José Ruiz: “Cash Sold Here”

Curated by Heng-Gil Han

Exhibition Dates: May 10-June 14, 2008
Opening Reception: Saturday, May 10, 4-6 pm

What is the meaning of an ATM? Located everywhere at a corner of a market or a store, and typically in close proximity to cashier(s), an ATM seems to provide us with a banking service convenient for us, consumers. It saves our time and energy, and it helps us avoid an awkward situation in which we run out of cash and have to ask for our friend’s generosity. Isn’t an ATM a wonderful machine that accommodates our daily life in many ways?

Subverting this luring surface of the EZ banking service, Jose Ruiz critically revisits the premises and function of an ATM. Upon finding that there is no ATM at the Essex Street Market, José Ruiz conceives the idea to install an artistic ATM in the middle of the Cuchifritos. This site-specific installation highlights the human touch and warmth that still survives intact at the Essex Street Market while discussing the elements of today’s faceless society such as commodified money, value, exchange, and machine/human interaction.

An ATM defines space and time in terms of money. The small machine, that takes a bit more than a square-foot surface of ground and available throughout the city, bluntly manifests that time and space, the two indispensable prerequisites of all human experiences and activities, ultimately are commodities one can easily buy in exchange of one or two bucks. Turning the fundamental conditions of possible human experience into a commodity, the ATM represents the critical conditions of our society that place money at the center of our contemporary life.

Not only promoting consumerism and wasteful spending, the cornerstone of the US’ economic structure, the ATM isolates the consumers’ need for a small amount of instant cash and then precisely only satisfies that need and nothing else, while removing all possible human interactions with a teller during the transaction. It makes us aware that face-to-face human activities evaporate in our automated society of codes and passwords that define our life only in terms of productivity and material efficiency—the money.

Ruiz’s ATM critically points out the illusive value of money. Despite its critical points, the actual installation takes a playful form, which is one of the distinctive characteristics of Ruiz’s approach to making art. In his work, Ruiz frequently discusses dark matters of our life and society, but he typically treats them in a humorous and satirical manner by using witty and ironic contexts. The effect is a cathartic experience in which the serious issues hard to address without unpleasant pressure are weightlessly touched upon at ease and with laughter.

This exhibit is sponsored, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and through the generous support of the following: the New York State Council on the Arts,The New York City Economic Development Corporation, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and the members of the Artists Alliance Incorporated.