Etikettarkiv: Anna Odell

Black Swan Theory as a Means To Reinvigorate Art Criticism

Is art a Black Swan?

In my new article in Expressen I make the case for connecting the cultural criticism of late with the almost seamless expansion of science and other knowledge systems of today. I use Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan Theory in order to argue for a greater diversity in analysis and interpretation within the field of art criticism, but without a doubt this is a reasoning that should infiltrate all cultural, philosophical and political criticism.

Art rascal Lars Vilks comments and briefly dismisses my points as ”already been tried” and misses his own point that art today must gather its raison d’être from without the art field. Thus, to best analyze the expanding field of art, critics should at least try to develop their limited and one-sighted experience and knowledge. Art really creates black swans all the time, I can just mention some recent examples in Marcel Duchamp, Warhol and Cindy Sherman. The entire field of art has been forced to re-examine its paradigm because these individuals found new ways of looking. So today, I predict that science, economics or ethnology will strong allies in the next game change.

Nassim Nicholas Talebs recently wrote this beautiful piece about the human and natural economic worlds. Read it!

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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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Anna Odell and Her Artwork – The H is O

The heat is on: the loooooooongly anticipated artwork by Konstfack student Anna Odell is now in the limelight at the graduation show at Telefonplan untill the 29th May. Now we can finally review the entirity of the endeavor that in Sweden has been labelled "Anna Odell-skandalen". The work is nicly placed in the most shurky room at the school (the exclusivity and soft power of her work seems to be without precedence, at this point!). It consists of four videos, three black cubes and one discussion piece. Swedish Public Radio did a swift and interesting live review of the work with Martin Agaard and Mårten Arndtzén. They both criticized the work for not fulfilling its main stated goal of showing the cracks and inertia of the Swedish mental care, all she proved was that it actually works!, they both echoed. And yes sure, they have a point, but if and only if they take her loosly stated goal of the project as a arithmetic postulate of the artwork, from which it logically must not deviate.

87260I do not think you can reduce the work just to be fulfilling that initial goal, that in itself has been modified in certain ways. And, yes, this work CAN be compared to journalism or a scientific investigation, but that is not saying it cannot be somthing else as well. And asking a journalist/artist to be scientifically acute while using the commonplace rhetoric like "investigating" is failing to see what is really going on.

There are problems with the piece, but it is well executed and almost a Swedish classic by now. Her main work is for me the part of contacting organisations around Sweden to find out the legality of the (then) forthcoming execution of the piece. It puts into play what it means to be an art student, creating a work that questions boundaries between law and morality, grounded in her own personal history. Almost a perfekt school example, so to speak. This part of her work is very well made, don’t miss it!

What seems to be at the core of the debate is whether the work can be said to have practical utility, or be just in a moral and legal sense. Moral philosopher Torbjörn Tännsjö does not see any principal problems with the civil disobedience part of Odell’s artwork, but  he clearly states that the only justification of civil disobedience is proving REAL incongruities within the mental care system, which we can all agree, she hasn’t. But what we see here is not only a category of civil disobedience, but also and economic exchange, where she artistically acts self therapeutic in order to publicly reveal the emotions she herself experienced 13 years ago. Now when she has gotten prosecuted, as Vilks states, it will only make her stronger and begin the discussion about the economics of breaking the law, something Tim Harford and other behavioral economists have written about. Please comment, keep bloggin!

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Konstfuck acting Venomous – We Need a Remedy

Konstfack, Konstfcuk, Konstfuck. Now its reputation tumbles down one step more to the point of  “definitely no return whatsoever” by issuing legal scrutinizing of all artworks for this year’s graduation show. Student Magdalena Nordin will not be participating with her work since it infringes on several accounts of copyright infringement. The Konstfack lawyer Anders Stening has obviously just done his job (soulless as it may seem) but principal Ivar Björkman and head of the art department Olof Glemme should consider if they are fit to stay on their position as this explosive news spreads around the country and blog world. Cultural critic Martin Aagård writes a comment in Aftonbladet believing that artists now will (after the recent Swedish art scandals) be knowledgeable in both media spin and law. I beg to disagree. Although I wish he was right. Artists will not bother creating a forum for fighting the political and legal upsurge, but rather find ways of circumventing legal issues and moral fallacies along the way. This is both a sad and realist remark.

Hopefully some artists and cultural workers will not stand by and let Konstfack turn its cowardly head down, but rather start checking out www.artlaws.com and stirring up some heat in this undercooked stew.

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Some Konstfack students was caugth defacing the Swedish flag. Kill em all!

Susan M Bielstein, lecturer on art, architecture and literature as well as working as an editor at Chicago University Press writes a radiant introduction to an aesthetic field that is not, as one might believe, a praise to freedom of choice for artists, but rather a complex system of permissions. As editor she has lots to say about the different ways which artists and artists are interlocked in a web of permission, fair use, copyright and the public domain. I have no general objections to the right of a piece of work, but I do take issue when the right to own and be rewarded as author infringes on the right of re-use, remix and reinterpretation.

One answer suiting these crazy times that Bielstein got after asking for permission to reproduce an artwork for a book was: “I’m sorry. The picture you asked after carries a curse.”

From the book Permissions – A survival guide. Blunt talk about Art as Intellectual Property.

For some interesting updates on art copyright and economics don’t miss the talk by Daniel McClean: Santiago Sierras ”DEATH COUNTER” at Magasin 3 the 8th of May. McClean has previously edited the great book Dear Images: Art, Copyright and Culture, 2002. Read it!

Eh… does someone even remember what Anna Odell was supposed to be doing at the Konstfack graduate show?

Comments by Vilks, DN

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We Don’t Need No Stinking Provocations – Konstfack Drops Their Internal Report

The Anna Odell/NUG affair at Konstfack, blogged about here a few week ago, have just taken a new turn with the release of the Konstfack internal report on the evens taken place in recent weeks. The report is written by Anders Stening, Prof Jonas Bohlin, Ann-Charlotte Jensen and Elisabet Nordwall. In a rare instance in yesterday’s newspaper DN, Ivar Björkman, who has shunned all media interaction prior to this report being finished, wrote a defense of the school. the report stinks, as critic Mårten Arndzén smells it; The students are not allowed anymore to transgress any ”moral laws”, they are not allowed to defame anyone or anything, be it an organisation or an individual. The graffiti artist NUG and his abrasive video Territorial Pissing is hardly mentionaed, as it is not considered to be Konstfack’s responsibility since it was made outside of curriculum. This surely is an act of institutional biopower in the sense of a constitutive forming of bios, a political self that is repressed into acting and thinking a certain way rather than just the zoe – just living. The report further announces that Anna Odell have created pain and misery AND a ”public doubt regarding Konstfack” in general. Yes, they are actually blaming her for the media spectacle taken place the past month! If this is not a an act of a coward, then nothing really is.

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Waiting for your project presentation Anna, hang in there!

Now I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the students will be frightened into self censorship, as Arndzén does, artists haven again and again proven to have an explicable sense of disobedience towards biopower. What is clear is the problem of handling a national debate with art, morality and law at its core, without a dean of the school with any knowledge or balls. The blame should rightly be placed where it belongs – the dean of Konstfack Ivar Björkman – for not standing up to the students in any way. The report and his statement in DN only goes to prove that he is looking after the sanctity of a slow and trepid institution instead of the boarder crossings of its most important inhabitants – the students. Anna Odell has possibly hurt a few people by her interaction, most likely not broken any current laws, we know this only from slanted media reports, so before anyone cast judgment or her work, I would like to see, hear and experience her version of the events. If we are to institute her action as a piece of profound art or not must be a question underlined by as much respect for her project as we demand her to show all parties involved. I will be waiting for her presentation in May, let’s continue the debate when all cards are put on the table.

Reports by Sydsvenskan, Dagens Nyheter, Swedish Public Radiopress release from Konstfack

Sign up for the group I väntan på presentation av Anna Odell at Facebook and become humble and critical in an instance!

In case you missed the NUG video Territorial Pissing: Voilà!

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Anna Odell and the problem of artistic morals

The shit has once again hit the fan, when Konstfack art student Anna Odell a few days ago made a socially investigative action in Stockholm, pretending to be psychotic and suicidal. The story goes like this: She appeared on top of a bridge in the midst of Stockholm, where she attracted so much attention that policemen by force coerced her to a emergency psychiatric ward at the S:t Göran Hospital where she reacted with such frenzy that she was given soothing medication. After a few hours she revealed that it was part of an art project and she was let go, but nono, not by the media. This time it was blown out of proportion, but, nota bene, Odell herself had not planned this, but, according to a reliable source from the institution, she has been working on this project for more than a year, already. One problem with the above narrative is that is is already being criticised for lacking in reliability. Read more reports of it here and in English here.

The staff at the emergency ward soon after filed a police rapport and now publicly demand an apology and a refund of the cost that was needed to hold a ‘perfectly sane person at the emergency clinic for several hours’. An arketypical reaction from the artworld would be: leave the artist alone, her intentions are yet to be revealed and they will re-contextualise the possible agony caused by the whole of the project and disclose a higher purpose. A typical reaction from outside the artworld would be: by acting off of others’ goodwill and resources as well as causing harm, the artist needs to apologize or, at best, try to explain what the h*** she did and why, before it can be principally defended.

Well, first of all the project seems highly speculative in its first reification; it is clear that artist Anna Odell could have documented, observed or (publicly, but carefully) reenacted a statement about the psychiatric world without risking to commit a crime. With this being said, we must consider that this is only a first part of a projct to be presented in May 2009 for the annual Graduation show at Konstfack and it is not unheard of to seek a maximum of subversion whilst in art school. For this reason it is not in the interest of neither Konstfack nor Odell to be plain, conformist or latte-liberal, but rather find a way to spur debate and a public outcry reaction. And debate was apparently something she wished for , but as many bloggers point out, she had initially wished for a more specific debate vis-a-vis the psychiatric industry, which did not fly very well, as of now, at least.

The two arguments that her professors and teachers at Konstfack brings forth in DN, 1. that the action should be compared to journalistic methods like Wallraff and thus seen in the light of biopolitics and cultural critique and 2. the work is not yet finished, thus nothing should yet be stated about the means for the upcoming end.

Argument 1 is one that artists and art theorists usually use when defending the right of subversion in public space, as a democratic splinter, oozing critique on areas that requires other method. Not for speculation or provocation or fame, but as a means for another for of criticism, what Hal Foster refers to as the turn to Anthropology. Well one problem with this argument is that is avoids the full comparison with subversive research or journalism; when Odell will exhibit her project, it will not necessarily be in a matter that satisfies or communicates with a ‘public’. In fact, it is of grave importance that art project usually don’t emulate methods of subversion that are commonplace, since it would of course risk being reduced to journalism.

Argument 2 only has bearing if we accept a pragmatist view of contemporary culture; if art can defy laws or moral codes of conduct in order to send an esoteric message to a small group of artworks denizens, does not this fact reduce it to a form of liberal, calculating economism? We must consider the possibilities that neither critics nor audience at large will be satisfied by the entirety of the project, what then? Will critics like Ingela Lind condemn the work or just keep defending the moral law with one hand while paving the way for breaking artistic tabus with the other? This argument could be as a cynical trade-off by Odell: 10 000 kr(the cost of treating her during her stay at the emergency room) + the discontents of a psychiatric ward and a few bloggers and Op-Eds against a project being view mainly by an art audience, commented mainly by and art audience and research mainly extended toward an art audience.

Now I truly hope Anna Odell proves me wrong, hope it really was worth it, but this case should not be left unmarked by all critics interested in the political powers of art. Ii will be back with more analyses of this case from behavioral economics (what gain is in it for the artist, or loss for the ER?), biopolitics (to what extent is her body reduced to a vessel for upholding an ideology?), ethnology (how much of the project has culture as its subject?) and art criticism (but is it art?).

Stay tuned.

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