Money to Burn
2010 Performance, 40 minutes. Video documentation 3:28
Money to Burn is a performance that was enacted on Wall Street. Starting with $250, I burned money—singles, fives, tens and twenties, one bill at a time, while encouraging traders and others on The Street to join me with their own money. Referencing street “peddlers” of bygone days, I repeatedly sang the words “money to burn.”
Money to Burn explored a taboo. But at the same time this performance only made physical what happens on stock markets around the globe every day. In a transgressive act of burning my own money, some of which was generously provided by a grant from the Franklin Furnace Fund, my performance alluded to the absurdity of a system based on profit. It’s crazy to burn money on the street but it is the height of rationality to have a market where billions of dollars can vanish in an instant and where even houses and food can evaporate. Unlike the “irrational exuberance” behind closed doors of trading firms, Money to Burn took place in public for all to see. It was the ultimate act of destruction of value—this money was not exchanged for anything.
This unsettling immolation highlighted the polarization of wealth and income that exists in the world. The audience of brokers and tourists alike had the option of joining the act. Some recoiled at something that goes against principles that we have learned from our earliest age others chose to add to the pyre. Police intervened after 25 minutes and stopped the performance 15 minutes later.