Artists Space

Canal Street Research Association with Rolando Politi:
A Symposium on Alternative Currency

Tuesday, June 28
7pm
11 Cortlandt Alley

A color image of a decorated waste container on the street. The container is adorned with bottle caps in different colors, sizes, and materials, nailed to the surface of the bin. The dense arrangement of the caps on its surface creates complex color patterns and textural accentuations.
Rolando Politi, lets free the caps from being "bonded to the threads of a bottle." Image courtesy Rolando Politi. [A color image of a decorated waste container on the street. The container is adorned with bottle caps in different colors, sizes, and materials, nailed to the surface of the bin. The dense arrangement of the caps on its surface creates complex color patterns and textural accentuations.]

For decades, Lower East Side trash artist and gleaner Rolando Politi has been conceiving of a hyper-local alternative currency made of found bottle caps called Kap Kurrency. Inspired by his practice, Canal Street Research Association hosts an alternative currency symposium to understand and learn from panel participants about their various alternative currency models: from currency that deliberately depreciates to currency based on the value of soil, from time banks to “Spacebank.” Amidst rising inflation that destabilizes purchasing power, and in a city where so few can afford to get by, Canal Street Research Association investigates alternative systems of monetary exchange: who they serve, how they are implemented, and how we might develop one for New York City. 

The symposium will bring together Canal Street Research Associates with artist Rolando Politi, designer Chris Lee, writer Fran Ilich, artist and editor Julieta Aranda, and members of the American Numismatic Society. Politi will share a prototype for a bottle cap collection receptacle that he will debut during the exhibit and which will serve as a summertime hub for the gathering of Kap Kurrency, certified by his new Bank of Garbagia. Further guidelines for Kap Currency will be developed and launched during the symposium, and viewers will have the chance to participate in the collection of currency throughout the run of the show.

This program is presented as a part of the exhibition Attention Line, on view at Artists Space from June 11 – August 20.

Born in 1943 amidst WWII in Italy, Rolando Politi is a mature self taught “outsider artist” who has experienced in his lifetime a variety of social philosophical backgrounds with roots in the russian brand of anarchism as best exemplified by Bakunin and the theories of collective anarchism. Early in life he divided his time between Italy and Germany being active in the squatter movements there. He landed in the Lower East Side of New York City in the early eighties at the beginning of a squatter movement in the neighborhood and he actively became involved in organizing the takeover and restoration of the many abandoned buildings of the time. This specific squatter movement in the Lower East Side went on for years (about 20 years) until the dawn of the 21st century and the activism in the self help process supplied him with many building skills, the experience was a derivative that molded his art form.

At the turn of the millennium he organized and then promoted an artist collective named: TRASH WORSHIP which went on for a few years by staging performances and installations. The main element of the shows and creations were our ever present trashed resources, in short: garbage. The original twist in the works of the collective at the time was the immersion of a spiritual approach to the process with the creation of rituals and songs and even a “prayer book”!

He then went on to work in India in the “informal sector” where he partnered with organizers in the union of waste pickers in Delhi. In the special district of Seemapuri where the mainstay of the economy was based on picking waste and then reprocessing it to the recycling industry he started a small co-op of women waste workers who introduced a value added concept to their work by creating small toys and flowers operating as a cottage industry. The hands down experience with this community of waste workers was very helpful for him to gain further insights into the reality of life as a waste worker in India.

After returning to the LES he was further convinced that the “recycling” programs by default i.e. empowering city governments for the collection and processing of recyclable materials was only a “placebo” given to people a “politically correct” one but in reality it turned out to be an inefficient process with much “waste” of resources plus corruption.

He has always refused to be categorized as a “recycling” artist preferring the more accurate description of a “gleaner,” a term with ancient roots back to biblical times when the gleaners were protected by a religious law which forbade a landowner from possessing the entire harvest—meaning that any resource felled by the wayside during the process rightfully belonged to the gleaning pickers!

Fast forwarding to our times, he sees himself as a modern day gleaner gutter picking in the LES the resources which fall on our sidewalks and his major public art installation, the “Winter Flowers” at La Plaza garden in the LES, is a mixed gleaned media work.

He has also inspired and fostered the “Garbagia” collective which performs annually in LES gardens a puppetry show sourcing the materials used in it from the discarded resources found in our streets.


Canal Street Research Association is a fictional entity founded in an empty storefront on Canal Street, New York City’s counterfeit epicenter, in fall 2020. Researching shadow economies, bootlegs, and vacancy, they delve into the cultural and material ecologies of Canal Street and its long history probing the limits of ownership and authorship. In September 2021, the office contents were moved into storage in a corner room on the second floor of MoMA PS1. The routine movement of objects from this storage unit in Long Island City to active research on Canal Street formed a series of associative meanders, surfacing flows of goods and ideas while tracing buried currents and currencies. Canal Street Research Association is currently taking up residence in an empty office building on Canal Street, just west of the “goth McDonald’s.”


Fran Ilich is a media artist and writer based in NYC. His practice deals with narrative media, economy and hacktivism. For instance, the creation of collective wealth and alternative financial flows, inventing unorthodox ways to fund and maintain social infrastructures. He draws on ancient modes of exchange, and uses narrative and creative devices to forge organizational models that transform capitalist systems into solidarity platforms. Rather than reject existing financial tools and capitalist mechanisms, such as banks, bonds, hedge funds, and capital accumulation, he shuffles them around in such a way that they instead can foster community building enterprises and non-vertical economies. He is the author of 3 novels and the book-long essay “Another Narrative is Possible.” His works range from interactive web telenovelas to alternate reality games and utopian experiments in social organization, like the Diego de la Vega Coffee Co-op and Spacebank, a virtual community investment bank.


Chris Lee is a graphic designer and educator based in Lenapehoking (Brooklyn, NY). His primary research explores graphic design’s entanglement with colonialism and capitalism through the banal genre of the document. He has explored speculative numismatics as a field that through graphic design can open up the imagination of other social-political/monetary realities through speculative visualizations—an aesthetic tactic in the struggle against state and capital. Lee is currently an assistant professor in the communications design department at the Pratt Institute and recently published Immutable: Designing History, which looks at graphic design in relation to politically loaded documents such as passports, money and property deeds.


Founded in 1858, The American Numismatic Society is dedicated to the study and appreciation of numismatics and has assembled a permanent collection of more than 800,000 coins, monetary objects, medals, and other related items dating back to 2000 BCE. The specialized library contains approximately 100,000 books, documents, and artifacts that are among the finest of such resources. Together, they comprise one of the most extensive numismatic holdings in the world. Numismatics: the study or collection of currency, including coins, paper money, and medals.Founded in 1858, The American Numismatic Society is dedicated to the study and appreciation of numismatics and has assembled a permanent collection of more than 800,000 coins, monetary objects, medals, and other related items dating back to 2000 BCE. The specialized library contains approximately 100,000 books, documents, and artifacts that are among the finest of such resources. Together, they comprise one of the most extensive numismatic holdings in the world. Numismatics: the study or collection of currency, including coins, paper money, and medals.


Julieta Aranda is a conceptual artist and editor of e-flux journal based between Berlin and New York. In 2009, she and e-flux founder Anton Vidokle founded Time/Bank, a platform enabling people to trade goods and services without using money.

This project is made possible with funds from the NYSCA Electronic Media/Film in Partnership with Wave Farm: MAAF Forward Fund, with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.

Program support is provided by Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation, The Cowles Charitable Trust, The Cy Twombly Foundation, The David Teiger Foundation, The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, The New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature, Imperfect Family Foundation, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, The Willem de Kooning Foundation, The Fox Aarons Foundation, Herman Goldman Foundation, The Destina Foundation, The Luce Foundation, May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, The Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, Arison Arts Foundation, The David Rockefeller Fund, The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation, The Jill and Peter Kraus Foundation, The Richard Pousette-Dart Foundation.