Smashing Pennies To Protest Industrial Capitalism

Mexican Grizzly Bear Fauna pressed penny, design by Shaun Slifer (all images courtesy of the artists)

The fact that defaced currency (and the act of defacing it) has become associated with American tourist traps and other environments of manufactured fun is among the many miracles of late capitalism. For a mere 51¢ (usually), the ubiquitous penny machine allows users to transform pocket change into a commemoration of their own passage through time and space. Once created primarily by hijacking the force of bypassing trains, the smashed penny — or elongated, to numismatists and other serious folk — is now a relatively commonplace form of souvenir kitsch.

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For roughly the past 10 years, Pittsburgh-based artists Stuart Anderson and Shaun Slifer have been devising a far more punk rock penny machine: Fauna. Finding common ground in their desire to work against dominant progress narratives, the pair have subverted the standard penny machine to invite ideological questions about the nature of industry, memory, and ecological destruction and adaptation.

Described by its progenitors as an “interactive kinetic sculpture,” the third and most current iteration of Fauna is a functional, built-from-scratch machine that presses two-sided pennies via a crank mechanism (a handsome ship’s wheel). For one side of the coin, users choose from nine either extinct or critically endangered animals, like the jaguar, red wolf, or passenger pigeon. Available for the flip side are nine sets of tracks, each representing a species of adapted urban wildlife, such as coyotes, raccoons, and groundhogs — what Anderson and Slifer referred to as “faunal weeds” in a recent telephone interview.

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