Time/Bank

Time/Bank was a platform where groups and individuals could pool and trade time and skills, bypassing money as a measure of value. Time/Bank was based on the premise that everyone in the field of culture has something to contribute and that it is possible to develop and sustain an alternative economy by connecting existing needs with unacknowledged resources.

The origins of time-based currency can be traced both to the American anarchist Josiah Warren, who ran the Cincinnati Time Store from 1827 until 1830, and to the British industrialist and philanthropist Robert Owen, who founded the utopian “New Harmony” community which banned money. The first successful contemporary time bank was started in 1991 by Paul Glover in Ithaca, New York. Following his idea, people began to exchange time, which led to the creation of a time-based currency the “Ithaca Hours,” which even local businesses began to accept, and which still flourishes. Time banking and service exchange have since developed into a full-fledged movement, usually centered around local communities.

Time/Bank at e-flux was modeled on existing time banks. Every Time/Bank transaction allowed individuals to request, offer, and pay for services in “Hour Notes.” When a task was performed, the credit hours earned could be saved and used at a later date, given to another person, or contributed towards developing larger communal projects. For example, if you happened to be in Beijing or Hamburg and needed someone to help you shop for materials or translate a press release, you were able to draw on resources from Time/Bank without exchanging any money.

Through Time/Bank, e-flux endeavored to create an immaterial currency and a parallel micro-economy for the cultural community, one that is not geographically bound and that will create a sense of worth for many of the exchanges that already take place within the art field, particularly those that do not produce commodities and often escape the structures that validate only certain forms of exchange as significant or profitable.

Iterations of Time/Bank were developed at the following venues:

Frieze Art Fair, London, UK, 2009

Time/Store, e-flux, New York, NY, 2010

5th Liverpool Biennial, UK, 2010

Portikus, Frankfurt, Germany, 2011

Art Basel, Germany, 2011

Stroom Den Haag, The Hague, Netherlands, 2011

NAiM / Bureau Europa, Maastricht, Netherlands, 2011

UTS Gallery, Sydney, Australia, 2011

Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland, 2011

Time/Food, Abrons Art Center, New York, NY, 2011

STUK, Leuven, Belgium, 2012

Foreman Art Gallery, Sherbrooke, Canada, 2012

Time/Food, Berlin, Germany, 2012

Time/Food, Stella Art Foundation, Moscow, Russia, 2012

9th Gwangju Biennale, South Korea, 2012

documenta 13, Kassel, Germany, 2012

MG+MSUM, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2013

Reviews

“Edge Fund: Time/Bank at e-flux”, Edge Fund: Time/Bank at e-flux

A universal search of e-flux’s Time/Bank project at 3:56 p.m. on Friday, November 12, turns up the following results, listed in descending chronological order: For one hour of time, robgreene in Los Angeles “will provide 1 hour of DJing with either vinyl records, CDs, or both of all your favorite soulful, nostalgic jams!” For 24 hours of time,...

A universal search of e-flux’s Time/Bank project at 3:56 p.m. on Friday, November 12, turns up the following results, listed in descending chronological order:

For one hour of time, robgreene in Los Angeles “will provide 1 hour of DJing with either vinyl records, CDs, or both of all your favorite soulful, nostalgic jams!”

For 24 hours of time, Claudia in Germany asks readers to “send me your artwork, whether finished or in progress, and I will ask random passers-by and/or my grandma how they think you should proceed.”

And for two hours of time, mjg in New York offers to “draw you a picture and mail it to you (or exchange in person if you live in NYC). All I ask in turn is that you get a frame for it and hang it proudly on your wall.”

The currency is time, and the product is cultural work, or auxiliary services surrounding it. In exchange for translating a press release, babysitting a four-year-old or letting somebody crash on their couch—the definition of ‘work’ is subject to interpretation—participants in e-flux’s Time/Bank are awarded “Hour Notes” redeemable for goods on sale at the organization’s Essex Street storefront. (And not just there: a satellite location recently opened in Liverpool, and plans are afoot to launch more). To get involved, time bankers post ads detailing their skills or requesting somebody else’s, positioning themselves in a barter economy that’s occupationally delimited but functionally global.

e-flux dates the origins of time-banking back to British social reformer Robert Owen and American Josiah Warren, an anarchist who brought the system stateside in 1827 with the Cincinnati Time Store. Since then, time-banks have materialized in college towns and economically depressed communities across the country, realigning the relationship between functional value and work in an era of neoliberalism and abstract capital. The most high-profile American system currently operating is the Ithaca Hours, which Paul Glover established in 1991 and christened after its post-industrial hometown. London and Glasgow are also home to notable inner-city time banks, as is the student haven of Madison, Wisconsin, whose branch has over a thousand members. With its 21st century spin on utopian socialism and reliance on grassroots organization, it was only a matter of time before the system was adopted by artists.

While time banking itself falls within an older mold, e-flux’s iteration has a slightly different audience. By focusing exclusively on culture workers, Time/Bank highlights the precarity that unites the creative class with low-wage laborers in the brave new globalized economy. As Andrew Ross observes in Nice Work if You Can Get It, “flexploitataion” and the decline of Fordism have rendered white-collar workers structurally vulnerable, a position that’s mirrored in the migrant workforce. “Once they are in the game,” Ross writes of creative workers, “some of the players thrive, but most subsist, neither as employers nor traditional employees, in a limbo of uncertainty, juggling their options, massaging their contracts, managing their overcommitted time, and developing coping strategies for handling the uncertainty of never knowing where their next project, or source of income, is coming from.” Broke culture workers, in short, are the ideal participants in an economic system that feeds on precarity. Not a new conceit, but one that feels especially significant when surveying the cradle-to-art school wares at the Essex Street store. Time/Bank may enable creative workers to live comfortably as leftists, but it also implies that this is perhaps a less voluntary association than in the past.

A quick scan of the shelves offers dissertations’ worth of material for future cultural anthropologists. In addition to toothbrushes and a variety of dried foods, necessary goods include the following: texts on Hegel and anarcho-syndicalism (30 minutes); condoms (20 minutes); paintbrushes (15 minutes); yoga mat (one hour); guitar (14 hours); Casio watches (2 hours); hemp soap (one hour); Chia Lincoln (one hour); stovetop coffee maker (2 hours); and a blue Peugeot bike—originally fifteen hours, reduced to ten due to necessary repair work. These are the must-haves of a certain subset of the cultural stratosphere, revealing that the project’s real divide is social, not economic.

With this in mind, a prescient question that Time/Bank raises is what counts as work in the creative economy, and subsequently, what qualifies as luxury. An easy way of approaching this is through the division between material and immaterial labor: construction or dog walking read easily as physical work, but what about conceptualizing web projects or curating art shows? In the context of the project, it’s all the same, with quality and value determined by users and unmoored from physical output. Assuming the time costs are the same, fixing a guitar or building a shelf is worth exactly as much as German-English translation or theorizing about art. Ultimately, the question isn’t one of labor, but of value.

In 2007, e-flux planted the seeds for Time/Bank with PAWNSHOP, a project that explored the “poetics of circulation and distribution” by inviting 60 artists to contribute works that would be reclaimed or eventually pawned to the public. “A pawnshop,” the press release explains, “is a stage where merchandise and money dance in a choreography that could have them circle back and cancel each other out, but in fact rarely does.” Rather than floating back and forth over the hazy border between exchange value and use value, items at pawn shops typically sit unused on shelves, slowly going to rot while their monetary avatars are off having a good time. By sticking 60 indisputably valuable artworks in a pawnshop, e-flux forced a clash between contradictory models of value, momentarily transforming a holding cell for unwanted or useless but valuable goods into a kind of gallery space. With the distance between goods and capital ever increasing—or at least, goods and our ability to value them—Time/Bank picks up where Pawnshop leaves off, creating a nearly closed system that’s pegged entirely to use value.

As anthropologist David Graeber points out in his incisive article about art and immaterial labor—a concept he thrashes before leaving for dead—the value of art comes from its recognition by moneyed tastemakers. Artists produce things, Graeber writes, physical items that “financiers can baptize, consecrate, through money and thus turn into art.” Bankers don’t produce tangible items, but it’s their verdict that determines whether an artist shopping in the Time/Bank store is doing so out of luxury or necessity. But Graeber insists that this isn’t cause for anti-capitalist despair: money migrating from bankers to artists enters alternative spaces much the way that government welfare checks do. “It is never clear,” he writes of art sales, “who exactly is scamming whom.” This opaque system of valuation is the referent in Time/Bank, and it’s one that e-flux cleverly undermines by positing a workable alternative. Without necessarily suggesting a fundamental realignment, the project’s central insight is that people will work for what they care about, so long as they’re allowed to determine what matters to them.

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“Stirring the Pot | Time/Food at Abrons Art Center”, Stirring the Pot | Time/Food at Abrons Art Center

Over the past three years, the New York-based, itinerant art organization e-flux has been cultivating a large-scale micro-economy through a project called Time/Bank. Physical branches at museums in Den Haag and Frankfurt circulated an alternative currency whose notes, designed by the artist Lawrence Weiner, are printed in denominations of hours. During...

Over the past three years, the New York-based, itinerant art organization e-flux has been cultivating a large-scale micro-economy through a project called Time/Bank. Physical branches at museums in Den Haag and Frankfurt circulated an alternative currency whose notes, designed by the artist Lawrence Weiner, are printed in denominations of hours. During these exhibitions, anyone could spend time helping others to earn bills, which are redeemable for daily items, groceries, art books and other staples. Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle, the artists who founded Time/Bank, call it “a platform that enables people to get things done without using money” — indeed, to this day the bank is still functioning, globally, with more than a thousand users who deposit time into the Time/Bank Web site and withdraw it in the form of skills performed by others.

As harvest season crests, Creative Time has commissioned e-flux to create a permutation of Time/Bank that will open on Sept. 24 at the Abrons Art Center in Manhattan: Time/Food, a temporary lunchtime restaurant serving dishes contributed by a long list of very accomplished visual artists, who also like to cook. Diners need only pledge 30 minutes of their time to sit down to a meal. Some of the recipes, like Paul Chan’s fennel and orange salad, sound like simple, healthy, potluck fare; others, like the New Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective’s spicy shrimp dish “Pirates of the Bay of Bengal,” will appeal to a more daring palate. Don’t miss “Martha’s Mediterranean Spinach,” from the famously methodical kitchen of Martha Rosler. On Sunday, Sept. 25, Rirkrit Tiravanija will serve as Time/Food’s first, and particularly well-seasoned, guest chef.

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“ARTISTS COOK LUNCH FOR "TIME/FOOD"”, ARTISTS COOK LUNCH FOR "TIME/FOOD"

Artists! Trade a half-hour of your time for an otherwise free lunch at the temporary “Time/Food” restaurant opening in the  Abrons Arts Center  on the Lower East Side, Sept. 24-Oct. 16, 2011. The menu changes daily according to the rotating roster of chefs, who all happen to be artists “who like to cook.” A few of them are  Martha Rosler...

Artists! Trade a half-hour of your time for an otherwise free lunch at the temporary “Time/Food” restaurant opening in the Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side, Sept. 24-Oct. 16, 2011. The menu changes daily according to the rotating roster of chefs, who all happen to be artists “who like to cook.” A few of them are Martha RoslerPaul ChanLiam GillickCarlos MottaAA BronsonMariana SilvaIngrid Erstad and, on Sept. 25, Rirkrit Tiravanija.

Tiravanija's kitchen accomplishments are well known, and art lovers with long memories might remember Rosler's breakout art piece from the 1970s, when she worked at a McDonald's and supposedly spiked the burgers with marijuana. She reported on her transgression via postcard mail art.

Sponsored by Creative Time, the restaurant is inspired by Mexico’s informal comida corrida-style meals, which typically consist of several courses at a fixed price. Diners receive “hour notes” as currency, which they can take back to the Time/Bank -- Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle’s larger platform for encouraging its nearly 2,000 participants to barter their time and skills, rather than exchanging money, to obtain goods and services. The website lists classified ads from users seeking anything from interior-design advice to bike repair.

Time/Food is part of the free “Living as Form” exhibition of socially aware art works and commissions taking place around the city. These include exercise classes with Shanghai-based collective Madeln Company, which is leading Physique of Consciousness, a routine of movements inspired by religious ceremonioes, at Sara D. Roosevelt Park; consultations with a “barter advisor,” for one-on-one tips on how to trade skills and objects; or many talks and walking tours on the agenda.

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“Project: Time/Bank”, Project: Time/Bank

On May 6, 2011, Portikus will become a bank. Initiated by artists Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle in 2009, Time/Bank is a platform that enables people to trade goods and services without using money. With a growing pool of more than a thousand participants around the world, Time/Bank allows groups and individuals to collectively exchange their time and...

On May 6, 2011, Portikus will become a bank. Initiated by artists Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle in 2009, Time/Bank is a platform that enables people to trade goods and services without using money. With a growing pool of more than a thousand participants around the world, Time/Bank allows groups and individuals to collectively exchange their time and skills through the use of credits earned through the bank, as an intermediary and guarantor. Time/Bank aims to create an immaterial currency and a parallel micro-economy for the cultural community, one that will create a sense of worth for many of the exchanges that already take place within the art field.

At Portikus, the Time/Bank will be comprised of four main components: an exhibition of artist-designed prototypes for a time-based currency; a currency mint that will print and circulate four hundred Hour Notes—one for each hour of the exhibition; an archive of notgeld notes—the legendary German alternative currency popular during the hyperinflation of the 1920s; a branch of Time/Store offering a range of commodities, groceries, and articles of daily use, as well as a selection of artist’s editions and books produced by Portikus.

Time/Bank at Portikus will host a series of public seminars and talks by the theorist and activist Franco Berardi (Bifo); Paul Glover, founder of Ithaca Hours local currency system; anthropologist Elizabeth Povinelli, professor at Columbia University; and artists Raqs Media Collective.

The Frankfurt branch of Time/Bank will include a network of local art institutions and organizations, such as the MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt and the Jewish Museum, amongst others, where the currency of the Time/Bank—Hour Notes, designed by the American artist Lawrence Weiner—can be used for admission, and to make purchases in cafeterias and books stores.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Portikus will publish a book dealing with qualities of time, gift economies, alternative currencies, and other related topics. The book will include commissioned essays and illustrations, as well as contributions by members of Time/Bank.

TIme/Bank Frankfurt Lecture:

Franco Berardi (Bifo)
Tuesday, 10. May 2011, 19:00, Portikus

The main cultural transformation of modern capitalism has been the creation of refrains of temporal perception that pervade and discipline society: the refrain of factory work, the refrain of the salary, the refrain of production line. The digital transition has brought along with it new refrains: electronic fragmentation, information overload, acceleration of the semiotic exchange. Fractalization of time, competition. The essential feature of refrain is the rhythm. Rhythm is the relation of a subjective flow of signs (musical, poetic, gestual signs) with the environment: cosmic environment, earthly environment, social environment. Rhythm is singular and collective. It is singularizing the sound of the world in a special modeling of the environmental sound. But it is able to trigger a process of agglutination, of sensitive and sensible communality. Sometime people start to sing the same song, and to dance the same dance. It can be dangerous, and on this kind of homogeneous subjectivation is based fascism, and modern totalitarianism in general. But it can happen in ironic and nomadic ways. People start to create a new song, and they do it together. That’s a movement.

Franco Berardi, aka “Bifo,” founder of the famous “Radio Alice” in Bologna and an important figure of the Italian Autonomia Movement, is a writer, media theorist, and media activist. He currently teaches Social History of the Media at the Accademia di Brera, Milan.

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Category
Labor & Work, Economy
Subject
Money & Finance, Art Market, Immaterial Labor, Collaboration
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