Art @ Van Eyck – Diego Tonus: Fragments of a Conversation with a Counterfeiter

by Alison Shea

The past six months I interned two days a week at the Van Eyck Academie, Maastricht’s post-academic art institute. Now that summer is approaching, not only is my internship is over, so are the residencies of some participants whom I met during my time at the Van Eyck. Diego Tonus is among those who are currently clearing their studios and preparing their departure. Regardless, he made time to meet up with Alessandro and me to talk about his work and residency.


In the middle of Diego’s studio there is a life-like sculpture of a sitting man hiding parts of the face with its hands. The last time I had seen this work, titled A Moment of Darkness, was when it was exhibited for the first time at the ‘Open Studios’ event in March. Diego spent nine months of his Van Eyck residency working on this sculpture, which is a life-like portrait of a counterfeiter. Two years ago Diego had met the anonymous man who illegally reproduces value by making copies of euro-bills, crypto currencies and different goods, in a London bar.

02_Diego Tonus_A Moment of Darkness

Diego, who rarely refers to himself as an artist, describes his practice as a practice of intrusion and himself as an intruder into other fields of knowledge. The diversification of his work enables him to delve into the foreign with each new project. This is why collaborations with people working in different fields are a vital element of Diego’s work. A Moment of Darkness belongs to the larger project Fragments Of a Conversation With a Counterfeiter in the sense that it constitutes a fragment of a conversation between Diego and the counterfeiter. Diego became interested in the counterfeiter’s ways of hacking systems of control when he realized how differently they perceived value. In total, there are six artworks linked to this conversation, three of which have been completed so-far .


Once Diego had gained the trust of the counterfeiter he managed to convince him to pose for and be casted in an aluminum cement sculpture that would almost reveal his identity. Diego first made a mold of the person’s face with silicone and later casted the body in a position that would  shadow the face and create this moment of darkness. The sculpture is not only an anonymous portrait of the counterfeiter but also the container of a hidden metal plate which has been engraved with the password and private keys to a Bitcoin. The sculpture’s value can therefore be interpreted both artistically and economically, its economic value being dependent on what the Bitcoin is worth in a certain moment. In order to gain ownership over the digital currency one would however have to steal and break the sculpture.


A three page document by the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP) functions as the description of the work. Diego deposited A Moment of Darkness as a trade secret because of its hidden commercial value. The counterfeiter is stated as the work’s coauthor in the sense that he is mentioned as ‘anonymous’ in having collaborated with the artist. The agreement upon anonymity was the only form of contract that existed between the two parties in the realization of the project. Since there are no records of the meetings, the six Fragments Of a Conversation With a Counterfeiter are the only existing evidence of the discussion that took place in London. Reviewing these ‘fragments’ means reviewing the aspects of the conversation that Diego found most interesting and paradoxical.

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June 21st will be Diego’s last day of residence at the Van Eyck and from that day onwards A Moment of Darkness is going to be shown in Italy for the opening show, titled That’s it at the MAMbo Museum in Bologna curated by Lorenzo Balbi. Another ‘fragment’ from the project is currently exhibited in Moscow at the 6th International Biennale. Diego himself will remain to be based in the Netherlands but he will continue traveling across Europe to finalize the series of works for a potential solo show next year. Until then there are several events coming up that are related to a previous filmic work titled Topography of Terror (19.12.2016)’, such as the screening and the presentation of its publication at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.

03_Diego Tonus_A Moment of Darkness

Since my internship at the Van Eyck has come to an end, this is also the last ‘Art @ Van Eyck’ piece that will be published on the Mosaïek blog. I really enjoyed having had the chance to interview the five participants whom I wrote about in this column. My tasks as an intern were all centered around coordinating arrangements in the Van Eyck’s administration office. Writing this column allowed me to devote more intention to the work of some participants, and I gained a more substantial understanding of the workings of a post-academic art institute. I would therefore recommend everyone who does an internship in the art world to take own initiative by documenting  ones observations to reflect upon these.


Five of the Pictures by Alessandro Sirocchi

Two pictures of Installation view at Jan Van Eyck, 2018, Werner Mantz Lab, Maastricht


For further information on Diego’s work:

For further information on the Van Eyck:

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