In the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jill Magid intercedes in the U.S. economy with Tender. For this major public artwork commissioned by Creative Time, Magid circulated 120,000 2020-issued pennies engraved on their edges with the appropriated phrase, “THE BODY WAS ALREADY SO FRAGILE.” The text evokes both the human body and the body politic – and underscores their interconnection during the coronavirus pandemic. The number of pennies echoes the $1200 stimulus checks that were issued by the U.S. Treasury as part of The 2020 CARES Act providing financial relief to individual citizens. In Fall 2020, the coins were disseminated into the economy via networks of commerce and human movement, echoing the spread of viral pathogens such as COVID-19.
These pennies – whose newly minted copper surfaces are antimicrobial – are a dispersed monument that will spread discretely across the country. As a voice from the public, the phrase etched onto the edges serves as the antithesis to the propaganda stamped onto the coins’ faces. With an average circulation of 40 years, this project will exist as long as the pennies are in use, and as a rumor. In this way, Magid reimagines public art as not a static entity, but rather as a phenomenon that circulates freely among the population.
As the U.S. government uses metaphors of American power fighting the virus as a war waged against an “invisible enemy,” the project speaks to human vulnerability and the effects of the virus on both a personal and national scale. In this time of global political and social uncertainty, during which COVID-19 denies us all intimacy and direct exchange, Tender offers an opportunity to take pause and reflect on the permeability of borders, value, and intimacy.
Tender: Balance – an exhibition at The Renaissance Society at The University of Chicago.