The Tenth Plague

An Art Performance about Greed, Life and Death

To the Danish version of this document


Common Rituals and Mythological Inheritance
The Narrative
Basic Idea
Time and Place
The Blood
The Media and the Realization of the Event
The Theatre of reality


The initiator of this performance is Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot. On earlier occasions he has set up big art happenings, such as My Inner Beast in '93, The Silent Death during the UN's social summit in Copenhagen, '95 and the Messenger, a 5 metres high sculpture set up in various cities during the Jubilee 2000 campaign. For the time being his chief project is a world wide art manifestation titled The Pillar of Shame. Within a decade, 10 sculptures, 8 metres in height will be set up to mark severe infringements against the human rights. The first three sculptures have been mounted in Hong Kong (1997), Mexico (1999) and Brazil (2000). The aim is to highlight the ethical basis of our civilization to ensure the survival of the Planet. This is also the aim of this performance that will pinpoint the greed of the big pharmaceutical companies who are filing a lawsuit in defence of their patent rights, with the consequence that millions of people in the poor countries will die of lack of medicine.


The background for carrying out this happening is the lawsuit that 39 medical companies have filed against South Africa for not observing the patent legislation. This case contains a huge wealth of principal aspects, which in its core contains the entire discussion about globalisation, power and unbalance and about the common ethical foundation of our Planet.

Therefore I have chosen this issue as a starting point in this case to fan the global discussion about how our basis of values has developed and the paradigm shift, which I feel is the final condition for not tearing the world (the humans) apart because of global unbalance, both economically, ecologically and socially.

Especially when the discussion is about medicine, the issue of the patent legislation is crucial for the consideration about basic ethical values. - Have you got the right to decide over other people’s lives, just because you have got money and the formal rights to the medicine? - This is the essence of the paradigm shift discussion, a material view of life contra a moral, ethical one.

The reason why the discussion about the patent legislation has become so heated right now is the increasing globalisation and therefore it is now possible to establish some global rules, which the world will follow to a large extend. Enforcement of the rules and possible sanctions are considered within the framework of the WTO.



I have chosen to make a connection to the religious narrative, not because I’m religious myself. But regardless of my personal faith, these stories constitute to a high degree the core of western identity. They encompass the very discussion of the basis of life: material or ethical? – Essentially this is a crucial question of all religions: what is a decent human? – That’s the reason of the biblical associations of this art manifestation, The 10th Plague.



In support of the Israelites’ prayers for release from slavery and to leave Egypt, God, acting through Moses, called down ten plagues upon Egypt. The last of the plagues is that an angel of death sent by God, haunting the entire nation, will claim every first-born man or animal.

To protect the Israelites from the angel of death, God orders them to slaughter a lamb and wipe some of the blood from it on their doors. Where blood is stained on the door the angel of death will not enter and so their firstborn will be saved from death (from Genesis in the Bible).

In order to remember this event, God imposed the Israelites to reiterate this ritual once a year. This is a central part in the tradition behind the celebration of Jewish Easter – Passover.

In Christianity the symbolism has been transformed into the sacrifice of Christ. The sacrificial lamb is the symbol of Jesus Christ being lead to the cross where he is giving his life and blood to assume the sins of mankind. So it is stated that love must be able to endure anything in order to subsist. This is the theological symbolism behind the Christian sacrifices of lambs at Easter.

These two stories, their rituals and exegesis are central pillars in the cultural inheritance of the western world. The mind of each of us is imbued with these mental images. These symbols were enforced by the major commercial investment of Disney in the animated movie ‘Moses’.


Ten canvases are made in the same shape as a door, 70 x 200 cm. Each canvas is extended on a frame, rough and broad, covered by gold foil. On these ‘doors’ genuine American one-dollar bills are fixed, side-by-side, covering the whole of the surface. On some doors a part of the bills will have the side with ‘ONE’ written on it facing outwards, shaping the text In God we trust – which is also written above ‘ONE’ on the bill. The other part of the bills will have the side with Washington’s portrait facing outwards framing the text and covering the rest of the ‘door’. In other doors it will be vice versa – and again other doors will have a cross inscribed following the same pattern. The text and the cross will be visible from a distance of approximately 5 metres.

Some of the assisting participants will tap some of their own blood into a small jar. The names of the pharmaceutical companies residing in the country will be written across the dollar bills with the blood. It will be written in a casual way in order to make the blood drip down the canvas.


The performance will start in Denmark on Good Friday at Easter 2001, so that a connection to the biblical narrative is established. Successively the 10 canvasses will be sent to South Africa where they will be used for a manifestation on the occasion of the opening of the lawsuit on 18 April. Then they will be passed to the next country, where the ritual is repeated. In each country new names of companies will be added, until eventually the names of all 39 companies will be written with blood on the canvasses.


The performance has associations to the manifold of symbols from the western civilisation’s common myths and religious ideas. These still living myths and rituals will be the resonator on which the performance will play and also function as an accelerator for the publicity. The symbolism will be manifold and vary depending on who is looking at it. Here are some suggestions. As it will appear there are many conflicting interpretations, but that is the very essence of art – ambiguity.

- The posting of the real dollar bills will be regarded as destruction and contempt of money. All over the world money has become synonymous with salvation and redemption. Destruction of this icon will question its intrinsic values and so the foundations of western civilisation.

- The dollar bills will form the text In God We Trust or the Holy Cross. This will intensify the symbolism of money becoming equal to God and that we conceive opulence, not humanity or spirituality as basic values. Money has taken over God’s role as a protecting force.



- In a biblical context, the blood symbolizes salvation by God, redeeming mankind from our sins symbolized by Jesus and the force saving us from death symbolized by Moses.

- Using the blood to write the names of the pharmaceutical firms on the ‘doors’ is delivering the message that these firms and their drugs have assumed God’s role as a healing force in the western world’s collective consciousness.

- The names of the pharmaceutical firms written by blood on the ‘doors’ also symbolize that these firms are granting their ‘mark of salvation’ only to prosperous people. By contrast, poor people receive no ‘mark of salvation’ on their doors and therefore they are exposed to the angel of death.

- By suggesting that the selfish pharmaceutical firms be synonymous with the altruistic God’s healing and salvation, the discussion of patent rights is highlighted. A special responsibility rests with the pharmaceutical industry if they want to maintain a patent legislation that to a certain extend gives them the power over people’s life.

- The dollar bills are literately destroyed by painting blood on them and symbolically it is an offence against the value of money and as well a breach of the taboo against destroying money. Life-giving blood (of God) is destroying the basic values created by man. This is highly thought-provoking and opens a discussion about a fundamental change of paradigm: Can a world controlled by money still be based on values as mercy, charity and solicitude?

- The ‘doors’ will appear as relics, holy tables containing ‘new’ Ten Commandments which have a protecting force. These new Tables of Commandments are representing an affront to everything we normally consider to be right – in this context it appears to us as detestable, we are disgusted at our own icons, perhaps because we instinctively know that we have committed an offence against The First Commandment - ‘You shall have no other Gods before me’.

- The ten ‘doors’ could be compared to The Ten Commandments of modern time, in this case symbols of power and money, with a clear reference to The Tenth Commandment – ‘You shall not covet your neighbours possessing nor his wife’. According to a persistent interpretation of the world’s privileged people, this implies the acceptance of poverty and disparity from the highest place (God).

- The Tenth Plague is in a biblical sense the final one, which compels the Pharaoh to release the Israelites. But it is only when all Egyptian families have felt the affliction in their own family they can acknowledge the spiritual power of God. This spiritual power is in our time symbolized by the moral and ethical forces which are working to create a change of paradigm – from where the discussion about the course of the world must be lead – for example concerning environmental issues and human rights. Accordingly, only when mankind is exposed to ‘the tenth plague’ (our self-destruction) we all together will presumably acknowledge that we have to change our production and lifestyle in a sustainable perspective to harmonize with the ecosystem of our planet.

- Blood is a symbol of both life and death. The life-giving blood transporting nourishment about in our body brings with it life and energy. But it is only life-giving inside our body. When blood is outside the body it symbolizes death. Therefore the appearance of blood will be conceived as a sign of crime, death and grief. The ambivalence becomes clear: life-giving blood is transformed into the symbol of death, the crime and the criminals having their names written on the ‘doors’ as a last act before death. A symbolism opposite to the conceptions above, in which the names on the ‘doors’ are ‘marks of salvation’.

- Jesus Christ gave his blood and life for the sake of mankind. We are sacrificing our blood to draw another perspective into the discussion about patent rights. We might use blood donated from people infected with HIV to intensify the symbolism. HIV-infected people in the western world are ‘protected’ because their governments can afford to pay the pharmaceutical industry for the drugs. They have got ‘the mark of salvation’ on their ‘doors’, but they are living on the edge of death and by donation of blood they make a sacrifice as a symbolic gesture to save their fellow-sufferers in the poor countries of the world.


The Media and the Realization of the Event

For the impact of the performance comprehensive media coverage is essential. Press releases will be sent out from Galschiot’s workshop and by the participating local NGOs. In addition, information will be available on Internet. There you can already find some photos on the event.

It is important that the happening in the different countries relate as close as possible to the local rituals and discussions. An obvious date to carry out the happening in Europe (the Christians) would be Good Friday, the day of the Crucifixion. In Israel on the other hand, a suitable day could be the Jewish celebration of the 10th plague according to the Old Testament.

There are several ways to make a local angle to the happening. You can also in some places make an ecclesiastical connection, e.g. on St. Peters Square in Rome. Suitable sites could also be places loaded with strong symbolism, e.g. Wall Street in New York, a bank, a company’s main office or the WTO. Art museums and galleries could also be used. The only limit is imagination.

The choice of local cooperators will also vary. In some places NGOs on environment or globalization could participate, in other places progressive ministers of religion could make the ritual. The multiplicity and diversity are of paramount importance for underlining the universal character, encompassing all people regardless of political, racial or social observance.

After the tables/paintings are made, they will be gathered and make a part of an exhibition where the creation of each picture is described. The exhibition itself is not essential. It is just a contribution to the propagation of the project, so that it becomes a myth and a part of art history. So it will take centre stage in the important discussion about the paradigm shift in international relations.

The crucial point of this sort of manifestations is always the repercussion in the real world and in the press, the reactions of the public, etc. As soon as the work of art has been put on the wall of an art collector or a museum, a part of its force has evaporated. It has been institutionalised and reduced to an academic discussion focussing on the artistic expression – removed from the crude real world. But even at this stage, the impact and the life of The 10th Plague will remain – it will be a part of the mythical narrative emerged in the year 2001. In this very context art history will conserve the memory of events.



The Theatre of Reality

Jens Galschiot makes this statement on the nature of his activities:

The starting point of my work with sculptures and happenings is my personal situation as a citizen of Denmark, one of the wealthiest countries in the world. I pose the question why and how our ethical and moral self-understanding is connected to global and local reality. I leave it to the spectators to work out the answers for themselves. I create surreal pictures of reality, i.e. symbolically posed questions. It is my aim to show the grotesqueness and absurdity of what we usually call reality.

A happening has a language of its own, consisting of simple non-verbal symbols, and so is able to focus on complicated problems on different levels at the same time. The happening, as an art-form, is often provocative, but it is also an accepted form, especially in the cultural context of the west. It may, however, go beyond the limits of what is allowed.

In contrast to many other artists, my messages are not breaking or violating boundaries as understood in the traditional artistic sense; in fact they are in a sense 'conserving', aiming at the defence of the ethical foundations of our civilization. They question what the consequences will be for our culture will be when we suffer a decline in moral character and ethical behaviour. For example when racism increases, or when we allow a global imbalance, with thirteen million children dying every year. Simultaneously I claim that if we want to maintain our ethical values, this implies some consequences for our attitude to the rest of the world and for our willingness to share the world's resources with other cultures and populations on the Planet.

By means of my sculptures I'm making installations that cut out small pieces of Reality - transform them into a symbolic language and replace them in the public space, so that the absurdity of Reality will be evident.

My happenings function as gigantic theatrical productions. They take place not in the traditional theatre but in the open in the real world. My sculptures set the scene. Suddenly they turn up in the street and the play starts. Politicians, the media and the public are brought in as actors. Those involved adopt their new role with ease as the symbolism of the happenings is open for interpretation. They cannot avoid taking part no matter what they do. They contribute to the dynamics of the happening by constantly creating new symbols.

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2001: The Tenth Plague - an Art Performance about Greed and Death
Additional Information:
Categories: 2001: The Tenth Plague - an Art Performance about Greed and Death | Happenings and Art Installations
Sculptures: The 10th Plague
Type: Concepts
Dates: April 2001
Locations: Aarhus, Denmark | Børkop, Denmark | Copenhagen, Denmark | Odense, Denmark
Co-operators and Helpers: ATTAC | Brazilian Bishops | Børkop Vandmølle | Dagbladet Information | Fondsbørsen | IBIS | Investeringsforeningen Banco | Kasper Markus | Kenneth Haahr | Kritiske Aktionærer | Lundbeck | Médecins Sans Frontières (Læger uden grænser) | Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke (Danish Association for International Co-operation) | Niller Madsen | Novo Nordisk | Tanja Nat | WTO - World Trade Organization