American Debts

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American Debts

Karynn Ikeda

Background

American Debts is a commentary on the state of personal credit card debt in the United States. According to indexcreditcard.com, the average amount of debt is $4,013 per adult and $7,861 per household. The population at large carries around $928 billion in credit card debt. In creating this poster, my goal was to inform the general public about these statistics and allow the viewer to reflect upon their own role in this debt society.

Project Description

Using an American Express credit card as a takeoff point, the poster seeks to recall, rather than mimic, the actual card. The poster co-opts the background and border of the AmEx card, and uses comparable, but not identical*, typography to invoke the image of a credit card. The word "Debts" has replaced the familiar "Express," and the credit card number doubles as the individual and household debt statistics. Crucial aspects of the credit card are missing from the poster: expiration date, member since, and card owner's name. These elements have been removed to simplify the poster and allow the viewer's attention to shift to the statistics. The lithogram of the warrior has also been replaced by a mirror.

This mirror allows the viewer to play the crucial role of completing the poster. Without a viewer, the mirror is empty and represents the anonymous face of debt. Debt belongs to everyone and no one and is represented abstractly as consumer debt. There are no names or identity behind the statistics just as there is no face on the poster. However, if a viewer steps in front of the mirror, they become part of the statistics. They essentially become the face of "American Debts," and in answering the question, "How much do you owe?" they must reflect on their own debt. At this stage, American debts ceases to be an abstraction; the viewer is pulled into the poster and includes him or herself as one of the individuals included in "Debts."

* After conducting research into the typography used to create the AmEx credit card, I learned that the fonts were exclusively developed for American Express and are not available commercially due to their potential use in credit card fraud.

Execution

This project was carried out on September 30, 2009 in Providence, RI near Brown University. Due to the financial nature of this project, I chose to poster on sites of financial significance: two ATMs and the Department of Economics. I also chose locations with relatively heavy foot traffic, so the posters would gain the maximum amount of exposure.

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