Student loan debt in the US today totals over 1.7 trillion dollars and is collectively borne by more than 44 million Americans, including artist kelli rae adams. With her installation Forever in Your Debt, adams converts this abstract burden into a tangible volume. She has crafted hundreds of wheel-thrown vessels, sized to collectively hold the average individual student debt —$37,000—in the form of coins. Each unique bowl holds approximately a pint of mixed change, worth about $40; this is also the value she assigns to the labor embodied in each vessel.
Adams offers viewers the opportunity to engage directly with the work—and the issue—by inviting them to fill a bowl with their own collected coins. In exchange, the artist will send one of the bowls to each participant at the conclusion of the yearslong project. As the vessels are filled, the red interiors—a reference to “ being in the red” or owing more money than is earned—are gradually obscured by the coins, reflecting the incremental erasure of student loan debt.
With this work, adams connects the cost of her own education and the skills it afforded her while drawing attention to how labor is valued and what is often a wide gap between educational costs and earning potential. With its participatory dimension, she asserts that the student debt burden and its ramifications socially and economically impact all Americans. This sentiment is shared by the many lawmakers and activists who are calling for some degree of forgiveness and who note the entrenched forms of economic inequality perpetuated by the loan system, with first-generation college students and African Americans borrowers among those who struggle most.
The artist will be in the gallery Saturdays and Sundays in January (as well as January 17), 1-4pm, to talk to folks about her installation and accept any coins from interested participants.
Keep an eye out for additional participation days in the future.
Or to learn more about participating in the project at MASS MoCA please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also participate through the artist’s website:kelliraeadams.com/participate