How can we hack the showcase of neo-liberal society and de-institutionalise compassion?

Making ghetto blasters beg

Nowadays, we are overwhelmed with requests for help. Poverty is on the increase in our country, within Europe we are being asked to support the Greeks and a large group of refugees are appealing to our hospitality. Through economists like Thomas Piketty, we are aware that the gap between the rich and poor will only increase in the coming decades.

To counter-balance this ever-loudening lamentation, we sweep clean the public space: begging became illegal a few years ago and the homeless are driven from tourist zones, including through the installation of anti-homeless furniture. We have institutionalised compassion, we would rather transfer money to a trust-worthy organisation than give it to just any beggar we encounter. The idea of the public domain as a reflection of society is hereby disappearing.

For this project, Dries Verhoeven placed ‘Begging boom boxes’ at various locations in Rotterdam’s city centre. There is a saucer for coins on top of each one. The boom boxes sing and ask for a contribution.

Songs for Thomas Piketty places the needy back in the public space for a while. For a time, they appear to “hack” the showcase of neo-liberal society; the voices radically demand the attention. It calls for the casual passer-by to look at his personal unease. Do we need the poor to talk about poverty? Do we feel more empathy for a machine than for the person it represents?