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We Talked to Dustin Yellin About Shredding $10K in the Name of Art

The shredded cash is now for sale as a series of paintings entitled 'The Riches of God’s Love unto the Vessels of Mercy' at SPRING/BREAK Art Show.

Bazaar Teens don’t give a fuck about money. They only care about art... maybe. Artist Dustin Yellin and his collective, Bazaar Teens, were given $10,000 by an anonymous donor, meant to help fund their art show. Instead, they fed cash through a wood chipper—all of it—and transformed the scraps into eight paintings of shredded U.S. currency artfully arranged onto unassuming, if unappetizing, brown backgrounds. The group plans to sell each illicit and sensational painting in the series, known as The Riches of God’s Love unto the Vessels of Mercy, for $10,000, and put the proceeds towards the creation of grants for high school seniors interested in pursuing art.

The works are on display and on sale this week at SPRING/BREAK Art Show in New York City, happening March 3-8 at Skylight at Moynihan Station, in a nightmarish fun house called Tree-Tech—a new creation from the Bazaar Teens which complements the now-notorious shredded works. Tree-Tech comprises a malfunctioning coffeepot office hellscape; a brightly lit room where the dirt has been raised to eye level in order to reveal the nothing beneath it; and a bread-laden Hallway of Christ: slices of processed white nailed directly onto the walls; hammers, nails, and free-floating slices of bread piled up in the corners, poised for willing participants to grab hold.

It’s dirty and weird and full of unsettling surprises. Ceiling tiles have crumbled; old coffee, packing peanuts, and plaster debris coat the floors. When I visited the space, I spoke with Bazaar Teens' Dustin Yellin and Randy Lee Maitland, who hadn’t slept much in the five days that they and the rest of the collective had spent putting up the show. Yellin guided us through like a zonked-out Willy Wonka, rushing frantically around the space, hammering bread to the wall, and talking to Randy and I with passion about Jesus Christ, non-specificity, and the sense they made of shredding $10,000 in the name of art.

The Creators Project: This space that we’re in is the creation of the Bazaar Teens, many of whom are not here right now?

Dustin Yellin (DY): There’s some of us that aren’t standing here right now, but they are in our souls. Everyone who is working here is in a Tyvek suit. It’s part of a collective organism, collective orgasm. It’s a collective orgasm.

Randy Lee Maitland (RLM): It’s like the opposite of an orgasm.

DY: This is a fic-titional sort of place called Tree-Tech. You’re inside of Tree-Tech right now.

This whole thing is Tree-Tech, and Tree-Tech is…

DY: Removing specifism. The removal of specificity. We remove specific. We make non-specific. We make blank. Landscapes, yeah. Trees are non-specific ideas.

This landscape doesn’t look blank to me.

RLM: So what this is here is the failed tools of man, to actually thrust himself back down the hallway of Christ into his mother-state.

DY: I’ll be washing feet later.

What’s at the end of the hallway of Christ?

RLM: So you go into the room, and it’s supposed to be like, optimism, but it’s an idiotic result. We wanna go back to the baby-state, is what we’re saying in here. I have no idea why that happened… Because the baby flows.

DY: Wait, tell Katherine where we are. This is the bowels. This is the bread. This is your daily bread.

RLM: Ponder how much you waste. Ponder what the hell happens to it on the shelf.

Nailing it right to the wall. Is it the body of Christ? Or is it just bread.

RLM: Just your daily bread, I don’t know.

DY: Would you like to hammer too?

Yes, thank you.

RLM: There’s no one set thing about it, it doesn’t really matter.

DY: Randy, take Katherine into our failed Utopia.

RLM: So, this is our Eden. But, things got fucked up along the way. Packing peanuts became grass. PVC piping became the trees. Coffee became water. It’s very childish in here. We raised the dirt into a line, destroying the plane on which we all exist together. The plants are all dead. And then, we’re shredding money. It’s not even clear. It’s just, how do we justify the pointlessness of putting on an art show among all of these… people I suppose. Because we got the $10,000, right, and we didn’t have a lot of time to do it. And we were gonna waste the money.

You got the $10,000 just to put on the show.

RLM: Yeah, and we waited so long to figure out what we were actually doing that we didn’t have many options left, so we said let’s just do like, fuckin’ burning a million quid; let’s rip things off shamelessly, let’s not have ideas, and let’s just see if we can, just by sheer cramming shit together, can we make a dialogue open up? Can we get criticized? Can we turn ten thousand into eighty thousand? Can Dustin get the Teens more well known? Can we have some fun? Can we do something that seems like a social good, while still being all these other things? So this is like the empty leg of a table that’s supporting nothing. It’s bringing nothing to the table.

I was watching an interview of the K Foundation this morning…

RLM: In preparation for this?

In preparation, and out of curiosity. I wanted to understand why a person might view the destruction of currency as having some sort of artistry to it.

RLM: It’s not like it’s just that. It’s not like we’re only aware of that one act of currency destruction.

DY: There’s a whole lineage of that.

RLM: Yeah, going back to Jesus Christ himself, which was the one that we really wanted to do.

DY: We really wanted to rip Jesus Christ off.

Ultimately? In what way?

RLM: Daily bread, washing of the feet.

DY: I wanted to have holes in my wrists.

RLM: The martyrdom… I don’t know.

So, in what way, in your minds, is destroying American currency akin to Jesus Christ’s martyrdom or putting holes through your wrists? Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I need to walk down the hallway of Christ again.

DY: Did you see where they beat the Jesus?

Here?

RLM: We have Mel Gibson on the phone, screaming at women as well.

DY: They beat the Jesus in Jerusalem.

RLM: Don’t let his nonsense overpower the thrust of the comparison. What are all the old Christian cliches about you must be meek, you must be impoverished?

The meek shall inherit the earth.

RLM: So yeah, that’s all. You’re turning one loaf of bread into eight loaves of bread. You throw it away and you try to curry favor, and to get people to not think. Or to get people to think, that you’re a superficial asshole, or you’re not. I don’t know. It’s just a…

DY: Wait what are we talking about here, Randy?

RLM: Why we’re doing anything?

DY: You mean anything in the world? You mean like why are we alive?

RLM: We’ve also been up for like five days here doing this. So that’s clearly coming through.

You’re acting like children, but maybe that’s part of the whole experience. You said you’re trying to get back to the childlike state. And also imitate Jesus Christ in the same way. In the same way? Or, in what way? I’m still lost on that… I see the bread nailed to the wall.

RLM: We’ve got the bread down.

DY: So, the part you’re curious about is the destruction of the currency.

Yes, I am curious about that.

DY: In what sense?

In relation to Jesus Christ, mostly, from what you’ve been saying.

DY: Jesus Christ is my lover.

RLM: In our minds, that really has nothing to do with it.

DY: Jesus is my lover.

RLM: Transubstantiation or whatever the hell it is, that’s why we have these gestures towards the coffee pots are boiling and it looks like a little chemistry set. Could we ruin something and then quadruple, eight times its value, is basically the game we set.

DY: So, we destroyed the anonymous donor’s ten thousand dollars, but each of the paintings is ten thousand dollars, and all of that money is being given away.

Yes, that’s interesting to me. The destruction of monetary currency to create more wealth ultimately.

DY: And then, to give away.

Yes. So the charity is an important aspect to you.

DY: Of course. We had a huge conversation about this idea of the destruction of ten thousand dollars, and imagine all the good you could do with that.

RLM: But we generally don’t. I generally don’t, speaking for myself. I’m a shitbag.

DY: But I brought that up. When him and I had that conversation.

And the specific charity is interesting, because you’re donating the money to benefit art students, and so in that way you’re backing the education of artists?

DY: Right

RLM: Maybe. But we don’t quite know how it’s gonna go yet though.

It does feel like a work in progress, especially because you don’t know how much money you’ll raise from it, so it’s sort of an experiment to see how many scholarships you can create, or much value you can get the original ten thousand dollars to appreciate to.

DY: But we would only need to sell one, really, and we’ve done that already.

You’re still shredding money right now, aren’t you?

RLM: Yeah, but we’re shredding the public’s money.

DY: Because they’re part of the performance.

RLM: And that’s one of the things with being a Teen now…

DY: This is very important.

RLM: …is we don’t know, really. We have typos all over the place, we don’t know our references. I mispronounce the river in France that Pablo Picasso threw gold into after he painted all his blue paintings. I got that wrong on purpose, but whatever. The point is we want to be corrected, we want to enter into a situation where everything is put on the forefront, like our identity and being white males destroying fucking money like, trying to give it away like Santa Clause, like some sort of liberal fantasy, getting out from under this sort of underriding guilt about the way that I live in this world and operate in it. Like, the grossness I feel sometimes about eating a bag of Twizzlers and watching Netflix all night and doing literally nothing. The money would have been wasted. Imagine this, like if we just took the ten thousand dollars and we made a show, no one would have accused us of wasting money. They could have called it bad. They would have done all these other qualitative critiques, but they wouldn't have attacked our ethics, like it’s sort of been.

Have people been attacking your ethics?

RLM: People on Twitter have been saying “this makes me nauseous.”

DY: But that’s because they’re not thinking about it.

RLM: But they are.

DY: No they’re not. They’re not getting beyond the act.

RLM: But it can be vain, it can be attention seeking. But it can be good. And that’s my point about all of this, is that it can be all of those things and so fucking what? We could be total egomaniacs, bastards, and we still can redistribute money.

DY: It’s really about redistribution of wealth.

RLM: Yeah. So that’s the non-specificity, that’s the destruction of the backyards, that’s all those elements, that get back in there. The flattening effect. But you know, it turned infernal in here, trying to do an art show together in four, five days.

DY: We’re in the middle of so many things right now in the studio, and I’m leaving to speak at TED next week. The point is that there’s a lot going on. So we agreed to do this show ages ago, and then four or five days ago we realized uh-oh, this is next week. So, this donor was going to give us ten thousand dollars to help fund the show and we were like fuck it, and we just started grinding money, and like staying up all night drinking coffee.

RLM: It’s like a lazy sort of thing.

DY: It’s not lazy, it’s poetic. What you call lazy I call poetic. He’s a pessimist, I’m an optimist.

RLM: Everything was thought out. You can clearly see us going back and forth. He has one way of seeing it, I have another. Like, what would be the different thing? To consider an object for a really long time, to make it beautiful so it meets certain contemporary aesthetic standards, and then we quietly sell it, we don’t tell anybody about the donation. Like would that be the preferred way of doing this? Or are they upset that it’s like in four days and we used a wood chipper and a paper shredder? I may be wrestling a massive straw man.

The Bazaar teens don’t really care about anything, but aren’t dumb enough to blatantly waste ten thousand dollars when it’s handed to them, and so came up with a creative solution for a time crunch? I just want to make sure I have the right idea about everything… about the true intention behind it all.

DY: The true intention is to start a revolution in your heart. I want you to have a revolution in your heart. I want you to stay up past your curfew. 

See Dustin Yellin and Bazaar Teens' work on display at SPRING/BREAK Art Show through March 8. 

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