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Works of note put artist on the map.

Byline: By Tamzin Lewis

Cash is converted into art by Justine Smith, who exchanges ideas with Tamzin Lewis.

Justine Smith is so conscious of the puns associated with her work that she gets them out of the way right at the beginning of our conversation.

Justine has been making art out of the world's banknotes since 1999 and is currently showing some of her fastidiously beautiful work at Newcastle's Opus Gallery.

"Money is loaded in meaning," she says. "And here's another one... notes may just be pieces of paper but there is so much investment in these pieces of paper."

Justine has always worked with paper, and moved on from creating life-sized comic dogs made with chicken-wire, plaster and pages torn from the Beano after studying sculpture at London's Central St Martin's College of Art & Design.

She says: "I like the ephemeral quality of paper. But I thought I wanted to use a more permanent material so I did a bronze casting course and really loved it. This helped my work, and brought me back to paper in a completely different way. "

The best example of her 3D work at Opus is Absolute Power II, a paper sculpture of an M16 rifle covered with two layers of US banknotes.

Justine says: "This is definitely a comment on money as a conduit of power. The rifle is completely hollow and you could screw up in the palm of your hand. It is about power, but also about the transience of power, because the gun is impermanent."

Absolute Power II shows a remarkable attention to detail. If you shine a torch down the barrel of the gun, you will see George Washington's eyes staring back at you.

Justine also uses visual puns in Coup d'Etat Bosnia Herzegovina and Coup d'Etat Trans-Dniester. Here, she has replaced the face pictured on the note with a mirrored surface, so you can line up your own head within the image. The fur-hatted and moustached Trans-Dniester hero is particularly effective.

The currency of Trans-Dniester is one of Justine's favourites. Trans-Dniester started printing its own money when it declared itself independent from Moldova in 1990.

She also likes the psychedelic currency of Kazakhstan, the flora and fauna pictured on African banknotes and the fish and tropical flowers of the Caribbean.

Justine uses new notes in good condition for which she requires a banknote dealer in Amsterdam. She says: "My dealer specialises in current issue uncirculated banknotes. Lots of countries have export restrictions on their currency and some banknotes are very difficult to get hold of.

"For example, Faroe Islands have a beautiful but very expensive currency to obtain."

The Faroes and indeed all the world's archipelagos are painstakingly pinpointed with their own currency in Money Map of the World. This is an accurate map of the world with each country coloured by its currency.

Justine, 34, from London, says: "Every speck is the correct currency for the country and every country has a very different feeling. A banknote can be viewed as an advert for a country. Nothing is on there by chance."

Justine's other large scale work on show is The Happiness 100 + 11: a pyramid of country's names cut out of currency. It is based on American psychologist Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs which places physiological needs like food, warmth and shelter at the bottom of the pyramid and self actualisation (achieving full potential) at the top.

She says: "I combined this with an Economist magazine survey into which are the happiest countries in the world, based on things like weather, gender equality and wealth.

"My pyramid shows that money can't buy happiness. It is not the richest country at the top, or the poorest country at the bottom."

Ireland is top and Nigeria, Tanzania, Haiti and Zimbabwe are bottom.

Justine Smith's work is included in the Artists of Mass Distraction show which also features work by Abigail Fallis, Alastair Mackie and Tim Hind.

The exhibition runs at Opus Gallery, 16 Shakespeare Street, Newcastle, until April 3.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 23, 2006
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