benj gerdes

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Credit Where Credit is Due

Customized personal check project with series of inkjet prints and photocopies, 2003-2005.

After the U.S. launched war on Iraq in March of 2003, I generated a “custom” series of checks in order to pay monthly credit card, health insurance, and utility bills.  These bore legitimate routing and checking account numbers and were recognized as authentic by my back.  The project began as an attempt to confront three related situations: 1) The prevalence of American flags and similar logos on numerous commercial and financial products following 9/11 and in the build-up to the Iraq War, especially credit cards and personal checks, and the relative unavailability of any designs not affirming U.S. Foreign Policy;  2) My existing personal financial relationships, albeit on a very small scale, to corporate interests frequently identified as war profiteers;  3) My inability to communicate with the workforces of such institutions on the level which I dealt with them: bill payment, correspondence, etc., due to the spatial arrangement of the present global financial credit industry.  Pertaining to the first topic, the project was an attempt to envision a subculture of customization that might come closer to interpellating me as a subject.

The checks were generated in a word-processing program, printed by inkjet printer, and mailed in the provided envelopes along with a letter addressing the recipient.  This second form of address operated through an assumption that a human hand might be forced to intervene in a mechanized finanacial transaction.  Without fail, the smaller the business the more likely the checks were cashed in a timely fashion. Citibank, unlike other businesses who rejected and returned my checks, refused to acknowledge receipt of any form of payment for almost six months.  Rather than generate any sort of correspondence, the project led to severe penalty fees on a Citibank credit card account (never forgiven), a fraud investigation of me by AT&T Wireless, and Kaiser Permanente’s termination of my health insurance as well as my girlfriend’s (later reinstated).  The only writing from the other end was the handwriting on the outside of envelopes rejecting the checks for a series of false rationales: improper routing number, not drawn on US funds, not made out to the proper payee, etc.  This is the result of such a project: not the generation of direct responses to the political provocation of my check designs, but one action among many where bureaucratic rationales bury dissent through a series of disingenuous substitutions.

The presentation for this project includes enlargements of any materials returned to me via mail.

Initial exhibition: “A Knock at the Door” Curated by Seth Cameron, LMCC/South Street Seaport Museum and Cooper Union Gallery, 2005.


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Credit Where Credit is Due | 2005 | projects