Anna Odell, Journalism and The Mystic Truths of Art

Finally we are debating the Anna Odell case with most, if not, all facts at hand: The Swedish District Court has ruled that she did actually act violently as well as ”Oredligt förfarande” – a type of fraudulent acting. So the question is being raised if this verdict was just or not. Well, the question is a legal one, but of course also have a pragmatic dimension for artists, and for some debaters, it was an example of pure journalism. In terms of the legal ramifications, not one can foresee how this verdict will affect future matters, as Vilks rightfully points out a journalistic legal case is a different matter than an artistic case, which in turn is different than a filmmaker’s case, and so on.

Although, I am the first to stand up and fight for the freedom of expression and speech, I find it quite naive to argue as Bo Madestrand in DN that  since Odell merely cost (In measurable economic terms) the Swedish state 35 kronor (€3) the verdict is silly and dangerous. Yes, it can potentially be dangerous, but not because the added costs for ”handling” her are so low. If you drink and drive, you cannot argue from the pragmatic point of view (most drunk drivers do NOT kill people, but some do). You have to have a balance between the breaking of a principle and the actual cost and goal behind the action. In this case, Odell had made some research to whether or not she could risk being in legal jeopardy, (a lot of bloggers have commented this, some wise, some not) and got out at the wrong end of that prognosis. She is morally firm and willingly seems to accept her verdict (a fine of 2500 kr).

Bruce Nauman Window or Wall Sign, 1967

Bruce Nauman Window or Wall Sign, 1967

This verdict is generally received by the cultural attachés of this country as a bad call by a legal institution, possibly turning away some experimental journalists and artists from radical investigations. Dangerous.

Well, once again, cultural workers have united in a lack of understanding of culture; The Anna Odell project is commented by most people, but understood and experienced by a few thousand. To generally assume that the life of all people involved in this incident would be better off or the same as before, is just an example of not paying attention. Cultural critics have long ushered out the perspective that culture has undefined, paramount and positive influences on society. In the case of Anna Odell, art truly turned public and thus commented from all realms of media. In this sea of critique, the cultural perspective, became one of many and not always very interesting, I must say.

Art as social critique sprung out of the french revolution and has now developed into a method, involving uncovering economic, social or other irregularities. Tim van Laar and Leonard Diepeveen’s excellent Active Sights – Art as social interaction, delves into the concept of the artist as a social critic juxtaposed with the concept of the artist as social parasite. This latter concept has long been used both as a denigration of artists social intervention as well as by cultural critics who slander the average Joe or the non-artistic institutions for not having enough understanding of how artists affect the social debate. In this case Mårten Arndtzén is guilty of this.

But artists, beware, you could easily come across as a social healer, working almost as a priest to uncover transcendent or immanent truths in society. This is something that historically have been present at least since the days of Kandinsky, and later with Bruce Nauman, but I also see elements of this in the works of Anna Odell. Watch out.

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