In 1983, Richard Tan, a research officer at Singapore’s Ministry of Defence, was captivated by the Last Night of the Proms on television. ‘It was quite a joyful time,’ he remembers, ‘the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and all the audience, the young audience, with their flags and banners.’ Three years later, Tan was made deputy director of the newly formed Psychological Defence Division at the Ministry of Communications and Information. Singapore’s political leadership was concerned that the nation’s economic success was breeding an unhealthy ‘Western’ individualism. Tan thought the Last Night of the Proms might offer a model of how to use music to help bring about a greater sense of national belonging. ‘If I want to reach the heart,’ he told himself, ‘I have to follow the British.’
For the past eighteen months, the Greek artist who calls himself Stefanos has been hacking euros, sketching images of the economic crisis in Greece onto banknotes. ‘Over the last five years the economy has hatched violence and social decay,’ he told me. ‘I’m using a European document, that is in cross-border circulation, to bomb public property from the comfort of my home.’ The notes depict lynchings, people collapsing, mass hysteria. The project was kickstarted by news of a suicide. ‘I always use black ink ball-pen and draw human figures using headlines from the media, whenever violence or poverty is reported, I transfer the message on the medium.’ Stefanos scans the notes, posts the images on his website and then puts them back into circulation, messages in bottles that may wash up on the shores of northern Europe. 'A currency should reflect the reality of the era it represents,' he says.