The CRED Reclamation Project
It is with an apology that I will start this correspondence. I am sorry that I got so hot during our communication regarding the sign. I promise that I haven’t written any descriptive articles about your part in the non-profit industrial complex. I keep having this dream where someone comes into your office and they ask you about the funny credit report I made for you (that is hanging on your wall in my dream whether or not it is in reality!). You tell them that it was made by your “former” friend. They ask you why this credit reporter is no longer a friend, and you tell them that she won’t speak to you since you sold her art without her consent. I don’t want it to end our friendship.
To be honest, I feel rejected. I felt like you completely overlooked why the selling of the sign would matter to me. To make it clear, CRED is about authentic credit, and it is a free service that I offer to help people find homes in the Bay Area or anywhere using the alternative credit reports to prove their subjectivity and integrity. I did this for the first time at XXXXXX, as you know. The sign was a part of a plan to continue this work, and I would never consent to anyone making a profit off of it, especially in the name of a real estate investment. It’s way too ironic to be funny. This work is about authenticity and care, and the unauthorized sale of it voids its power and puts me in a place of rejection and disappointment.
I was offended by your response to my inquiry, which was purely in defense of your action. The apology was quick and did not match the scale of the mishap. We don’t have to go into the defenses you used, but the fact is that you made a mistake and you could have fixed it easily, but you didn’t. The response you gave left me feeling like my voice was dismissed, my good intentions were erased, and the ideas I stood for were made into a commodity.
I give a lot in my artwork, and it is a strategic decision used in specific situations to create a desired effect, mostly to create experiences that are outside of capitalism. This is not a moment when I can afford to be generous. In fact, it would diminish the targeted generosity that I want to offer, which is to use all of my waking hours to research and promote authentic human value and the necessity of housing and justice outside of bureaucratic bullshit.
You made a mistake, and I have the paperwork and analysis to prove it. Please fix the situation properly, not out of fear or anxiety, but because we are friends and collaborators and you made a mistake that is easy to fix. Enclosed is a letter to the collector who has the piece, and you may want to give it to them to make the retrieval of the sign easier. I would prefer to have the actual sign back, and quickly, because the thing itself now holds more meaning than ever. I have offered to replace the sign with a lifelong credit report for your collector, which is more than fair and generous gift to XXXXXX and to them. If you are unwilling to do that, I’ll accept $2000 so I can make a new sign in time for upcoming events and recover some of the time I’ve lost on this situation.
This neon sculpture was a collaboration (1) between Cassie Thornton and Xxxxxx Xxxxxx for XXXXxxxxxX, hosted at XXXXXX in 2014. Xxxxxx fabricated the CRED sign to create a pawn shop atmosphere for Thornton’s studio built within the XXXXXX gallery, where she investigated (2) the implications of debt forgiveness and boycotting one’s own financial debt.
- The collaboration described here consisted of Xxxxxx Xxxxxx’s management of the fabrication of a sign reading “CRED” to meet Thornton’s requests. Xxxxxx was compensated as a contractor for this work from Thornton’s materials budget as granted from XXXXXX. Thornton was not consulted before the sale of this sign about the price, the conditions of the sale, the text used to describe it or if it was available for sale at all. Cassie Thornton’s collaborator is the Feminist Economics Department (the FED) who represents all people working to invent new forms of value. It is with the commons in mind that we persist. If “Xxxxxx Xxxxxx” is a code word representative of the commons, then the descriptive term “collaboration” is accurate.
- The description of the investigation is inaccurate and does not directly relate to the description of CRED. CRED is an offering of alternative credibility for those in the undercommons, who are afraid of or in rejection of organizing structures like debt, class, and race that render one’s power and identity invisible. On the pages that follow I have included the most accurate statement of requirements and conditions to settle the above account.
To the collector of the work described on the previous page:
I am pleased that you chose the CRED sign from among the many items available at the XXXXXX auction. To get the full benefit of the CRED, it is important that you understand that this item was sold to you without the knowledge or consent of the artist. Below you will find a description of the conditions of the CRED you purchased on November 1, 2014 and the terms and conditions that now accompany the sign.
- The CRED sign was developed to support an initiative called Give Me Cred, and the sign is not meant to live in isolation from the project. In this project, I offer free alternative credit reports to people who are having difficulty affording the basic necessities in life. In Oakland and the larger Bay Area, it is nearly impossible to get an apartment due to an influx of young professionals hired by tech companies with big salaries and great credit. Old residents of the city, regular workers, artists, and people of color are all being displaced, threatening to make my town boring, expensive and homogenous. Almost daily, I meet with regular people who have been displaced because of gentrification. These people might be incredibly trustworthy but without the credit report or income to compete with these ‘tech bros.’ I do my best to help these people get leases for apartments by arming them with an alternative credit report. The credit report I generate is a one page written document that describes the story, personal goals, and present needs of the reportee. Despite these reports being free of charge, it is a challenge to draw the right people into the project—the flashy and omnipresent credit industry naturally throws a shadow over any alternatives. For the past few months I have constructed situations where I can publicize the opportunity to offer CRED reports, and these situations were all built around the use of a bright descriptive light—one that would illuminate my offer to those who could benefit from it. The sign legitimizes my operation, and without it I don’t have a way to be present to a public in a visible way. The sign was a tool, and it should not be hidden in a home or relegated to art storage.
- CRED refers to an idealistic form of observing and reporting on authentic credibility for all persons, places and things. The sign was made to be used as a grow light for authentic credibility. CRED challenges the Credit Score as the dominant reporting method of one’s trustworthiness. The traditional Credit Score is a numerical report of one’s credibility based on a top-secret algorithm designed by FICO, distributed through Experian, Equifax or Transunion. This ‘objective’ representation of someone’s credibility is a major determining factor that decides an applicant’s ability to have access to a rental property, a mortgage, a job, an educational loan, hospital care, as well as mutual respect and healthy self-image. In this contract I hope to undo the objectification of the CRED sign and of my name.
- My work is about countering scarcity by offering radical generosity within the financial sector as a way to create alternatives to capitalism. In the course of interviewing someone about their CRED, I ask questions, and I listen very, very closely. Sometimes after an interview for a credit report, I fall asleep or cry. My emotional reaction to the interview is partially due to the pain I witness in people who have never been interviewed as a complex human being beyond the sum of applicant, worker, or economic player. In the process of the credit report, so many stories are told, and I try so hard to help my reportees see themselves as anything but an economic failure. At times, this work puts me in a precarious place myself, because I do not earn an income from this full time work. To be blunt, my personal risks, attention and care go unseen and disrespected in the process of the sale of this piece. It is almost comical how ironically the intentions for the piece have been overwritten and the potential growth has stopped through the alienation of my work from its intended uses.
- The most fraudulent aspect of the Credit Reporting Industry’s measurements are its disavowal of a person’s complex self into a good or bad applicant based on a number that is derived from an unknown sequence of weights and measures. The Credit Score meter creates the condition for every person to live as a perpetual applicant. Represented as a number instead of a person, applicants are stripped of political or personal context, and are determined to be a winner or loser by some unknown god-like authority. We wait for these powers that be to determine whether or not we may receive the credit that wields us the potential to access basic necessities. Based on this godly assessment of a person, a landlord, employer or other key-holder can refuse an applicant-as-number and walk away without complicated feelings of guilt or personal, political responsibility. Though I create this form as I write it, I feel that this situation renders me an applicant. The unknown authority is some vague idea of a market that has determined the value and conditions of my work. Like any applicant, I now navigate a murky unknown psychic space of those in power as I pursue access to my credit, so that I may continue to pursue my work of stripping people of the immobilizing fear of an application status.
- The sign that you purchased was illegally trafficked to you because of the dangerous logic spread through proximity to the credit rating industry. All Americans have been indoctrinated with the ideology and rules of credit scoring, and most accept and utilize these principles in ways that are undetectable because they are so imbedded in daily practices. Symptoms of the effects of Credit Rating as seen in daily life are an impatience with complexity, oversimplification of concept in pursuit of financial growth and an erasure of common sense or intuition. We in the arts are not untouched by these symptoms. The decision to sell the sign was made in haste, in pursuit of a clear and direct exchange value for the work done rather than allowing it to live in perpetual and irrational growth of meaning and impact.
- While at the XXXXXX residency, I developed and experimented with ways to report on someone’s credibility beyond a numerical credit score, and now I’d like the chance to report on yours. This process begins when an applicant reveals their credit report and resume to me. Following a close analysis of the documents, I interview the applicant about the narrative behind the documents. This interview reveals a personal story that is much more complex than a numerical credit score or a list of jobs. Please send your credit report from one of the big three credit reporting agencies with your resume and any other defining official documents, and I will be in touch about a time to interview you.
To conclude the summary of conditions that accrued as interest on your CRED, I offer you two possible actions (of which you must choose one) to take to clear the records of this outstanding imbalance. If you comply with these requests, you will be offered an opportunity to receive actual CRED in the form of a lifetime Alternative Credit Report.
In the spirit of foreclosing this clean and simple bifurcation between winner and loser, key-holder and applicant,
XXXX Xxxxxx Xxx
Xxxxx, XX XXXXX
I received your letter and report, and realized that whether I’d like to participate or not, I am being implicated in an artwork of the Feminist Economics Department (the FED). As such, I feel it is my right to draft this addendum, so that your audience can experience the entire account of The CRED Reclamation Project.
I am sorry that you were offended and felt that my repeated apologies and attempts at reconciling the situation did not “match the scale of the mishap.” In addition to 3 apologies via email and 2 calls, I provided a list of reasons why the good folks at XXXXXX thought we could sell the CRED sign, to which you responded “[selling CRED] was the right decision.” I will reiterate those reasons here, in case they don’t make it into the paperwork and analysis you referenced in your letter:
– Xxxxxx Xxxxxx was a collaborator and could rightfully determine the fate of CRED.
– We asked what you wanted to do about shipping when you were still in Xxxxxx, and we also attempted to arrange a time to speak with you about shipping arrangements after you left. We did not receive an answer until many months later when it was convenient for you to arrange details for a new project that included the CRED sign, leading us to believe that you did not consider the remnants of the installation to be a priority.
– You indicated that you wanted to give us “something that would make XXXXXX some money” during our annual benefit.
– Shipping the neon sign to you would have exceeded the $200 shipping budget you were allocated.
And, in case this detail hasn’t made it into The CRED Reclamation Project, I’d like to introduce that twice I offered you a generous solution: XXXXXX would cover up to $250 for the creation of a new sign (which is $50 more than what XXXXXX originally paid for the fabrication), and we would provide the pattern used by the original sign fabricator. Twice you rejected the offer and accused me of being part of the “desperate landscape created by the non profit industrial complex.” I can’t help but wonder if you were upset by the condition that XXXXXX pay the new sign fabricator directly instead of you. You responded by demanding a $2,000 payment in lieu of retrieving the original sign.
For some critical commentary in this otherwise dreary account of our correspondence, I will add that your work has taken an emotionally and financially manipulative turn that is exhausting for the viewer/participant and entirely misaligned with your previous work in providing hope to people bound by unfair economic systems.
Images courtesy of the author.