Songs for Thomas Piketty

‘Begging boom boxes’ are placed at various locations in the city centre. There is a saucer for coins on top of each one. The boom boxes sing and ask for a contribution.

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.

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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.

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?


Songs for Thomas Piketty, a compilation | video: Thorsten Alofs


"Under pressure from City Marketing, tourism and commerce, beggars are barred from the streets and more and more anti-homeless furniture is appearing. With this project, I question whether we are treating the objects in the same way as we do the homeless they embody. At the moment, there seems to be little difference for those enforcing city surveillance."

'Stadstoezicht (city surveillance authority) removes art project by Dries Verhoeven', Joke Beeckmans interviewed Dries Verhoeven for (03-06-2016)read the article (in Dutch)

"I hope to deactivate the 'autopilot' of passersby. If we show it for a long time, people might tune it out the same way they tune out homelessness. I want to leave before that happens."

''Begging boomboxes' are bringing attention to poverty in the Netherlands', Savonne Anderson for (30-03-2016)read the article

"City marketing is of growing importance in the way public space is been shaped."

'These Boomboxes Beg For Money In Cities Where Homeless People Aren't Allowed To', Adele Peters for (24-03-2016)read the article

"Songs For Thomas Piketty (...) touches on the visual arts and the theatre of ideas. There is no need to applaud, but you will return home with questions you never knew you had."

‘Verhoeven makes ghetto blasters beg', Dick van Teylingen for (17-03-2016)read the review (in Dutch)

"It makes some people feel uneasy and they don’t know what stance to take. Someone else said that they were more aware when they saw a ‘real’ beggar thirty metres away from the recorder."

'Increased awareness of beggars through the art project with ghetto blasters in Utrecht', news editor AD/UN (07-03-2016)read the article (in Dutch)

"The city is getting more polished. Disturbing elements are being removed. Anti-homeless-furniture - benches with an armrest in the middle - prevents homeless people from sleeping there. If you want to perform in the streets of Amsterdam, you have to audition first."

'Machines that ask for money', Berengaria Liedmeier interviewed Verhoeven for Straatnieuws Utrecht (05-02-2016)read the interview (in Dutch)

radio and television

Lucas De Man (AVROTROS’ Kunstuur) visited Hacking Habitat and spoke with Dries (06-03-2016).

view the broadcast (from 6:50; in Dutch)

Reporter Ewout de Bruijn (NOS Radio 1) spoke with Dries at the opening of Hacking Habitat (26-02-2016).

listen here (from 1:31:40; in Dutch)


concept Dries Verhoeven

voices Alexander Schröter, Adriana Pop, Safet, Natalia Goga, Julia Scepanovic, Vlado Doknic, Sascha Stojanovic, Neso Vukanovic, Tatiana Maslova and Dorothea Nikiporczyk

artistic assistant Bart van de Woestijne and Ieme Soes

production Studio Dries Verhoeven

provision of ghetto blasters under the supervision of Roel Huisman

technician Roel Evenhuis

recording, editing Wouter Messchendorp

sound Tjalling Bal

software development Sylvain Vriens

photography Willem Popelier, Sander Marsman

video Thorsten Alofs

thanks to Z!, the Amsterdam Street Magazine

co-commissioned by the International Art Manifestation Hacking Habitat and Festival de Keuze

made possible with contributions by the Mondriaanfonds, the Fentener van Vlissingen Fonds, the K.F. Hein Fonds and the Stichting Elise Mathilde Fonds.