Irish artist Frank Buckley decided to express his anger about the property boom and bust by building a house from more than a billion Euros of decommissioned notes.
In the lobby of the Glass House, an empty office building that stands as a relic to Ireland’s cataclysmic property bust, money is changing hands between an old woman and a 15-year-old girl.
“Go off there and get a couple of sweets for yourself,” says the woman, as she hands over a block of €50,000 ($65,000) notes.
“I should have brought my handbag in here, I could have made a fortune,” she jokes.
The money, which forms a pulped brick of shredded notes, is part of an art installation – and home – built by unemployed Dublin-based artist Frank Buckley.
Frank Buckley has invited strangers into the space in the hope that it will inspire debate on the state of Irish national debt and the meaning of currency.
Like many of his friends and acquaintances, Frank Buckley fell victim to Ireland’s economic crisis. At the height of the property boom, he bought a house on cheap credit.
The artist wanted a place where he and his two children could live together with his wife, who had recently moved from Zimbabwe with four children of her own.
“I borrowed all that money, which was very much encouraged,” Frank Buckley says.
“I take responsibility for it but it was very easy for me to do.
“We were in this bubble, confidence was high, we were untouchable and within the space of two or three weeks it just took its toll.”
Frank Buckley had no fixed income and within months of buying the house found he couldn’t meet his mortgage repayments.
Under the financial strain, his marriage broke down and he moved into the shed at the back of the house as bailiffs came to take his furniture away.
His friends and acquaintances struggled too and a close friend, a property developer who had lost everything he owned, took his own life.
Staring at a stack of decommissioned notes he had acquired from a friend to use as confetti at his wedding ceremony he started questioning its real value.
“I thought, <<God, this is what this paper is doing to us?>>” he says.
Frank Buckley decided to create art that would bring the absurdity of the Irish economic situation to light and made paintings from the shredded notes and coins which he exhibited towards the end of last year.
Then the idea came to him to build a house.
“I was sitting outside the Glass House building waiting for a friend of mine to come out and I thought, <<Wouldn’t this be fantastic, to do a structure inside the building with the shredded notes?>>” he says.
The artist rang the building’s agent who had seen a review of his most recent exhibition and forwarded him to the owner who was immediately keen.
The mint agreed to supply him with more bricks of decommissioned notes. There was a vast amount of paperwork involved but mint officials were very accommodating and took care of it.
They have given the money to Frank Buckley on a loan basis and will dispose of it when he is finished.
Frank Buckley had never built a house before. “I got a hammer and nails and my brother brought down a generator and plugged it in. I had a light and I started from there,” he says.
The house is constructed from sheets of plywood and frames donated by a local DIY shop.
The outside walls are built from stacked bricks while inside, the shredded Euros are used to plaster the walls and carpet the floor. It has a double glazed window, a high security front door and a toilet.
Frank Buckley now lives in the house during the week, returning to the shed in his family’s back garden at the weekend.
Since he opened it to the public on Monday the house has received more than 300 visitors and he has been overwhelmed by the positive reaction to it.
But despite the success of the installation he is still struck daily by the poignancy of the Irish economic situation and recalls the reaction of his young visitor as she handled the block of useless notes.
“The girl said, <<If I could use this as money, I would get out of this country.>>” Frank Buckley says.
“And to me that was really sad.”