BY: REGAN MCNEILL
When I first started asking people what they thought of a guy who was going to burn his student loan I mostly expected them to ask why someone would do something like that. Instead they were quick to judge and called him stupid or misled. In an almost defensive and admittedly uninformed retort I would tell them that it was because he is against capitalism and the value we apply to money. Without a care, they told me he should just deal with it because that’s just the way things are.
But when I actually got the chance to ask that guy (Brooke Purvis) why he would do such a thing, he had a lot to say. So much so that I could barely get a word in during our interview.
Now you’re probably wondering who the heck this chatty Brooke Purvis is and you are probably having a hard time trying to fathom why someone would burn money. Let me tell you, the answer is never simple when it comes to art.
Brooke, according to his Twitter is “another fucking artist” studying Fine Arts at Central Saint Martins in London. To me, he just looked like a slightly skinny guy in his mid to late twenties who enjoyed a puff or two here and there. He did not exude any particular artiness or hipster quality that made me intimidated to talk to him, but perhaps the opposite.
For Brooke the project is conceptual and meant to “highlight stupidity.”
This project where he plans on burning his student loan does have a name, and a very suitable one at that: Everything Burns. For Brooke the project is conceptual and meant to “highlight stupidity.” The stupidity in the fact that he and millions of other students across the globe will be in debt once they have finished their university career and the fact that they will be expected to start a life and pay it back simultaneously.
“Over here [England] we never used to pay for student fees, you always used to have free education…”
Ok you get it, there’s a lot of stupid things in this world that have to do with money but you probably don’t get it as much until you have to struggle with money yourself. Coming from a lower class family, Brooke has had a strong taste of this struggle and works his ass off to make rent in London. Even so this bright and educated young man will be leaving school $54,000 in debt…along with many other students in the UK.
“Over here [England] we never used to pay for student fees, you always used to have free education and therefore you get a grant,” Brooke explained. Long story short, this effectively changed along with the new governments over the years. And so, this meant that grants would turn to loans and loans to debt. Turns out the government actually takes this loan repayment money directly from one’s pay-cheque, which essentially means that some people may be forced to pay their loan back first even if it does not leave them with enough money to eat.
As we continued our talk it became more clear to me that Brooke was fed up with more than just student loans, rather he was searching for ways to expose something bigger, something much more deeply rooted than the student loan system that is now entrenched in the lives of students like him and me.
We are at a point where you must do something unique and shocking to make waves amongst the global community
“What the problem is with our current state is that there is a massive unfairness between lowest paid workers in society and highest paid workers in society and that gap needs to be much smaller.” If you check out one of Brooke’s earlier projects, Situational Value, you can see that the work we do and the number value we put on it have been an interest of Brooke’s before Everything Burns even came into fruition.
For Brooke, each work of art he makes is “a conversation with myself [himself]…you can call it a protest if you want, art is subjective you can leave that up to you.”
Though the actual burning is set to take place in 2016, Everything Burns has “effectively mushroomed massively…you have to do a hugely ridiculous stunt for people to go ‘ah actually that’s a good point’. I mean, what is wrong with people?”
Yet I don’t think there is anything wrong with people, instead I see this as a symptom of the time we live in. We are no longer in the 1960s where lining the streets with millions of people with signs works (even if it didn’t). We are at a point where you must do something unique and shocking to make waves amongst the global community and that is exactly what Brooke is doing. He is burning physical and tangible money, which is obviously going to cause a stir. It is like Brooke’s dad said when he found out about Everything Burns, “you can’t buy advertising like this.”
Brooke plans to burn the money at a location outside of Central Saint Martins and will be doing it in front of a witness who will document the experience for the possibility of a later exhibition. If you check out his site you can see that he will be selling the ashes of the money he burns. We did not really talk about this in our discussion but this concept makes me think the whole thing is a trick on everyone who buys into it. I mean the man is burning money and then selling the ashes back to people, can the point get any clearer? The value we put on things and the money we use to buy it is just a construct we’ve created ourselves. You just have to decide if you are going to be duped or not.
Brooke plans to burn the money at a location outside of Central Saint Martins in 2016.
The big kicker was when I asked him how much money he was going to burn and Brooke replied with a simple “I am going to burn whatever is available to me.” It’s almost as if telling me would give too much away. Then, I got it. He could burn 5 or 50,000 pounds and his point will remain the same, “the one semantic or singular point in it is fundamentally what is money worth to you? Where does your value come from? What does value mean to you?” The air of secrecy that Brooke is maintaining around the project forces viewers to answer these questions themselves instead of having them answered by the number on a banknote or how much they get paid for an hour’s worth of labour.
No matter where you are or what you are doing, even if you are an artist like Brooke you cannot escape society and the very foundation it’s laid upon, this is one supported by money and that is never going to change. Not even Brooke denies the fact that we are a society based on exchange, “you can call it money or you can call it the pebbles you found on the beach.”
The point is that in order to critique the institutions we are a part of, whether that is a university or not, you have to critique the society that is responsible for shaping it. It can be hard for people to see how burning money will do anything at all, but it all starts with a conversation to get the masses rolling. You just have to use your own form of expression to start one. As Brooke said himself, “without changing society you can’t change the institution. Unless everybody gets on board and everything changes it’s gonna be the way it is for as long as it has been.” Now ask yourself, are you on board?