Artist Inscribed 120K Pennies With a Pandemic Message

'The body was already so fragile'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 9, 2022 12:30 PM CDT

(Newser) – Months after the government sent out $1,200 stimulus checks early in the pandemic, conceptual artist Jill Magid distributed $1,200 in a unique way—she inscribed 120,000 pennies with a message and gave rolls of coins to hundreds of New York City bodegas. The message inscribed on the edge of the coins—"The body was already so fragile" —was taken from a quote in a New Yorker story about the pandemic's effect on the American economy, in which an investment firm exec likened the 2008 crash to a heart attack and the pandemic-hit economy to an "infection all over the body," NPR reports.

Magid's project, "Tender," was commissioned by the Creative Time nonprofit. She spent months obtaining the pennies and finding somebody who could inscribe the sides of the coins, the New York Times reports. Magid told artnet in 2020 that she was struck by the concern for financial bodies instead of human ones. There was a constant question of "'How’s the stock market doing?’ versus 'How many people are getting sick or dying?’ that I felt we were hearing in the media a lot—the relationship between financial health and mortality rates," she said.

"Pennies themselves are pieces of official public art and small national monuments ... little monuments that I’m intervening upon," Magid said. Her project included a short film that showed pennies changing hands and juxtaposed footage of Brink's trucks carrying pennies with scenes of mobile morgues and other images from New York's lockdown. Over the weekend, musicians played the score to the film as it was shown in a decommissioned bank in Brooklyn, reports NPR. According to the US Mint, a coin's average time in circulation is 30 years, meaning pennies with Magid's message will be turning up in people's change for decades to come. (Read more artist stories.)

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