An essay for Chong Kim’s Chiew’s solo exhibition ‘Make Money with Money, Make Art with Art’, 24 Sep – 17 Oct 2021 at A+ Works of Art. Full exhibition catalgoue here. [Link accessed July 2023]



Make Money with Money, Make Art with Art

When I think about money, I think about time. About how I’m the richest person I know, spending my time like it will never run out—on myself, on others, both human and non-human. Hours of a windy day sitting with a mangrove tree, staring out to the horizon heavy with garlands of clouds. Sunset on the front step with my partner, cleaning delicate segments of banana flowers that we got from our tree, no clock but a lit mosquito coil as the sky flares into night. Yes, this is a flex—an ostentatious one—the equivalent of wearing two Rolex watches at once. I never really understood why rappers do that, but I think I do now. Lining my teeth with diamonds, smiling (or is it snarling?) at you… it feels GREAT.

I started out writing this essay about art and about money wondering if it’s worth my time. Cash is everywhere; its logic penetrates everything, impossible to ignore. Like a man who won’t stop talking, it’s banal and boring. The most boring are the over-educated, guilt-ridden, disconnected people who invent increasingly baroque ways (social capitalism, micro finance, the 4-day work week, NFTs) to fix the problems cash has created. The techies and think-tankies, the commodities traders and owners of media outlets— they love artists. They love talking to us about money and technology, plying us with drinks we can’t afford, a look in their eyes like they’re enjoying a mysterious and extremely expensive thing they haven’t figured out a way to get… yet. How do we solve the world’s problems? Bro, it’s EASY!! Just give away money and try not to take so much next time. Literally open your wallet and give me 180k now, no strings attached. I’ll take care of it, make sure it doesn’t hurt people and does some good. What makes me better than you around money? It has something to do with understanding time. 180k—spare change, bro. In your heart, you’re wondering, is this the only reason why she’s still here talking to me?

I wonder if Kim Chiew expects to sell any of this work. I guess my essay is supposed to help with that. Is it helping? Do you feel alive? I’m sure you already know, but in case you’re new here, if these works sell, the gallery will get 50% and Kim Chiew the other 50%. I’m getting RM1,500 for this essay regardless, so I’m good.

It looks like Kim Chiew spent a lot of time on these pieces, which are beautiful. As paintings, they’re refined and precise. The 12 works on canvas show developments of his signature style and subject: painted collages that visually deconstruct instruments of the state and corporation—such as stamps, maps and fiat currencies. I think Bank Negara should buy this whole series for their collection to show in their museum. It would be on the nose (i.e. boring), sure, but also, not out of place. Kim Chiew’s works have always fulfilled the criteria of being sincere, exquisite art objects replete with aura and meaning. This series is a significant visual record of our country’s numismatic history. The 12 banknotes depicted date from colonial times of Malaya and British Borneo, to the Japanese occupation, through to the current day. Blown up in size, their elements rendered in common materials like safety and packing tape, they look ephemeral and dreamlike. Compared to the impeccably (re)produced ringgit in my hand, these works accurately represent how precarious it feels to make a living on this land under a completely financialized social system, which we call nationhood.

Because of his attention to what our money is made of— from paper to the more durable plastic bank notes of today—Kim Chiew might be one of the few artists I trust to make an NFT. In my mind, revealing the materiality of this latest, most-hyped form of money would be the only justification for burning a shit-ton of fossil fuel to mint one in the first place. Most artists don’t understand the medium. They can’t make us see how producing NFTs on their computer connects to the oil refinery next to my house in Port Dickson, which for the last week has been pumping into the air *something* that makes my eyes and throat sore. I’m paranoid about getting cancer. Meanwhile we’ve got artists who don’t seem to know whether they’re making art with money, or money with art, and what any of it has to do with fossil fuel energy or carbon emissions. Whatever! NFTs!! Woooooooooooo!!! Get in, loser!!! Those who drive fast enough are the only ones who will escape their own exhaust. Look around, tell me that’s not what this nation is built on.

But the replica art fair booths that these 12 banknote paintings are hung in – should Bank Negara buy that too? No, that one should go to a collector who loves and understands minimalist sculpture, who has built a second, third house for their overflowing art collection and is contemplating raising a whole museum for it. Someone who has gone to many art fairs but doesn’t necessarily enjoy them. Someone who went to Burning Man and had a revelation. Someone whose name should be on a building, just like how they do it in the West; someone who creates a lot of jobs. This person should purchase the replica art booths and put them at the very heart of their planned museum, and make sure art workers maintain the pristine white paint of the plywood. When visitors to the museum get tired, they can occupy the booths, letting the soothing sensation of a completely neutral white cube wash over them. Refreshed, they venture out, as if they have been in a temple. But a temple to what? What prayers are spoken there?


A Prayer for Time

No more duration as a unit of infliction – no work hours, prison sentences, deadly prognoses.

No more believing in centuries, generations, war as what begins and ends, the rude periodizations of historians on the payroll.

Gestation is also not a clock.

Erotic love must finally be given its due as the greatest temporal burglar ever known.

And just to be clear, it is not “Father” Time, it is Time the androgyne who is more like Nature’s distant cousin—an exile, prosperous and alluring.

No one on earth should have to wish away his or her time on it.

All the epic struggle comes down to is people who believe in their own right to property versus people who must come to believe in our own right to time.

May the minutes of our own lives now be revered, unsold and eternally unsellable.

– Anne Boyer, 1 January 2018



Sharon Chin

Port Dickson, September 2021