Santiago Montoya – The Great Swindle

5th December 2012
Laura Burnside

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Santiago Montoya, Zephyrus I (2012). ©Getty Images

Following The Great Swindle private view at Halcyon Gallery, we caught up with Santiago Montoya to find out more about the meaning of his show.

His exhibition epitomises the 21st century and questions the value of society by drawing upon political history and using materials such as real banknotes and historic Asian food coupons.

Montoya started working with banknotes in 2007, seeking to give an artistic point of view on the notion of value. In his work can be spotted banknotes from countries all over the world, from Yugoslavia to Columbia, Egypt, Burma, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and of course the United States. “I sourced them through private collectors as well as enquiring about uncirculated currency in different banks, as I wanted them to be as crisp and even as possible”.

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Santiago Montoya, Go West Stars (2011). ©Halcyon Gallery

Interestingly enough, in one of the works from Go West Stars, the banknotes are actually fake. “I got a collector in China and he swindled me. He said it was a new edition, printed in the 80s. I knew he was trying to fool me, but in the end I thought, well, this is very cool, someone is selling you something that looks like the real stuff but it’s not, and you’re thinking I want the real stuff. And what is the real stuff? What is the difference really? It’s this question of value.”

Talking about his series Horizon, he explains that “although they’re more pictorial than anything else, there’s a narrative within each of the notes”. From a distance all you see are colour patterns resulting in a horizon-like image, but as you get closer you get dragged into all the small details. “It’s a little bit like the system as a whole, if you really distance yourself you can see what it is and what is going on, but as you get closer you tend to get lost into it”.

In his work Show me the Money, composed of US Dollars and Saudi notes, he seeks to highlight trade dependency “with the US paying the Saudi Arabians for the petroleum and then the petroleum being shipped all the way to the US and the money the Saudi Arabians receive being sent back to the US; it’s this thing about money coming and going”.

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Santiago Montoya, Revolution Reloaded (2012). ©Getty Images

Regarding Revolution Reloaded he explains: “I was working with Cuban pesos and American dollars and listening to the Beatles’ song Revolution and it just clicked. Who plays the revolution, who pauses it? It’s not only about the super socialist and the super capitalist, it’s about the way we go about how it’s played. We tend to forget about history, about how things happen and why they happen. It’s difficult to identify who are the revolutionaries of your own time and what change is actually going on, it often happens to be what no one is looking at. Our sociological and psychological understanding of the world is limited in that way.”

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Santiago Montoya, Fish and ships (2012). Courtesy of Halcyon Gallery.

We asked him what his view was on the relationship between money and art. “You stand in front of any artwork in history and the artwork is already selling you something, there’s already a transaction there; either you’re buying it or you’re not buying it. So even from the point of view of people who resent or don’t agree that artworks should be sold, or not for so much money, I think there’s just no other way of relating. You can come to the gallery and see the artwork and you’ll have a commercial transaction right there. We’re having one right here, I’m selling you ideas, and if an art critic comes and tells me something about my own work he’s selling me something too. We’re trapped in that fish net.”

Talking about his work Fish and Ships, he explains “we are in the system, we are in those containers, we are in those ships. We need to buy things or at least we think we need to. The only way to not be in the system is to live in the forest and change the system, but eventually you’ll have to kill an animal and start a process of transaction with other beings.”

When asked about an explanation behind the preponderance of zeros in his exhibition, he says “we are being flooded by zeros everywhere; we’re getting more and more and more. You’re not making 10 dollars a day you’re making 100, and then you realize you’re on another level and it might be difficult to make it in that circle so you’ll need a 1000. A millionaire nowadays is just another millionaire; you have to be a billionaire. You wonder why it is, is it because the standard value of things is just going higher and higher or is it because things are becoming less and less valuable and you have to be above that? Art is one of those things that has been picked up as an element that divides, we all at some point have Gucci or Chanel but not everyone has a Renoir. Zeros is this illusion that the more zeros we get in there the more it is going to make things worth. But what does it bring to our sense of happiness? What is it that we want, what is important? We see it all the time, in movies and so on, what is important is love; but we love money, we can’t get out of that circle”.