Just as the technology arrives and is carefully checked through, so the final decisions about which of my ideas to present at the showcase have been given the once over in my mind. In making these decisions, it’s been helpful to revisit my ‘sketchbook’ of quick prototypes, short films and photographs, as a visual reference.

For example, I’m still dreaming of becoming a money magnate and have been playing with polarity to attract some coinage:


But, as well as artists, how do cultural institutions and other charitable organisations continue to attract money, particularly during a recession? While museums remain free to visit, they certainly magnetize people in record numbers, but what about the clear Perspex donations box, often found in museum foyers, displaying limited contributions from the thousands of visitors?

The final iteration of my concept for Money No Object looks at re-fashioning this donations box, by providing playful methods for making a donation, in order to explore money as an exchange of value; its financial, cultural, social and even emotional value. As smart payment transactions become increasingly imperceptible, and technology can isolate people physically from each other while they are absorbed behind screens, I started to explore human interaction and gesture, as a means of payment transaction or donation.  

So in the context of my project, wearable objects, such as brooches, gloves and shoes, use RFID technology to enable physical and emotional gestures between people as a method of value exchange. Just as the Oyster card model relies on RFID tags and readers touching together to transfer funds, so my ‘Hug & Pay’ brooches, ‘Handshake Agreement’ gloves, or ‘Tap & Pay’ dance shoes, would rely on human-to-human interaction to seal the deal. This way, I hope that people would enjoy the process of making a donation to a cultural institution or charity while receiving something invaluable and enriching in return.

Here’s a quick demo of the tech and concept in action to illustrate some of the gestures... (Listen out for the transaction beeps which confirm the transfer of funds!):


Wearables which could trigger a transaction by making the 'High Five' gesture might include a ring concealing an RFID tag, shown here as a paper prototype, as I discovered that RFID does not work with too much metal present:

At the same time, I have been thinking about how many monetary transfers take place on an imperceptible level, whether through algorithms in black boxes, online banking and currency exhange, or promises to pay the bearer via banknotes, where representations of sums are given but the value is not actually received. What is happening to money at the microscale, maybe even the nanoscale? What is taking place at the level we cannot see with the naked eye? If we knew, would this affect or alter our perception of money?

Here's a close up of a 5 pence piece under a macro lens:

While the phrase 'dirty money' is often used, I was wondering just how much bacteria is transferred as we also exchange cash, coins or even online payments via our dirty technology, such as computers and phones. Growing the bacteria from coins and touchpads in petri dishes revealed some of the evidence:

UK coin denominations

Petri dishes with bacteria from both coins and computer touchpads


With petri dishes stacked up, the bacterial world becomes a microcosmic universe

So if technology (and therefore digital currency) seemingly carries as many bacterium as coin, how might this translate in future, where money may remain the ultimate form of communication and so-called Superbugs are increasingly resistant to antibiotics? 

Ultraviolet paint, lighting, 50p coin, agar and bacteria

Alongside the physical gesture and payment transaction of the 'Handshake Agreement', I am wondering if gloves incorporating the RFID technology could be made from material embedded with silver nanoparticles, creating anti-microbial gloves, which would allow users to make a 'clean transfer':

Antibacterial prototype gloves for a germ-free 'Handshake Agreement', and petri dishes with both coin and computer touchpad bacteria.

Equally, as it's time to 'clean up' my final ideas for the residency, it's also a good point to clean up my desk space in order to make way for more prototype production, as well as further discussions of how to take the research forward from here... How do you monetise money anyway? As the showcase event swiftly approaches, and I feel like a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, I'll borrow from that play: Financial value, like mendacity, is just a system that we live in. 

(Coin bacteria and macro photography by Jonathan Rowley)