“My studio is actually a flat in an old Victorian house, but I don’t live here. I just couldn’t find another space at the time to buy for the money I had. I have a couple of big marble fireplaces and some chandeliers that the old owner left behind – so in a way it’s quite grand, or it could be. I mainly work in the front room as it has the most light, have a room to store my prints and a cellar that I use for more messy stuff. Having central heating is great, I’ve never had it in any other studio and used to freeze. Sometimes I think it would be good to be around other artists, but then at the studio I think you make your own world. I made a garden in the front and love looking out at it. I’m doing one in the back now too, but I always feel a bit guilty that I’m not doing my proper work.”
Born in Somerset, Justine Smith moved to London to study at The City and Guilds of London Art School from 1990 to 1993. She has always worked with paper as a primary medium and she is currently focusing on making work either of, or relating to money. She has exhibited in galleries and museums internationally. Notable collections include The British Museum, The British Library, The British Council, and the UK Government Art Collection. She lives and works in London.
FROM YOUR DESKS: How do you work?
JUSTINE SMITH: Slowly and on my own.
FYD: What is your favorite sentimental object at your workspace and why?
JS: An antique glass dome filled with a flower arrangement made from shells. I can appreciate the time it took someone to make.
FYD: What is your favorite or most required work tool?
JS: My knife.
FYD: Growing up, what did you think about money?
JS: My parents always said we didn’t have any, so I had to make my own. I was working from quite early on and made things I couldn’t buy.
All our wealth comes ultimately from nature…
JS: It can tell who the people are, or who the Government is, what is important to them, historically, culturally, politically, their religion. The landscape, and the creatures they share it with. It varies though, from note to note, and should not always be believed.
FYD: Is there an “art” of money? And, is it liberating to cut and collage such “valuable” currency?
JS: I don’t find it liberating. The people who design and make the banknotes are artists themselves, some of the notes are very beautiful and their intricacies form part of the security of the note. In that sense it’s quite nerve-wracking to cut into these notes, as I want to get the best of it. Some banknotes, even the current ones, cost no more than decent paper would. Some currencies are not so valuable, even within their own countries.
Money can buy power and that power can be misused.
FYD: Via your Weapons series, what is your message as you outline the guns in money cutouts?
JS: That money can buy power and that power can be misused.
FYD: Money is just paper, almost with no real value as we carry it. What about it physically entices people?
JS: As it’s a physical thing and we can count it out to buy something, it’s much more real than say a credit card. It represents our labour (since, in general we are all working for it). I think we are unconsciously tied in different ways, almost like an enchantment, as most people would always like a bit more for what ever reason. I think people think it will answer their dreams, it’s why people play the lottery.
FYD: In your sculpture Rise and Fall, money quite literally grows on trees, only to fall to the ground , littered among gold mushrooms. What is the moral of this story?
JS: The mushrooms represent new growth from decay, which gives us hope. All our wealth comes ultimately from nature, and the trees and mushrooms represent the cycle of life, and recognises there is no such thing as permanent growth. The blossoms on the cherry tree are made from Chinese currency and the fallen leaves from US Dollars, so it also looking at the shifting balance of political power in the world, but this again is only a temporary state in the history of the world since power always eventually wanes.
FYD: Do you subscribe to the adage “more money, more problems?”
JS: No, I think the people with no money have the biggest problems. Inequality is the problem, and globally it is getting worse.
FYD: If someone handed you a wad of foreign currency, which would country’s would you choose and where would you chose to spend it?
JS: What I’d really like right now is one banknote from every currency in the world as I am making a new money map and it would save me an awful lot of time!