Utopian Money Self-Combusts Upon Transaction

March 3, 2014 | Marina Galperina

Artist Austin Houldsworth‘s new project Walden Note imagines a currency for a utopian society that doesn’t need currency.

In 1942, behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner published the utopian novel Walden Two (1942) which imagines a leaderless society that shares work, family and resources. Members are “conditioned to be productive, creative and happy.” They never say “thank you,” never get paid for mandatory four hours of daily labor and never pay for anything in the commune. But that’s too simple, so Houldsworth invented a hypothetical and cumbersome monetary system. The money self-destructs when it is spent. This system involves flammable chemicals and a pipe organ combination oven that makes music.

During every transaction the seller is obliged to aid the buyer in the destruction of their money equal to the cost of the service or object he/she is purchasing. Through the destruction of money, musical notes are created which are linked to the coins denomination. For example a C is 1 Walden-note, a D is 2, an E is 3 and so on; these notes have two main functions. Firstly the pleasant sounds created help to positively reinforce this behaviour and secondly the burning money communicates the economic state of the society to the ‘managers and planners’. The Walden Two coins are made from potassium nitrate and sugar. This mixture produces large quantities of smoke when burn’t. When the money is sealed within the machine and ignited; the smoke is forced through the tubing into the wooden organ pipes, which creates the walden ‘notes’.

In a recent interview with the artist at We Make Money Not Art, Houldsworth was confronted with the “rustic” nature of his post-money-machine. “I suppose the work has been created within a paleofuture, as Skinner wrote the novel in 1948,” he explained. “Regarding the aesthetics; the people within Walden Two were encouraged to live a relatively simple rural life but also a life full of experimentation, encouraged to create new objects which may lead to a better society. So that’s where the DIY look comes in; each person creates their own individual music creating money incinerator.” How charmingly pre-cryptocurrency.

If money can be made, it can be faked and this micro-economy could, theoretically, inflate, collapse and so on, but this is a utopia! Why would you fake anything in a utopia? In a utopia, everything is irrelevant. But wait. Everyone in Walden Two can make their own money, so really, there is no economy to collapse in the first place. It is a direct and purely ceremonial exchange. But how grand! Smoke! Etc! If only our own ritualistic credit card swipes were this cathartic.