Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Human Costs

“Over a long period of time, the main force in favor of greater equality has been the diffusion of knowledge and skills.”
― Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Currency is all around us. Whether it is the finite pot of money from which we have to draw, or other forms of currency like love, kindness, anger, whatever it is that drives actions. Our financial system is perhaps an unwitting extension of the systems already inherent in human nature.

Brittany M. Powell lives and works in Vermont. She previously lived in San Francisco before relocating east for a year-long artist residency in Vermont and decided to stay. Powell enjoys the pace of life and affordability in the Green Mountain State. She has discovered a small arts community with similarities to the one she moved in while in San Francisco.

Powell worked as a photographer in SF for over a decade mainly freelancing for clients such as National Geographic. Around the time of the economy collapse, Powell found herself underemployed and watched debt mount. She knew she needed to reinvent her career so that it was more sustainable as she got older and so that she could maintain her artistic integrity rather than moving into commercial photography.

Just as she herself was filing for bankruptcy, Powell began a project examining debt in America. This was around 2012 when the debt conversation was just beginning to ramp up in the US. Powell wanted to explore the private nature of debt as well as how we approach it as a culture.

She set off to photograph 99 people across the country, largely strangers, and interview them about their feelings on and experience with debt. Included in the data is the amount of debt they carry at the time of being photographed. To date, Powell has photographed 76 people for the project.

Powell has learned that debt is vastly prevalent and has also discovered that we would not have a middle class without the entrenched debt system that we here in the US carry. As a culture, we have allowed debt to become completely normalized.

Historically, both debtor and lender took on similar responsibility with each party assuming comparable responsibility. Today, we have entered into a culture of predatory debt wherein college students can open credit card accounts and have access to thousands of dollars in credit by the time they graduate without access to gainful employment. This is of course compounded by the debt incurred while in college in the form of student loans, a major topic in American politics and discussion today.

To hear much more about Brittany M. Powell’s work and the fascinating conversation about the culture of debt in modern America, listen to the complete interview.

Abdul Mazid lives and works in L.A. Currently he’s preparing for a solo show in spring, 2019 at Shoshana Wayne Gallery. He is taking a moment to depart from his post graduate work and revisiting work from before graduate school involving oil painting and sculpture. Returning to this medium years later, and post grad school, has allowed him to see the materials in a new way. Mazid’s solo show at Shoshana Wayne will involve this revisited work.

The pieces for this show will be oil paint on linen, referencing an early project he did involving currency. The paintings examine the moment of explosion, whether fireworks or bombs, capturing the in-between phase when the landscape is neither before or after the explosion. Mazid feels this is very much the moment we are in right now within our cultural and socio-economic landscape. The paintings are highly color driven.

Mazid holds an undergraduate degree in Economics. Born in L.A. to immigrant parents (his mother is from Mexico and his father is from Syria) he was exposed early on to some of the conservative aspects of Orange County where he grew up and the stark contrasts between people. This began to manifest when children taunted him on the playground because of his background.

He began to consider how and why these systems of exclusion were in place. This led him to economics and the intermingling of all systems from the human scale to the broader financial aggregate. His degree in Economics helped him deconstruct other systems, allowing him to view things as transactions with a buyer and a seller. What did the children on the playground gain from their teasing? Mazid applied economic theory to broader questions. What is gained?

One of Mazid’s early projects was a currency project. He defaced baseball cards with paint and other substances, erasing the value of the baseball card and creating value with his own mark as an artist. This was a catalyst into combining his two interests, economics and art.

Mazid is interested in systems, their perpetuation, the reasons behind them and how they move through the world. To hear him discuss this further, and to hear more about his work, listen to the complete interview.

A Few Words to Keep in your Pocket:

We run our lives in constant debt and credit, whether we realize it or not.

Interviews are available on iTunes as podcasts, and for Android please click here. All weekly essay pieces in a shareable format are here. The full archive of interviews here.

Books to Read

What are you reading? Add your titles to our reading list here. Brittany M. Powell is reading Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Abdul Mazid recently read Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty.


Congratulations to all who have completed their Guggenheim Fellowship applications for the 2018-2019 cycle. This one a year grant is a big undertaking. Artists must submit, along with their work and C.V. a narrative of their lives and careers as well as a statement outlining their plans should they receive a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation. Applications close on Monday, September 17 but there will be another round next September. Best of luck to all Praxis Students who have submitted this year.


Weekly Edited Grant and Residency Deadlines – review the list here.

Sponsor: Whitney Museum of American Art – David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night. Jul 13–Sep 30, 2018. Beginning in the late 1970s, David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992) created a body of work that spanned photography, painting, music, film, sculpture, writing, and activism.



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