corporeal terrain, in which computer programs trade unimaginable amounts of assets at unimaginable speed. Simultaneously a cashless society is emerging. We pay with our credit or debit cards, our wages are electronically transferred into our bank accounts and we pay most of our bills online. Cash, and coins in particular, is left as small change.
My images refocus on this small change by taking portraits found on coins from different eras and nationalities out of their numismatic context. Lifted to a larger scale and with all references to their monetary value digitally removed, the portraits in my images now look like ancient sculptural reliefs. Now isolated, they first and foremost focus on the individuals whose busts were used as statements, which were meant to passed on by countless hands to proclaim different national identities. In a broader sense however they also reflect back on the base they were taken from: money and with it the visible, and invisible process of exchange that it facilitates and which continues to shape the fate of human society.
Joachim Froese, January 2015