“I do not believe in work,” says a thin man in a red, washed-out T-shirt. His interviewer, a homeless man, has just asked him what he should spend 15,000 euros on. We’re watching There will be lighta performance by the artist Julian Hetzel, in which he donates a basic income of 1,250 euros a month to a lucky person for a year.
Seventy candidates have signed up for this campaign. They must appear before a panel composed exclusively of the homeless. The man in the red T-shirt is one of the candidates. He does not believe in work and would rather see the current economic system collapse. Maybe, he says, he can do his thing this way.
We are located in the old bicycle depot on Kanaalweg in Utrecht. Hetzel has settled down in the main hall with this performance, which can be seen under the banner of the spring party. The panel here interviews ten candidates a day for seven days. On Friday, at the end of the series, the lucky winner will be chosen during a grand final. Next month, the series will be performed again in Groningen with new candidates, a new panel and a new winner.
Where did you sleep last night?
All lectures are open to the public. The hall is decorated like a spooky beach. There is no sand, but concrete and inflatable beach equipment everywhere. Some actors walk around in swimwear and chat with the visitors. In the middle is a glass cube in which the conversations take place. They can not see or hear us, we can see them. For example, spectators can take a seat on an inflatable unicorn and hear the candidates answer questions such as: ‘Where did you sleep last night?’, ‘What does a typical day look like for you?’ and ‘How much money do you have?’.
This sometimes results in honest stories. About burnout, debt, depression. There are people who put their lives at the service of others, such as relatives or counselors, and ask for financial support for this. Still others pitch an art project. Humans are generally vulnerable. This is due to the direct questions, but of course there is also a significant amount at stake. In the viewer who watches as a voyeur, this alternately causes discomfort, fascination and confusion.
Hetzel, 41, says he has a social experiment in mind. He cares about hope. Everyone has the right to hope. But not everyone has the time and mental space to do so. “Whoever is struggling to make ends meet can think of nothing but that struggle,” he says. ‘Not even about the future, for your horizon is very close. I was thinking, what if we could push that horizon further away for someone? What if we could give someone the equivalent of a basic income for a year, what would that person think? ‘
But just giving away grants without more money turned out not to be so easy. It’s tax money, or money from private funds, and it comes with all sorts of conditions. Art must be made of it, and that art should preferably be urgent, current, diverse and have an influence. Hetzel: ‘I would take a shortcut and get the money directly where it is most needed. It’s just influence. But that did not turn out to be the intention at all. ”
There were many hooks at the plan. Hetzel did not want the money to give a discount on anyone’s benefits or advantages. Nor should it be taxed on all sides. So it could not be income. Hetzel was also not allowed to arrange a lottery, because then the gaming fee comes into play. After consulting lawyers and experts, it finally succeeded. “We have found a loophole in the rules. Thus, we can now even give the money to someone without a bank account. So in theory it could go to a refugee from Syria, Ukraine or a homeless person.
In fact, he would make 20 thousand euros. ’15 .000 euros is not enough to really unlock anyone completely, but we did not have more for the three series we do. You should therefore primarily see it as a gesture. A gesture that points to a larger idea. What I am doing is a utopian proposal. It should wake people up. ‘
Hetzel often does. In the performance debt factory his visitors were given a tour of a soap shop with soap made from excess human fat from liposuction. Guilt became a business model. all inclusive was about selling art and merchandise based on the violence of the war. As with Dutch artist Dries Verhoeven, Hetzel’s art is placed on the dividing line between theater and visual art, and he is deliberately searching for shocking scenes.
The confrontational element this time lies in the fact that the panel, which is to decide who should have the basic annual income, consists of the homeless. According to Hetzel, it is always the same kind of people who share all the money. That responsibility he would give to another group, to people with a completely different, perhaps more relevant perspective on money, life and the future.
So now the participants have to explain to a homeless person exactly what they are going to spend the 15 thousand euros on. It sometimes feels very skewed for both the participants and the viewer. Especially if someone is trying to raise startup capital for an excessive startup.
The panel members themselves are really enjoying their new role. Hetzel: ‘It took a while to get used to them in the beginning, but they are growing fast. The roles have now been swapped. For a change, the road to money now runs through them. It gives them power that they do not normally have. People are listening to them now. They really thrive on that. ”
‘Yes, part of my work is provocative. But it also has a productive side. It makes people think about money and its value. And how badly it is distributed. The role of the artist is to remind society of what it has deliberately forgotten. More than four thousand people live on the streets of The Hague. Something similar in Utrecht. Why are we not talking about it? Why is it never about redistributing money? ‘
One who walks around with the same questions is Denise Harleman (36). She is the founder of Collective Capital, a socio-financial experiment that gave a basic income of 1,000 euros away to five people in Amsterdam-Nord over the past eight months. The money came from donors. The recipients were ‘working minimum’. Unlike Hetzel, Harleman did not impose any conditions. There was no panel. People were drawn.
Harleman advised Hetzel on the difficult legal side of redistribution of money. Their projects are similar, though Hetzel is more emphatically provocative. Harleman: ‘He disproves the stereotypical image of poverty. He shows how pretty much everyone can be vulnerable, including you and me. I like that about it. What I find difficult is that he uses that panel to compare different types of needs and forms of poverty. The question becomes: who makes the money the most? With that, you reproduce a system that I would like to get rid of. That provocation is, of course, completely legitimate for a work of art. But it does not fit with the story that the collective capital tells’.
Harleman is an experienced expert. She has also for some time been able to receive a basic income from a loved one because she ‘was in shit’. She therefore knows better than anyone else how much air it can provide. And she now sees this in the first five participants in Kollektiv Kapital.
“It’s really effective,” she says. ‘Debt is paid. Medical care can be settled. The school trip can be paid for at once. But more importantly: because money stabilizes lives, people’s social lives flourish again. For that you may not be aware of: but social contact is highly economized in our society. If you can never have a cup of coffee with your friends, you stop meeting at some point. ‘
Basic income as art
While not provocative, Harleman also sees his project as an art form. Like There will be light Collective capital is an exercise of imagination, an alternative to the current system.
But giving five people a basic income does not solve the structural problems. For Harleman, therefore, this action is at the service of greater systemic criticism. “If we want to change anything, we need to make the large group of people who have enough money aware of what is going on. You can not be part of a solution if you are not aware that you are part of the problem. We would like to illustrate this. ”
‘We need to get rid of the eternal question of guilt. In the Netherlands, people get a budget coach or today an energy coach. With that, you are actually saying: you have caused this problem yourself, you need to change your behavior. But the system is the problem, not the people. Security of supply is a collective problem. ‘
Although Harleman and Hetzel use basic income as the basis for their ‘utopian proposals’, as well as a solution, they see that there is great social opposition to the idea. Many people fear that it will make you lazy. Harleman: ‘It has everything to do with our national character. You have to work for money. We’ll get rid of that someday. ‘
Harleman and Hetzel also do not believe in work, not if that work is the only measure of someone’s income. According to them, everyone in the world has the right to an existence and security of existence.
Hetzel: ‘We live in a meritocracy. In it, only those who supposedly deserve it are entitled to money. But we will soon have to revise our old-fashioned ideas about work and money. Even Elon Musk, the richest man on earth, has said it: an increasing portion of our work is being taken over by robots. Basic income is ultimately inevitable. If he says so … ‘
There will be light by Julian Hetzel, until 20/5 at Spring Festival. 24/6 to 2/7 in the Grand Theater in Groningen.
Collective Capital arranges meeting evenings for interested parties on 1/6 (Amsterdam) and 6/7 (Rotterdam).
160 thousand euros
Collective Capital is now looking for donors to raise 160,000 euros. This will allow ten people in Amsterdam and Rotterdam to receive collective capital for twelve months from this autumn without any conditions, liability and obligations. Over time, the website will indicate when registration for the raffle opens and in which neighborhoods in the Netherlands.