The British artist Imbue has shredded more than £1 million ($1.3 million) in cash to create a collection of money skulls as a form of protest against the cost of living crisis and the money power structure in the U.K. The skulls feature in an exhibition that opens today next to the Bank of England in the City of London, at a pop-up space at 5 Royal Exchange, as part of London Gallery Weekend.
Taking its title from the two subjects said to be unavoidable, “Death + Taxes” features a new body of money-themed work by the pseudonymous artist, who often creates wry comments on aspects of contemporary society, from capitalism to religion.
Among the highlights are 12 human-sized resin skulls, which contain shredded currencies in British pounds, U.S. dollars and Euro. The artist declined to reveal the sources of the cash used for the skulls, but organizations that mint and distribute currencies like the Federal Reserve do release money that has been shredded after it became too worn or damaged for circulation as souvenirs, as well as for “artistic and commercial purposes.”
The show also includes a series of seven, 24-karat gold-plated packages of Freddo chocolate bars, a satirical work mocking the staggering inflation in the cost of everyday objects. The retail price of Cadbury’s frog-shaped chocolate bar has been cited by economists over the years as an indicator reflecting inflation trends in the U.K. Dubbed the Freddo Index, the price of the beloved kids’ treat has gone up by 400 percent since it first hit the shelves in the 1990s.
With the country’s economy steadily worsening post-Brexit, the exhibition aims to prompt visitors to ask themselves, “How far is too far?” The U.K.’s inflation rate peaked at 11.1 percent in October 2022, the highest it has reached in 41 years. It has eased recently but still stood at 7.8 percent in April. Adding to that, soaring prices for energy and food have contributed to a critical cost of living crisis, according to Imbue.
The price of Brexit is another major theme of the show. The installation piece is made from a receipt printer that spits out the real-time costs and financial damage following the U.K’s departure from the European Union. Visitors can also get their financial futures read by a Victorian fortune-telling machine. And an installation of a “bleeding ATM” reflects how everyday people feel about the current economic situation.
The choice of staging an exhibition in a pop-up space next to the Bank of England, the U.K.’s central bank, rather than in a regular art gallery, aims to echo the show’s exploration of themes about money, the artist told Artnet News. The City of London, the U.K. capital’s historic financial district, is an area that traditionally represents special status and power over ordinary citizens.
The show’s installation pieces are not for sale but related editioned works, including the skulls (in an edition of 50) and the golden Freddos (in an edition of 100), will be available for sale on the artist’s website 48 hours after the exhibition opens, priced between £95 ($119) and £1,000 ($1,253). The exhibition runs through June 11.
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