xviii. Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal

Fifty-five Propositions for an Artwork that Has Failed in Advance of Its Ever Beginning

So I ask you, do you think it would be a half-way decent, CV-worthy artwork and curatable in the context of “an invitation of sorts” to activate and then use my ex-boyfriend’s new Bank of America credit card, which just was mailed to my house by mistake?

I risk the assessment of “merely feminist,” but what woman doesn’t come to expect little more than a literal read.

I risk the assessment of “trigger warning,” but one has to leave the house.

What if I recorded the telephone call I made to activate the card, and I gave this recording to you, knowing full well you could turn around and use this recording against me.

(What if you understood that I’m protesting the status of writing as a poor medium for furnishing evidence.)

How about if I lined up all my fraudulent purchases alongside one another and showed them to you, rather than put them to use.

What if I did this in a white room.

If I asked my ex whether I could use his card for this project or not, breaking our six months of silence.

If I asked, but only after I began the project, ensuring that his decision would not determine whether or not the project could exist.

If I told you that most surveillance of ordinary citizens is carried out in the name of fraud protection. That tracking where, what time, and what is purchased with a credit card has the necessary and obvious correlate of tracking where and when you are, not to mention what you like.

If before encountering this work you had read a third person bio of my practice that included the phrase “chooses sites where research gets personal.”

If this bio had been announced by someone in a position of prestige, or at least someone whose most regular interactions with me—or you—do not occur when drunk.

If I kept all the fraudulent electronics in all their inconvenient wrapping, kept all the folds in all the clothes and the tissue paper around them, thereby establishing a little race between the arrival of enough guilt to make me take everything back and the end of all the return policies.

If my goal was to remain undetected by fraud algorithms for as long as possible, I’d have to adopt the purchasing habits of my ex, buying as I think he would buy each day.

If I got caught.

By him.

By law.

What if I only bought a single item.

If I bought my friend the new wheelchair she wants, with the lighter frame.

If I donated to your Kickstarter.

If I donated to your GoFundMe.

If I donated to every GoFundMe.

If I bought a waterbed, in honor of the time when, four years ago, my own credit card numbers were used to purchase a queen size waterbed for $925, from a store called Slumber Pros, just outside of Sacramento, California, at the very same time I was waiting for a coffee in Echo Park, swelling with pride in having purchased such a ridiculous present for strangers, whom I often imagine unperturbed in their waterbed, cradling, swaying, fraudulently free.

If that day I received a courtesy call from a representative of Bank of America, who told me my credit card was stolen, but not to worry because they have a $0 Liability Guarantee, and I replied, how can it be stealing when I can still hold the object in my hands?

(If this is how I think about writing: without a there there, utterly un-stealable, already yours.)

If I bought a Herman Miller Aeron Chair, so that I could sit on a fraudulently purchased ergonomic throne while producing the fraud of a career.

If the last time Chance made its way into my life in so obvious a way, it arrived in the form of a land-surveyor who was unfortunately surveying a cypress tree while making a U-turn out of a parking spot, and so turned instead into the front of my car, where I had been guiltlessly holding the steering wheel, which, upon impact, pinched the nerve in my left elbow, leaving me unable to type without pain (I am dictating) and drastically increasing my desire for an ergonomic workspace and for the swift arrival of another often personified, Greek-seeming life force, namely Justice.

If I told you that my ex-boyfriend once told me I was worthless.

If I wanted some vindication for sometimes writing about art, for adding value to artwork without getting re-paid for that value—at least in any currency they accept at Vons.

If I wanted some vindication for having an art practice in which I don’t end up producing objects that can be stolen, in other words, that can be sold.

(If I wanted to vindicate writing.) 

If I wanted to assuage my guilt from not having changed banks during or after Occupy Wall Street; against any better judgment, I also use Bank of America.

If I wanted to assuage my guilt from recently receiving a new Bank of America credit card with “preferred client” printed underneath my name.

If the work has absolutely nothing to do with my ex-boyfriend: it could have been anyone’s credit card accidentally shipped to my house in an unmarked envelope from Delaware, as they all are. Indeed, it is Bank of America and not the past relationship that the project is about, because Bank of America builds fraud into their business model, because the ex would never really have to pay for anything, because Bank of America has a $0 Liability Guarantee.

(If both banks and relationships are about the redistribution of risk.)

If I got caught.

If a certain kind of white privilege I call cute privilege would inoculate against whatever charges this would bring.

If I wrote a hand-written score entitled “Credit Card Piece” in which I instruct in all caps:


What if I invited better or better-vetted artists to make purchases with the card.

And I stipulated they were only allowed to purchase materials for new work. And I made a show of the works produced with fraudulently purchased materials. And I invited you. Oh! And if all of the works were abstract.

The thing is, there is probably a ticking clock on this, so I need your answer soon.

What if I told you California was the first state that allowed banks to franchise, and it was also the birthplace of the credit card.

If I told you the first Bank of America franchise opened in Los Angeles in 1923, blocks away from my front door.

If I reminded you that Bank of America uses in its advertising the history of its Woman’s Banking Department, a 1921 branch directed and staffed entirely by women, the first branch in the country where women could have their own accounts.

If, like you, I am nostalgic for a feminism beyond a baggy marketing strategy to garner good will.

If the project is merely a response to the recent chip reader commandments, which have replaced the swift, satisfying and anti-contemplative gesture of the swipe, with a languorous insertion, dully recasting the metaphorics of the credit card in penetration.

What if by receiving this emasculating nerve injury I have finally understood writing as physical labor and now long to trade it in for another kind of production in which “the entire work is the idea.”

If I hear in the feminized voice of the Bank of America Credit Card Activation Line the echoes of the dictation software I am forced to use which insists on capitalizing letters at random and moments ago believed the word “assuage” was “a suaze.”

Can it really be considered lying if you don’t tell the truth to the computerized voice of the Bank of America Credit Card Activation Line. Can there be a lie without a person to hear it.

Can justification be Justice.

But what if I got caught.

What if I made an artwork that was a review of an artwork that didn’t exist, and that non-existent artwork was stealing and using my ex-boyfriend’s credit card.

What if the review went something like:

If the concept smacks too readily of Calle, Rosenthal’s work is often redeemed in the manner of its execution. Like many women artists after conceptualism, Rosenthal finds that the idea is not enough. Exploiting a single and accidental link between the personal and the political...

(What if doubt makes me a writer.)

What if sitting on the toilet in the bathroom of plush Silverlake restaurant—after a Negroni and too-expensive dinner, which I ate in an attempt to get over a rejection letter—I dialed the number on my ex-boyfriend’s credit card’s activation sticker, holding my breath until the Bank of America Activation Line replied in her satisfied, feminized, computerized voice that since the telephone number I was calling from—*69, duh—didn’t match the name on the account, I’d have to input a social security number. I’m sorry I didn’t understand that. Please enter the social security number of the account. I’m sorry I didn’t get that. Please enter the social security number. I’m sorry—

Fucker owes me money, 2014.

Fucker owes me money, 2014.

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  Slide from  Let’s Take a Very Fucking Poetry Lesson , lecture-performance, 2015.

Slide from Let’s Take a Very Fucking Poetry Lesson, lecture-performance, 2015.


Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal works in wild theory. She is the author of Burning Questions (Gauss PDF), Ri Ri (Re)Vision (Publication Studio), This Is The ENDD (Wilner Books), and Close (Sibling Rivalry Press). Her performance work has been presented at venues including The New Museum, New York, REDCAT, Los Angeles, and the McDonalds on Sunset & Fountain. Her criticism appears regularly in Art in America.