Mejor Vida Corp

In 1998 the artist Minerva Cuevas launched an ingenious and complex ongoing economic fiction as a means of exploring the politics of contemporary hope: Mejor Vida Corp. (Better Life Corporation).

According to Cuevas, the project started more or less spontaneously around 1997, and derived from her interest in defying the structures of the art market by anonymously distributing small-scale art objects in public spaces. Later on, in the winter of 1997 to 1998, while traveling in the New York City subway system, Cuevas saw a poster produced by the train administration bearing the slogan "Awake is Aware," warning the passengers against the dangers of falling sleep while traveling. To prevent passengers from having a "rude awakening" (the title of a film that was advertised at the time of the "Awake is Aware" campaign), Cuevas started leaving small bags with caffeine doses attached to the posters located in the cars, as if the subway administration were distributing them in the guise of "safety pills." The more or less classical intention of defying the status of art as a commodity was replaced with the more radical intention of playing with the goal of achieving public good by means of art practice. The project was refined by the invention of a corporative identity. The company would experiment with an unheard-of modality of aesthetic and political intervention involving systematic acts of generosity purportedly fulfilling urgent demands from the public. According to the corporation's motto, MVC works "for a human interface."

Further mocking the structure of a private corporation, Cuevas rented an office on the 14th floor of the tallest skyscraper in Mexico City. From this local 1950s modernist icon, Cuevas designed a website that is part of the "irational.org" group, which also has contributors in England and Spain, (33) and set out to establish a whole range of products and services to be given away for free on request and with no obligation to reciprocate. MVC's catalogue is a small compilation of contemporary dreams and antidotes to frustration. Cuevas leaves random "magic" seeds (very much in the tradition of Ben Vautier's unlabelled cans of "mystery food") next to ATMs, suggesting to the customer an agrarian turn to make money. She has tested people's reaction to unexplained gifts by giving away subway tickets at rush hour in the Mexico City underground, saving travelers the long morning queues. On occasion she has discreetly volunteered to clean public buildings (including subway stations), to write letters for the illiterate, or to support small campaigns through disinterested voluntary work. Some of MVC's products reflect the fears of the population, for instance providing tear gas for personal protection, or promising to provide security services to the population by applying (so far unsuccessfully) to join the police corporations in Mexico. Other products are more related to wishful thinking in general: MVC does not distribute money as such, but it can provide the customer with lottery tickets. Cuevas has made galleries such as Chantal Croussel in Paris extend letters of recommendation to people who might need them to apply for a job. Finally, there are those services which, despite seeming rather simple and cheap parasites of public or private services, entail quasi-criminal activity: MVC distributes prestamped envelopes, accepting full responsibility for their contents. Cuevas produces customized, trompe l'oeil bar code stickers (or "trompe l'scanner" as the artist says) to reduce prices of articles in the supermarket. So far the most successful and iconic of the MVC projects has involved the issuance of student ID cards that allow one to get the international student identity card and apply for discounts.

Category
Economy
Subject
Money & Finance, Autonomy, Art Activism, Mexico
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