Interview – Heidi Hinder: Making Money More Social

by Keidra Chaney

Tap & Pay wearable donations at the V&A Digital Design WeekendInspired by a brief residency at the Royal Mint, UK-based artist Heidi Hinder became fascinated with society’s emotional and social connection to money, more specifically, the role that physical currency plays in an age where digital financial transactions are increasingly the norm. Hinder, an artist and maker with training in metalsmithing and jewelry-making, wanted to explore the impact a coinless future could have on financial interactions. What would happen, for example, if financial value was no longer symbolized by something we can hold, see or touch? “Money as a system is based on trust,” said Hinder. “As coins become obsolete, I wanted to know what effect it would have socially and economically.”

Hinder explores this question through an interactive research project called Money no Object, which uses wearable technology and digital payment systems to delve into the connection between physical and emotional currency. The project, done in partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, allows visitors to the V&A to make a financial donation to the museum through four physical gestures: the choice of a handshake, a hug, a high-five, or for the performance-minded, a tap-dance. Hinder wanted to encourage interaction through “intentionally playful” gestures that one would be more inclined to try with a stranger. Hinder herself is the recipient of the handshake, hug, and high-five gestures that power the financial interactions. “I felt very loved!” she says with a laugh. “People can be reticent to get close [at first] but in time their reactions were surprisingly open. People wanted to have a conversation – about the technology itself, and philosophical issues about money, and the economy.”

High Five & Pay_Hinder_wearable donation systemConversation was exactly Hinder’s intent behind Money no Object. The project was based around Hinder’s own personal concerns about the financial sustainability of being an artist. “On a broader level, it’s also looking at how arts and culture is valued in society as well as the effects of how we spend, and how we interact with money.”
Originally started as a three-month residency project at Bristol’s Pervasive Media Studio, Hinder received research and development funding from incubators Creativeworks London and UnLtd, to further develop the technology behind the Money No Object project with V&A. Funding allowed Hinder to continue development with the assistance of Seb Madgwick, one of the engineers behind musician Imogen Heap’s wearable music software project, Mi.Mu. The wireless RFID technology used by the financial services industry to track consumer transactions was similarly used to power the gloves and badges in the four physical transactions behind the Money no Object project. (The code behind Money no Object is available on GitHub)

Additionally, each of the physical movements was coded with a specific color in order to collect data on the transactions and to create a visual representation of a gesture as it happens. Hinder found that the hug and handshake actions were the more popular transactions, while “children were much more extroverted” and preferred the Tap & Pay wearable payment system. Overall, Hinder says the response to Money No Object has been encouraging and receptive by V&A visitors. “People we’ve talked to have been keen to see it put in place [at other museums and cultural institutions].”

While Hinder continues to partner with V&A on Money No Object project, she hopes that the technology behind Money no Object can potentially power similar non-profit and cultural projects, and is on the lookout for further research funding. “There’s a lot of potential here to explore the value of a cultural visit through this project, and start a broader conversation about money, material value, and the emotional currency involved.”

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