What would you do if you got your hands on a cool million dollars? For artist Alberto Echegaray Guevara, the answer is simple: tear it into shreds. For his debut work, Guevara shredded over one million dollars of cash. He explained to the Buenos Aires Herald:
The project began with the dollar, when I visited the printing and engraving division of the US Treasury Department, where all the inks and security systems are but also where the destruction of money takes place. I was looking at all these translucent tubes with all the cash, and asked my friend who had invited me there, if I could get hold of the money. And I got it from the Federal Reserve (and shredded it inside), with a letter and authorization. Then I started to think about the dollars, that I had US$2 million sitting inside two bags and what I could do with them.
The pieces of paper (American dollars and Argentinean Pesos) that he destroyed had been deemed worthless by their governments. But the idea of destroying currency in any form still hits people's buttons. It still looks like money we'd use in stores, even if it's technically out of circulation.
In an Atlantic article titled "Why I Shredded $1 Million" Guevara, a former investment banker, explains his motivation:
The central theme of my work was the idea of destruction. I wanted to break something down to give it a new meaning, or to see what new meaning it would be given. To find out, I shredded $1 million, and the black-market equivalent of that sum in Argentine pesos: 11 million. The money was then displayed in Murano crystal spheres in an installation I named Moneyball: The One Million Dollar Installation.
In a video about the making of the installation, Guevara comes to the eventual conclusion that “money is a social contract, just an illusion created by humanity.”
Other artists would seem to agree. Guevara is hardly the first to use money as a medium. Brooklyn-based artist Mark Wagner cuts up currency that is still technically in circulation at the time of its destruction to create stunning collages, James Charles replaces the dead presidents on currency with pop culture figures, and Scott Campbell has been known to make actual 3-D sculptures out of stacks of dollar bills. And, in 1994, two artists actually did burn up a million British pounds of cash.