Photos courtesy of El Museo de Los Sures.
A new art exhibition and pop-up coffee co-op in Brooklyn is creating a conversation about coffee and currency by letting visitors barter for their morning brew. Aridoamérica Winter Plan is an interactive installation designed by Mexican artist Fran Ilich. The project is a collaboration between the International Studio & Curatorial Program—a non-profit that runs residency programs for artists around the globe—and the Southside United HDFC - Los Sures, a non-profit organization operating in Brooklyn since 1972.
In addition to getting a cup of coffee, the space welcomes people to relax, peruse the displays, engage in conversation, or even play Patolli—an ancient American game dating back to Mesoamerican cultures that requires players to bet things of value. Every aspect of the experience is designed to draw attention to economic questions about money and globalization—all of it funnelled down into the most quotidian of daily activities: getting a cup of coffee.MUNCHIES recently spoke to Alan Yu, the Senior Project Manager at Los Sures, Juliana Cope, a director at ISCP, and artist Fran Ilich to discuss how they are turning the idea of a coffee shop on its head.Aridoamérica Winter Plan will run until March 30, 2017.MUNCHIES: Why have coffee shops have become such an important social space today? Fran: I think coffee-shops have changed a lot over the last two decades. In the 90s they were warm places where people would conspire together, smoke, write, even gossip. Nowadays, coffee-shops seem like cold offices, where one can work, be online and buy overpriced coffee that, even if it comes from remote places in the world, never really manages to have its own personality. Its as if those retro, cold, text-only chat rooms on the Internet that pretended to be coffee-shops ended up inspiring physical coffee-shops.
What kind of beans are you serving? Juliana: Zapatista coffee grown by farmer cooperatives in Chiapas, Mexico. The funds support their education programs. Fran mostly serves drip coffee, no milk or cream. Sugar is available.
Do you see coffee as an obvious proxy of globalization? Fran: Yes, definitely. And also a reminder that coffee-crops have served to create a global oligarchy that has no respect for farmers. Many of the indigenous people that plant it all over the world ironically aren't becoming rich, and in fact, lose money to the prices fixed by commodity exchanges.What kinds of things are people using to barter? Juliana: Cups of brewed coffee have been bartered for anything from an object such as The Last of the Mohicans DVD to a service such as serving coffee for an hour. Depending on who is on the other side of the counter, more negotiating may be required.Do you think that bartering communities (such as the plethora that have popped up on Facebook) are here to stay? Alan: I think bartering communities are growing as people return to use value and realize exchange economies that can be created outside the traditional institutional forms of monetary currency. In essence bartering communities cut out the middleman, and both people in the transaction determine what is of personal value to them based on what is being exchanged. It's much more tailored to the individuals involved.What do you hope visitors take away from the event? Juliana: We hope visitors will have an exchange—verbal or otherwise —and feel acknowledged, perhaps even stay for hours playing Patolli, or drinking coffee. Perhaps they will propose their own contribution to the space, bring friends, hold a meeting, talk about histories current and future, their own and otherwise.
How is the game Patolli significant to the exhibition? Fran: Besides being a game, it is a ritual to the god Xochipilli Macuixóchitl, who, more than a god in the Judeo Christian sense of the word, is an energy. It represents things as art, flowers, games, love, music, poetry and magical plants. The game incorporates the idea of an economy of the commons, and also the idea of use value—not one thing is worth more than another and generally players can choose what they want to receive from Xochipilli whenever he offers something.So in a way the game is the ritual—and as such we would be rescuing for a few seconds a game that got basically lost during the holocaust of the Americas, and a belief system—but also it functions under a radically different idea of economy. They had at least 6 different currencies that co-existed, and which had different purposes. There was not an all-encompassing god-money.This interview has been edited for length and clarity.