The Left-over Penny Campaign collected unexploited economic and intellectual capital - as well as ideas and wishes - across the whole of Germany in the form of spare change from 1998-2002. Altogether, 13 tons of coins were gathered in the collection sites in public spaces on the Alexanderplatz in Berlin, in Munich (Marienplatz), Nuremberg (Königstrasse), Würzburg (Public Library), Weimar (ACC Gallery), Köpenick (FEZ), as well as thousands of private collection boxes. 1.601 ideas and wishes came in the form of letters, emails and interviews.
A part of the concept was that the participants decide what should happen with the mountain of coins. 1,087 persons applied to be a part of the decision committee. Of these, twelve were randomly selected in early April 2002 and invited to decide which of the 1.601 ideas and wishes should be realized.
The committee met on the two weekends in May and June of 2002 in the ACC Gallery in Weimar. After they had worked out a list of criteria together, they chose three projects to bring to realization from the idea and wish pool.
In June and July of 2002, all of the collection boxes were emptied, publicly sorted and brought to the appropriate national banks for payment. Altogether over the four and one-half years, besides the hundreds of thousands who gave their spare pennies and the 1,601 "Idea Donors", approximately 500 persons actively helped the project. Many institutions, government officials, prize juries, decision makers and private citizens helped to make this project possible.
At this point, before I describe the course of the project, I would like to say a little something about the history of the Left-over Penny Campaign, as well as my own notions of art. I've often been asked: As a fine artist, why do you do such work? What does this have to do with art?
I studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Nuremburg from 1990-96. In 1996 I received my master's diploma. During my studies, my work developed away from the classical production of aesthetic art and toward outside spaces. The question of what purpose art could have in a society at the end of the 20th century became very important to me. The picture of a genius at the top of the (societal) pyramid is one to which I could not and cannot relate. I am much more interested in the 360° focus on the society and myself as part of the whole. For me, art is a work that must influence the design and modification of our environment and thereby demonstrate societal relevance. Directly after my studies I intensively grappled with this idea of art and work in a book project that I and Christina Jacoby were invited to create as co-curators. In 1997 the Institute for Modern Art in Nuremburg published the year book "Walking through society" in which 15 artistic positions to societal interaction are presented.
The Left-over Penny Campaign is my artistic attempt to take the responsibility "to make the future, that we want or do not want, an object of civic discourse." (Saage, Richard, 1997: Utopieforschung, eine Bilanz (Utopia Research, an Assessment), Primus Verlag, page 7)
As an art project in public space, the Left-over Penny Campaign questioned three phenomena:
The Left-over Penny Campaign is not about me as an artist with my "creative potential" to make designs and proposals on behalf of others, rather it is to create a structure/platform to which people can bring their "creative potential", their unexploited ideas and wishes into a civic discourse.
Art for me is interesting and good when it changes perceptions, when afterwords someone can perceive the world just a little bit differently than before. It's about taking an idea, a thought or feeling seriously enough that one wants to bring it into a material form. The form follows the idea. That is why the form is never dependent on a particular material, rather from the idea that lies behind it.
When Petra was a child and her mother said to her that she was worried about what would become of her child, Petra thought to herself that she would collect one left-over penny from every citizen, going from house to house to ask every person for one left-over penny from their wallets. That way she would always have enough to eat, could survive. She would become rich. A friend of mine told me this story in 1997, and it enthralled me so much that it became the initial spark for the Left-over Penny Campaign.
The question of whether such leftovers in the form of pennies and unexploited ideas existed was the question that I posed as an artistic concept in an exhibition in 1998. I wanted to find out if this simple, archaic child's idea could trigger enough enthusiasm that people would be willing to follow through: To allow a common good to grow from the many small pennies, which by themselves are worth nothing.
What is the connection between money and wishes, or rather ideas? Money is by far the largest, world-wide social contract in existance. All of us deal with this phenomenon almost every day. Money is more than the agreement of exchange for item X and metal coins, paper bills, plastic cards… Money is also a bearer of future ideas and plans, for the immaterial. One can see this when, for example, money is saved or put to the side for something in the future. Money, similar to art, is a medium of communication between people and functions so long as we all believe in it and we all agree to the same rules of conduct.