We can make this work

We can make this work. 12/2012 to 12/2013.

Instructions for performance:

1. Write a cheque to Adam Kinner for an amount that is CA$100 or above.
2. Send the cheque to the address below, with a return address.
3. On the ‘memo’ line of the cheque write: I’m faking it.
4. Receive a return cheque in the mail for 99% of the amount that you sent.
5. Deposit that cheque into your bank account.

Adam Kinner
4647 Rue Hutchison
Montréal QC H2V 4A2

The names of the collaborators are listed on this website. Next to the name will be the amount of money on the original cheque.

Opportunity to participate in this performance ends on December 31, 2013. Any cheques received after that date will be torn up.

Thank you for your performance.

We can make this work.

I invite you to participate in my performance. You can do so by writing a cheque and sending it to the address listed above. When the mail carrier delivers it, I will deposit the cheque and then I will write you a return cheque. I will send it to the return address. The only difference is that the return cheque will amount to 99 percent of the original amount.

This is our performance. We are collaborators. You initiate the performance and then we perform it together. Our performance will be grand and famous. You have nothing to lose, except one percent of the money that you decide to send.

The duration of our performance is variable. It starts now and it ends when you receive the return cheque and the funds clear in your account.

Please participate in my performance. It is an illustration of a simple fact: that spending money is a performance.

Spending money is a performance.

I went to the bank and I performed a transaction in which I paid the company that provides me with electric power $73.15. Like any performance, the specific actions involved in the performance were situated within a complex web of social meaning, with far reaching resonances. By performing this transaction with the collaborators involved (the electric company and the bank) I was initiating a choreography viewed by different people in different ways.

I was paying the electric company to use the natural resources of the province I live in to extract electricity in order to power my everyday activities. I was implicitly supporting this extraction of natural resources. I was also implicitly supporting the specific way that the electric company extracts these resources, mostly by gaining electrical power from flowing water in a way that contributes to the destruction of natural and cultural resources in the north of the province. I was also affirming my own power-consumption activities, like making coffee, toasting bread, using lights to read books after the sun has gone down. Because I was paying for the use of power, I was implicitly affirming the right to use this power.

I was also participating in the activities of the bank. In order to have money in my society, I need to give it to the bank. That way my money can participate in the market economy in the way that certain economists and market theorists think is the best, most productive way. All the performances that I do with money involve my bank as my principle collaborator, with very few exceptions.

It is important to note that I was also doing what everyone else does. As far as I could tell at the moment, there was no way to exist in my society other than to participate in this type of performance with these specific collaborators.

I was implicitly supporting all of this even though I don’t necessarily think it is the best way for my society to work. But my actions in this case speak more loudly than my intentions.

I say that I was implicitly supporting these things. That is true. But my money was providing explicit support. In fact there is no more explicit support than financial support.

explicit |ikˈsplisit|

stated clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt : the speaker’s intentions were not made explicit.

The Performative

J.L. Austin defines a performative utterance as an utterance that does not describe or report something, is neither true nor false, and is a part of (or is, completely) the doing of the action itself. When you say “I bet you five dollars…” you are not describing or reporting, the utterance is neither true nor false, and in fact the utterance does the action of the bet.

As a doing, performative utterances enact a complex movement between the interior and the exterior. In the example above, in order for the bet to be valid, it must be uttered in the correct circumstances—i.e. in a situation in which placing a bet is possible, and in such a way that the person involved in the bet understands and hears the utterance—and it must be accompanied by an intention, in the speaker, to place a bet. If you do not intend to place a bet, you can probably say repeatedly “I bet you five dollars it will rain” and you’ll never actually make a bet. “For many purposes the outward utterance is a description, true or false, of the occurrence of the inward performance,” writes Austin.

All doing—that is, all outward performance—is, according to Austin, tied to an inward performance: the intention of the performer. With only intention, you cannot place a bet (unless you use one of those betting machines, but you still need to do something, and that is another matter altogether). In order to make a bet, you must speak. You must do the bet, via speech, with the person you are betting. Therefore, the doing of a bet needs two sides: an intention to bet, and the external utterance that enacts the bet. If either side is not fulfilled then the bet is, in some way, void.

In this way, we may say that performance has an inward intention and an outward action. I send the electrical company $73.15. There is an inward intention—to fulfill my duties as a user of electricity, to not break the law, to avoid inconvenience, perhaps there is even the intention to not support certain activities of the company—and there is the outward performance—the action of giving this company $73.15.

I take this man to be my lawfully wedded husband

Another example of a performative utterance is ‘I do’ in the course of a marriage ceremony. One could make an argument that in these cases the force of the social meaning created by the performative utterance depends on the depth with which the intention exists. Imagine a man and a woman getting married who do not actually intend to fulfill the marriage vows. The force of the performative they are using, the ability for these utterances to create powerful social phenomena (the creation of a family, the lifelong support they provide each other, etc), is lessened.

The Stage

One of the interesting things about the stage is that it is a place where performative utterances do not work. You can say ‘I do’ (promise to take this woman to be my lawfully wedded wife) many times on the stage and you will never be married. The stage, and art in general, offers us a way of examining the forces of performativity in society as separated from their intentions.

An actor on stage ‘kills’ another actor in a theatrical sword fight. Rather than enacting a social reality (someone actually being killed) the fight enables us to examine the performative power of a fight and of the act of murder without having to deal with its social impact. No one is dead, but we have had an experience that includes the action of killing someone.

Austin: “Language in such circumstances is in special ways—intelligibly—used not seriously, but in ways parasitic upon its normal use—ways which fall under the doctrine of the etiolations of language.” This applies to actions as it applies to language.

Etiolated language and etiolated actions allow for a perspective on both the intention and the outward action. Objects can also be etiolated in this way, to the extent that objects can do actions and have intentions – think of religious objects.

Everything that is performative, i.e. everything that claims to create social meaning, can therefore be etiolated when its intention is sundered from its performance.

Who decides what the intention is?

etiolated |ˈētēəˌlātid|

(of a plant) pale and drawn out due to a lack of light.

• having lost vigor or substance; feeble : a tone of etiolated nostalgia.

We can make this work

I am raising money for the arts. I am asking everyone to dig deep and contribute to the artistic production of a performance. The performance is called we can make this work.

Donations, unfortunately, are not tax deductible. But they will be refunded by the amount of 99%. That’s right, we’re offering a cash-back incentive. You’ll get 99% of your money back. It’s a mail-in offer. Mail in your cheque and we’ll mail 99% of your money back.

You’ll get the same satisfaction of donating to the arts, but you’ll get a 99% cash-back refund.

The viewer and convention

Think of bread in the Catholic mass. The bread is an object that normally (i.e. outside of mass) has a rather benign performative power. When it is eaten in the context of the mass, however, it is quite powerful. It performs the action of the pious communing with the savior. The pious take the savior in their own bodies to be ‘one with’ the savior.

There is quite a lot going on in the performance of this ritual. When the intention to commune with the savior is present in the subject, then the performative power of eating the bread is strong – it enacts the doing of communion. But the context must be right and the action must take place within the conventions established. Not just any bread can be eaten; it must be the bread the church deems appropriate, it must be eaten in the physical space of the church, and eaten during the time of mass.

There are conventions that must be in place in order for the performative to have effect in the subject. A pious person could not imbue the bread with such performative power outside of the context of mass. Just as for an impious person – a person lacking the intention to commune with the savior—the eating of bread will not have the same performative power.

It should be noted that the object of the bread and the action of the eating the bread have not changed, even though the performative power of the bread is variable.

We talk about the eating of bread. But for someone who participates in mass often, the bread alone serves as a performative object that does all of these things. It is an object that enacts a communion with the savior. The object contains, within it, the intention to commune with the savior and the physical, performative means of doing so.

In fact the bread may be seen as a performative object in this sense, regardless of who is seeing it. The supposed intention of the object is in the eye of the beholder.

Now imagine that you are viewing the mass. You see each person go to the priest and eat the bread as the prayer is said. You see the bread. You see the bodies. You are seeing an enactment of the communion with the savior. But you may also just be seeing people eating bread. It is hard to tell which.

Who gets to decide?

Your chequebook

Your chequebook is an object with great performative potential. It contains within it both the intention to participate in this performance and the actual means of doing so.

I bought something

I bought a tomato at the supermarket during the wintertime in Montreal. As I was eating the tomato I was listening to someone on the radio talk about winter tomatoes and how they are harvested. He said that 90% of winter tomatoes in North America are harvested under unfair conditions. He explicitly likened these conditions to slave labor.

He said that if you’ve ever eaten a tomato during the winter months, you’ve eaten a tomato picked by slave labor.

Behind all my actions I have never had the intention supporting slave-like conditions on tomato farms. But my money is severed from intention. My money is just action. Who gets to decide if I had the intention of supporting slave labor?


According to Marx, reification is when you separate something from the context in which it originally occurs and place it into another context where it lacks some or all of its original connections and acquires powers or attributes which it actually does not have. In this way, objects are reified if they are severed from the labor by which they were produced. Marx argues that this is a natural and inevitable result of the forces of capital.

An example of reification is the concept of God. Often the concept of God is thought to be autonomous to the source from which it sprang, that is, human consciousness. We often relate to God in a way that ignores the fact that human consciousness created the concept of God and the concept of God only lives in human consciousness.

An example of a reified commodity is gold. Often, we assume that gold has inherent value. In fact its trading value is entirely dependent on our attributing value to it, in a closed circle of value-giving.

I bought something

I bought something that normally costs $150 at a local store. At the time that I bought it, the store had a sale on. Everything was 50% off. I paid $75 for the item. There was no defect with the item; it was in perfect condition. I am unsure if the item that I bought is worth $150 or $75. I am sure that other people have bought very similar (nearly identical) items for $150. But no one has bought the exact one that I bought, except for me. And I paid $75. My version of this item seems therefore to be worth less than the other versions of the item. But many people claim that all of the nearly identical versions of this item are actually the same and have the same value.

Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst sold an exhibition called Beautiful Inside My Head Forever for US$198,000,000 on September 15 and 16, 2008.

Money is the ultimate performative

Money exists only when it changes hands. The power of money is not inherent to it—not inside of it—but rather outside of it, in its ability to move. It is the outward performance of money with which everyone is concerned.

When you have money in your bank account or under your mattress, it is a secret. You have it there; no one knows about it. It is resting, like an artwork that you have shown to no one. It has no value; it only has the potential for value. The potential for value is the same as no value, but it is also the same as infinite value. I have a potential for value in my bones, my muscles and my mind—so do you. But it isn’t value yet.

Only in the moment of exchange does money have value. That’s why having money isn’t as exhilarating as spending money.

The same is true of art. Only in the moment of exchange does the value of art become realized.

The same is true of the statement “I bet you five dollars it will rain.” As an idea in the mind, this phrase has no power. In order for the phrase to have power it has to be uttered, it has to move. In the moment of utterance it is a performative phrase.

When you spend it, money becomes performative. It enacts social meaning. It exchanges value—value in the form of the energy that it took for you to gain that money. You are exchanging energy. Money is the only reliable way we have to exchange energy in our society. In this way, money is the ultimate performative. What globalization has proved is that more than anything else, money has the power to create social meaning.

As it performs, money participates in a complex web of social functions. It helps to create your identity. It helps you eat. It helps other people eat. It enacts political agendas. It goes out into the world and does things. And it does more things than you can ever intend for it. Your money may pop up on a farm in Mexico, it may end up in a shop in California, it may be in the pocket of a person who commits murder, it may be in the pocket of a corrupt politician. That’s your money. Did you intend for your money to show up at the scene of a crime? Does it matter what you intended? The money has performed. What was the intention? Who decides?

A round of applause for the money.

We can make this work

We can make this work. You give me money and I give almost all of it back to you. Your intention can be whatever you want it to be. Maybe you intend to support my art making abilities. You will do so. Maybe you intend to satisfy curiosity about this performance. You will do so. Maybe you are interested in how it feels to spend money knowing that in some real sense you are not spending money, rather you are letting money move around and exchange an impression of value without actually doing anything. This is an etiolated version of money. It has lost its performative power to exchange value in society, but it has gained a new performative power: to enact a different reality of money.

I’m faking it

I am inviting you to participate in my performance called we can make this work. It evolved from the image of someone giving money to someone else and at the same time saying to that person ‘I’m faking it.’

Someone giving you money and at the same time saying I’m faking it is a conundrum, a paradox. It’s like the words “I’m faking it” make the performative capacity of money etiolated. But at the same time, the money is still there in my hand, not etiolated at all. I don’t care if you’re faking it: I have my money.

There is a certain way in which all money is fake. But there is another way in which money is never fake, never can be fake.

Please participate in my performance. It is an illustration of a simple fact: that spending money is a performance.