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Give a Penny, Take a Penny

Some random, probably unoriginal questions about Cildo Meireles‘s Mission/Missions (How to Build Cathedrals) at the Blanton:

Eight hundred communion wafers. Two thousand cattle bones. Eighty paving stones. Six hundred thousand coins – pennies, to be precise. That’s six thousand dollars. What would it hurt to steal one cent? Would the penny lose any value once it was removed from the installation?

Would it be better or worse to add a penny? It’d definitely be easier. There’d be no bending over required, although the coin would probably clink pretty loudly when it hit the others.

Does someone count the pennies every time the installation changes hands?

Almost anywhere this installation is described, including on the wall at the Blanton, we’re told it’s about the Jesuit exploitation of the Tupi-Guarani people, about the way the Church used religious conversion as an excuse for economic exploitation. Is so much detail really necessary? We’ve got wafers connecting bones and coins; isn’t that enough right there? Proselytism sucks, gotcha. So why that particular group of indigenous people? Is there some kind of creative-writing principle at play here, where adding concrete details makes something more real? Isn’t the physical work supposed to do that for us?

What if I just added one penny? Would that be such a big deal?

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