[-empyre-] momochtli -> rehearsal of a network - [week 3].

Fran Ilich ilich at aridoamerica.org
Sat Jun 23 17:45:48 AEST 2018

[Hi to everyone in Empyre, and special thanks to Shulea for inviting me, here some words about work I do, hoping it resonates with the topics of week 3. / warm hugs.  ]

Part of my work deals with doing experimental financial instruments to build new systems of value exchange. These financial experiments are, first and foremost, one individual's response to his own economic situation, work with social movements, and political beliefs. For this reason, they operate on both a literal and a symbolic level. 

My work can be divided roughly into three named initiatives: 

Possibleworlds.org is an autonomous server launched in 2005, in response to a genuine need of the Zapatista army and other social movements working in Mexico to have access to web hosting services. The proceeds from this web hosting service are reinvested into the social movements themselves via Spacebank, a community investment bank. 

Spacebank.org was founded alongside Possibleworlds, and is primarily a community investment bank, but has operated in a variety of ways since inception. Its first function was to reinvest the proceeds from web hosting services offered by Possibleworlds.org. 

Spacebank's assets are available to its investors in a variety of items, including dollars, pesos, Bitcoins, precious metals, gems, land, and the bank's own currency, the Digital Material Sunflower, which began as a digital currency, later included stolen porcelain sunflower seeds from Ai Weiwei's project at Tate Modern in 2010, and last year added its own metal coins.

The bank has limited capacity to loan money, exchange currency, and engage in other straightforward financial transactions; however, the primary use of the bank is for individuals to invest small sums of money in social causes such as the Zapatista movement. There are currently over 200 investors in Spacebank who have committed approximately $1,000 to specific social investments. These accounts are not liquid but if measured in dollars today would be worth approximately $8,300. Today Spacebank has assets worth over $100,000 dollars in liquid and non-liquid assets, as well as the community it has allowed to foster in a sustainable way. 
[Love and labor —> https://vimeo.com/225412828 ]

Because it is simultaneously a real bank and a performative symbolic system maintained by me as an individual artist, Spacebank operates with a degree of fluidity that one does not expect from a bank. For example, if an investor can't pay back his loans, Spacebank can accept other items, such as comic books, as bonds as an alternative payment for the loan.

Diego de la Vega Coffee Co-op is among the most recent ventures of Spacebank. It offers organic coffee sourced locally in Chiapas from Zapatista autonomous farms, with a mission to connect Chiapas and New York City (through the Tijuana-San Diego border) in a horizontal financial flow between social movements. In this as with his other Spacebank initiatives, Ilich is playing with conventional ideas of value exchange, while looking to invest and encourage the growth of social capital in long term relationship building, in service of progressive social movements.  https://vimeo.com/144518926

The new project I am working with other individuals and groups, has the name of:

Momochtli, which is the name popcorn was given after in pre-holocaust of the Americas Mesoamérica. There is an origin myth of Momochtli (popcorn) and it involves among others the Ancient God of Fire Huehueteotl.

The focus of this socio-economical sculpture will be the production and distribution of narrative media works, made in a financial, material and ideological relation to agrarian anti-colonial indigenous groups in the Americas, using the Digital Material Sunflower currency.

According to foundational Mayan mythology, the ancient gods made humans out of corn. According to history, Mayans invented corn by modifying teosinte (a native grass) in the area known as Mesoamerica, and over time corn molded these humans by way of its nutritional qualities, labor, culture.

Seven hundred years ago in the Valley of Mexico the Triple Alliance (commonly known as the Aztec Empire) had the monopoly on corn. Therein lied its main economic strength, complemented by its military dominance. Today the regional monopoly of corn, thanks to NAFTA belongs to the United States. Lets not talk about military power.

In 1991, a social movement named “Without Corn there's no Country.” appeared in Mexico, as corn farming was turning into an artificially insolvent business practice, which rapidly led Mexican agriculture (which was collective) into a generalized crisis. Such was the plan, as the labor force was needed in the border to work on factories, in the US to become cheap labor . Many of them became undocumented farmworkers, but most importantly -for the Mexican Government- they didnt stay to revolt, instead left the country and month to month they sent dollars to relatives that stayed. These in turn would spend them in Mexican business that belonged to wealthy families. Overtime this became the third income generator in the country, surpassing the oil sector.

A little-known fact is that the Hollywood industry sustains itself from other things besides "movies". One of them is financial speculation and real estate; the other is the sale of popcorn (Momochtli). A well-known fact is that an enormous amount of the food consumed in the world today is made out of corn. Even animals are fed with it and today corn is used to produce all sort of things, from ethanol to plastic.

The irony of this situation is put into sharp relief when one considers the long history and deep cultural significance of corn in the Americas. The conflict between this history and corn’s contemporary role within the military-entertainment complex and neoimperial agricultural industry resonates with the foundational conflict Mexican anthropologist Guillermo Bonfil Batalla theorizes as the ongoing conflict between “deep Mexico” (Amerindian, native) and “imaginary Mexico,” (the Mexico of unadapted European migrants and descendants who have imposed their own beliefs and who feed themselves with non-native European crops).

For me, the most fascinating thing about this has to do with narrative and culture. Whereas today corn feeds economic fictions that have an impact over reality, such fictions also generate and maintain global economies and political power through undocumented agricultural labor and the development of media narratives (film). This corn and these indigenous migrant farmworkers help generate fictions (Hollywood films) that are one of the main weapons used to conquer hearts and minds around the world via the military-entertainment complex. 

But what if the processed was altered, and another (pop)corn, native, rebel, and non-gmo was used, to fund other fictions, and to feed and weave other social relations, through storytelling, trade, agriculture, media? Basically the idea behind Momochtli is to finance movies (telenovelas, videos, etc) through the sale of agro-indigenous products. For a month we had an installation at the Other Futures exhibition in Amsterdam. And we also had a screening at the Cinemateca Boliviana in La Paz, Bolivia. We have been selling native popcorn in a film club in Oaxaca  that you can only buy with community currency (either Digital Material Sunflower or Tumín, in that way strenghtening the aforementioned networks),, since a few months ago. And we just started a new Zapatista Coffee co-op in Colima, that is run by visual artist students.

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