Flying Buck Exchange (2017), AsiaTOPA festival - MPavilion, Melbourne

Performance One -  Flying Buck Exchange: The Art of Invitation

Performance Two - Flying Buck Exchange: The Art of Consumption

Performance Three - Flying Buck Exchange: The Art of Trade

Performance Four - Flying Buck Exchange: The Art of Distribution

Flying Buck Exchange is a special presentation of an ongoing ‘Bucking’ performance project by Pakistani-Australian artist Abdullah M.I. Syed. Showcased over three days at MPavilion as part of the inaugural Asia TOPA, Syed’s tongue-in-cheek turn of phrase, Bucking, will see him consuming, distributing and exchanging currency, in this case, in the form of the fabled US dollar bills.

With an immediate surface playfulness underneath which lie more complex renderings of the dysfunctions of global market economies, the dissemination of power, and intrinsic neo-colonial concerns, the US dollar bill becomes a powerful instrument of addressing the micro and the macro. Where the body of the artist is in immediate play, occupied in acts of repetition and endurance, so too is the larger body of the audience, which becomes as an unwitting beneficiary of this seemingly innocuous act of engagement. Innocence and familiarity are tropes that draw those present into the field of action, however the medium itself and the progression of the performance into a more sombre and painful reality rapidly bring darker concerns hurtling to the forefront.

Flying Buck Exchange is a fascinating and at times confronting look at the central role that currency plays in economies of consumption and exchange and how money often navigates cultural and political identities.

Text courtesy of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art


Moneyscape II (2016)

Moneyscape II (2016) appears from the crosshairs of historical and modern-day mythologies. It is a new work from the Imaginable Landscape series, part of Syed’s ongoing investigation into the framework of capitalism, power structures, belief systems, national identity and political geography through contemporary art. In Moneyscape II, the Japanese yen and the US dollar draw parallels between new and old, fantasy and reality, prosperity and poverty, myth and legend. Symbolic fragments and ideas coexist within one imaginary landscape. The work visualises levels of cultural homogeneity and assimilation as main factors of differences between the art, architecture and belief system of Japan and the US, who were once enemies, but now have major influences upon each other’s cultural, political and economical landscape.


Currency of Love (2016)

The Currency of Love (2016) series are mixed media digital prints of the damaged and dead leaves of the common household money plant (epipremnum aureum) which Syed removes and collects daily for a month from his mother’s home in Karachi during her absence. For Syed, this act of removing leaves communicates to viewers his mother’s personal commitment to dutifully love and watch out for each of her four sons. He hypothesizes that his mother planted and nurtured four of these money plants in the place of her sons who had each left the country in pursuit of higher education and professional prospects. The money plant thus assumes the role of a ‘substitute’ for his mother to shower affection and care to, which also informs the basis for the digital print series Currency of Love (2016).

Syed then carefully uses 24k gold with new and old banknotes (some of which were given to him by his mother) in the delicate, loving and ultimately futile repair of a fallen and partially crushed leaf. His method recalls the centuries old Japanese art of Kintsugi used in the repair of broken pottery and ceramics with a special gold lacquer, that comes to fill, and define the beauty of the imperfection caused by the breakage.

Syed’s act of preserving these damaged leaves speaks not only to the artist’s desire to preserve the evidence of his mother’s care for him, but through the transformation of these leaves into works of art lavished in gold, he simultaneously honours her delicate actions on his and his brothers’ lives. This is perhaps a quieter layer, arising from deep within the personal – almost as an extension of a conversation started long ago, activated years later in the absence of the one with whom it was begun.   


Heavenly Offerings [Assembly series] (2016)

Our urge to stop, stand still and look up at the sky to witness movement - gliding birds, floating kites and, at night, shooting stars – stems from an innocent curiosity and wonderment, questions about our place in this ‘surreal’ world where myths of flying carpets exist alongside man made flying machines, floating musical mobiles and even folded paper planes, which are introduced to us all at an early age. However, post 9/11, for many both in the west and the east, the fantasy of looking up has been overshadowed by the reality of a world instilled with fear, anxiety, violence and even death. For the first time, Syed presents a body of work that speaks of this change through the surreal language of truth and visualized through the poetics of movement and stillness.

The three works are not only connected conceptually (stillness and movement) but also share an underlining crux in techniques and materiality (cutting, erasure and assemblage). Together, these works examine the construction of a cultural identity in relation to the Orientalist gaze and stereotyping. They take their cue from Syed's fascination, experience and readings of looking up: from Hitchcock’s suicidal birds, to Japanese Kamikazi aircraft, to drone planes, Hollywoods’ interest with an ‘alien’ enemy, carpet bomber planes, and even the perculiar news reported one Monday afternoon in 2014 when locals saw a life-size palm tree dangling from a military Blackhawk helicopter in Dubai which, according to local media and news in UAE, was a film project dubbed as “very special to the UAE”. A flying date palm is not an unbelievable idea in the East, where fables of magical flying carpet exist alongside real man-made palm islands.

The body of work presented here simultaneously address fixed and shifting authority and gaze, investigating the current nature of power and the politics of freedom of speech. They question the current desire for and rhetoric of agreement and consensus in a pluralist society.

The Flying Buck (2016), Art Central Hong Kong, Roundtable X 4A


HyperAllergic Media Inc.:

Taking place over three days of the Art Central Art Fair, the performance focused on the distribution, engagement, and consumption of the global art market. For “The Flying Buck” — which in Urdu translates as talking excessively, or gibberish — Syed spent more than an hour folding fresh, uncirculated $1 banknotes into paper airplanes, unfolding them, then eating and regurgitating them, producing a “Money Art Object.”



Courting Falcons [Assembly series] (2015)

Counting Falcons (Assembly series) (2015) is an example of one of Syed's works that are driven by activism in the form of poetic representations. The works comment on the hunting of endangered species of animals and birds, in this case the Houbara Bustard, for the pleasure of the game of Falconry which is popular in the Middle East. Falcon's are the national animal of UAE and are considered as a form of pride for Arabian men and the Royal family who also love hunting pigeons or other endangered species. 

In Muslim court, Turkish and Persian poetry, these falcons are also associated with the sun, light and royalty, because it was commonly believed that as extremely brave creatures, they could fly close to the sun. Therefore falcons were the emblems of the Turco-Mongol rulers, who were even named after those birds. Some of the Mughals were addressed as "Falcons" as well. 

In these works, the UAE dirhams banknotes are cut in various forms of Mugal princes and dignitaries holding a falcon which is itself printed on the money. In the past, Mughals were like Arab Sheiks/Royals of today. Counting Falcons (Assembly series) raises concerns. One is the current state of Pakistan and all the political incorrectness around the issue of the royal hunting expeditions of Houbara Bustard (a rare and endangered bird species with a mythical reputation) by the Arab Royalties, and the other is the misuse of power and finances in the Middle East which is also being exploited by Pakistani government for their benefits.


Bucking & Laundering (2015), 48Hr Mass Incident, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney

Zarmeené Shah (Curator/Writer):

The performance work, Bucking and Laundering situates the artist in a major global metropolis, his dapper appearance countering preconceived notions of the artistic persona, as he attempts to stuff his mouth with a stack of dollar bills, slowly at first and then forcibly as his body attempts to reject the material, gagging, coughing, but persevering nonetheless. As such, the work comes to locate itself, amongst other things, squarely within an aesthetics of endurance, like much of the performance art of the 1970s.
With its tongue-in-cheek play on words and inherent dark humor, it is perhaps the barefaced blatancy of this work in which its power lies. Where the body of the artist is brought into play, a two-pronged impact occurs: first, that which is immediate, where the present and physical, enduring body engages the audience in a reactive response mechanism that quickly transforms a comic horror into something much less palatable and much more painful and shocking as the performance continues. The immediate narrative of the institution is also present, speaking of art and capitalism, consumerism and culture, manifest even in the ‘laundering’ of the regurgitated bills, and the validating symbol of the signature/seal that legitimize the work of art. The second (impact) is further reaching: the body, as it situates itself in a global socio-politics, speaks of power and domination, economic forces and mechanisms of control. While neo/post-colonial concerns of imperialism, power and subjugation may seem like obvious tropes, the dialogue that this works creates can neither ignore their relevance, nor confine itself to them. Uncontained by localized assignations, this is a larger work, speaking not only of a kind of neocolonialism but also of consumer capitalism, and the dysfunctions inherent in global economics and modern states. 
Photography by Zain Wimberly | Performance assistant: Amant Grewal


Moneyscape I (2014)

The Moneyscape series appears from the crosshairs of historical and modern-day mythologies. Similar to the iconic structures and buildings that mirror our global community, money as 'capital' exerts power over individuals and nations. It is a tool for creating spatial order. This Moneyscape of China and the USA draws parallels between new and old, fantasy and reality, democracy and communism, and prosperity and poverty. The deconstructed ‘hybrid’ Moneyscape of China and USA challenges the spatial economies of the two nations’ traditions, offering a space for cross-cultural dialogue. The resulting multi-layered and complex ‘hybrid’ landscape is made up of many fragments competing and coexisting. It glorifies monuments while literally cutting to pieces the currency, erasing its monetary value.

Moneyscape I is a response to my first experiences of the cultural landscapes in China and the USA. It is part of an ongoing investigation of contemporary art within the framework of capitalism, kitsch, power, identity and political geography. The pop-up imaginary landscapes present a real object (paper money) transformed through the hand into a representation of power structures. 


Assembly series (2013)

1001 and Counting (2012 - ongoing)

In One Thousand and One and counting series (2012 - ongoing) the uncut sheet of 32 US$bills is hand cut and transformed into two distinct views of ‘Capitalist’ geographies: one that reads as the Capatalistmap the Post 9/11 narrative of Islamic world from the outside and the other as the Islamic patterned tile Jali, a type of window screen use to separate private spaces from the public in Islamic countries like Pakistan. In this regard, money becomes a conceptual device not only to separate but also to measure Western capitalist ideas of ownership, economic power and notions of prosperity, which were once a hallmark of Islamic empires ranging from the Ottomans, Safavids to Mughals. Furthemore, The construction and subsequent deconstruction of currencies and their geometric and arabesque patterns allude to the fantastical flying rug of the Arabian tales that has become a flippant and all encompassing cliché for ‘exotic’ Arab/Islamic culture.

The debris emanating from the cutting of the uncut sheet of 32 bills are then glued onto gold-inked handmade paper, Vasli, to re-create the original pattern by filling the blank spaces (or in this case, the gold spaces) of the line drawing of the same pattern on paper. This art making process requires the same meticulous investment of craft and labour that is a hallmark of Islamic art and design and the dualities of East and West come to reside in a concurrent geography. They reside in liminal spaces that promote the discourses of Orientalism and Occidentalism, binaries that are redefining notions of hybrid identity, hybridity of cultures, and aspects of globalization including capitalism. They do this not so much by penetrating and possessing these discourses, but by encountering them, and in doing so, discovering the binarism of self and other.

Lastly, The work seeks to subvert the imperialist Western hegemonic ideology of global capitalism through the construction and deconstruction of its chief currency, the US dollar bill. Its poetic materiality uses currency to make autonomous art, while ironically the work affirms the interdependency of art and economy, the commercialisation of art, and culturalisation of economy.