After (€x)˘hange BoŁogna
>go to synopsis
21-22 Dec. 2001
video documentation by Pedro Paixao°°°°°°°°°°°
I set up the (€x)change Office in a few different
places under the arcades in the center of Bologna. No
one is stopping by. No one is even hardly looking at it. I try putting up a little sign reading "Ufficio di
Cambio", to try to intice interest.I try NOT putting it up too, to pique the curiosity of the passers-by.
One nice old gentleman chats with me for awhile, explaining that he used to collect coins too. I try
some odd places, a small construction spot in a side-street, surrounded by orange barriers. A group
stops. It's some English men in Bologna to build a booth at the auto show. I laugh because I saw the
fairgrounds where they are working, -- huge posters everywhere read "PROFESSIONALS ONLY--
NO PEDDLARS ALLOWED!" Quite charming and slightly outdated word --"peddlar". I ask the
English gentlemen if they would like to exchange some coins. They opt for the "profit motive" and
expire a few Lira in the box and take a one British Pound coin. I laughingly try to make them feel
guilty, as this is one of the more obvious outcomes of the (€x)change Office. Business is generally slow.
Some hours later...It's getting dark, and cold. No more visitors. I move in
front of a huge church, and
sit pathetically on the stairs with the box of coins and money-portraits in front of me. Masses of people
hurrying by, glancing only out of the corner of their eyes. I get strange sensations, of what it feels like
to beg, even though I'm not begging (or wait, maybe I am?). I think maybe the cards with money-
portraits look like saints. I roll a cigarette. I ask people walking by for a light. No one even responds.
(Is it the box of coins which is confusing them?) A huge group of students walks by, half of them smoking.
They seem not to understand what I'm saying, (maybe my Italian is completely wrong) and gesturing,
and they are eyeing the box, but continue on, wary. I abandon the box and watch it from across the street.
Still, even without my presence, only a few people stop and look to see what it might be, maybe afraid
that it might be an "offering" box to some saints, even though it's clearly marked "Exchange Office",
and the "saints" are "couples", scans of the characters decorating the paper money of various countries:
royalty, folk heros, politicians, musicians, generals, peasants....it constitutes my carte de visite, entitled
"Counterfiet Love Affairs, Our Founders: Forging Relationships".
Today I set up the box of coins in the market-place, an open-air market of
clothes, gadgets, etc. A
determined merchant immediately comes over and explains ALL the rules of the market, where I can
be etc. I set up in an empty space near his booth, and try to blend in. Two security guys show up a few
minutes later. They ask if I'm selling anything, explaining that if I'm not, then I can stay, otherwise I
need a permit. I'm not sure if what I'm doing is selling or not, since what I'm selling is money, and
actually just exchanging it, --but of course I say "no, I'm not selling anything" (is bartering selling?
Is exchanging selling? Does a "sale" depend on the motive?) The security guard interrupts himself
mid-sentence while he's explaining the rules: "HEY, that's old Yugoslavian money!!!" He's from
Belgrade. He momentarily forgets his job. I can stay. Security leaves-- "ciao!".
Security comes back moments later with the merchant from next-door. "Could
you move a little bit
further away from his booth?" Fine. People are calm, paced, shopping...many stop by the (€x)change
office, but there are few actual exchanges of coins. The common question: "Do you have Euro?" No
I don't have Euro yet, no one does! It's one week before the scheduled implementation of the Euro
currency, so people are in a frenzy to see it. Two girls go all the way home to bring back a specific
coin to exchange. One man is looking for old Lira, a coin of One Lira (did it ever exist?). He's "shopping"
for his One Lira coin. I don't have it. People are rather determined, seem to know exactly what they
are looking for, and I thought I had such a nice selection of coins!
I move to another area of the market. The merchants with large booths are annoyed
at my presence,
on each side they want me to move the other direction, citing (or inventing) some rules which I don't
understand. I'm being squished into non-existence. The ambiguity of the (€x)change office must be
bad for business. There are many many African guys selling CD's nearby. They have set up a little
stuffed mechanical cat "meow meow meow", it walks around, almost getting stepped on. They seem
to have set it up as a kind of humorous diversion. I talk with one guy, and we have a very warm exchange.
He tells me they are all from Senegal (and they all seem to know each-other). Then we talk "business":
his job is rough. The police caught him once, and confiscated all his CD's, and gave him a fine of 100,000 Lira.
Contrary to the reaction of the other more established
merchants, he doesn't seem at all surprised
about the nature of my project, and accepts immediately that I set up the coin-box table next to his
sheet spread on the ground with CDs on it, after all, we are really on the periphery-- less official than
the already unofficial-seeming flea market vendors. He wants to go to his apartment and get some
Senegalese money to exchange. "Coins I hope?", "No-- bills!" I tell him I ONLY exchange coins.
He ONLY has bills. We both have a good laugh.
Nota bene: Although
I was invited to "perform" the (€x)change Office at the performance
"Stagione di Caccia" (Hunting Season) in Bologna, I did not inform the organizers where I would
be setting up the (€x) Office. The (€x) Office was not designed to be something experienced by a festival-going
public, but rather to be encountered by the "public-at-large".
Festival "Stagione di Caccia"