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Banality of evil

On a three day seminar in Stockholm at Museum of Modern Art in 2007 to celebrate a hundred years since philosopher Hannah Arendt’s birth, the book on Eichmann in Jerusalem and the banality of evil was not mentioned, journalist and critic Ingrid Elam noticed in her review of the seminar in daily Dagens Nyheter. It was not until someone in the audience asked the key speaker, philosopher Agnes Heller, that this work was discussed. It was all good reasons for this; the focus was on Arendt’s other important work.

Yet, reading Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963) it’s difficult not to stay with her theories and reflect on their importance. They not only say something about the times in Europe during the Nazi era, they describe an on-going civil dilemma between bureaucratization and people.

Two things are especially terrifying and still today relevant.

One is the systematic way the in which the bureaucracy was built around, first emigration of the Jewish people from Germany, later the ”final solution” to send Jews to death centers. The language used to describe this wasn’t a mass-murderer’s, Hannah Arendt reflects, it was instead in terms such of ”programs” organizationally put under ”administration and economy”. Hitler and his men managed to build a bureaucracy in which the language around the ”final solution” was not immediately offensive or against people’s normal conscience. Finally, it seemed like a necessity, like an objective question that needed a solution.

The other is how she described Eichmann. He was not a monstrous murderer; he was not even particularly evil. She de-demonized him and he stands out neither as a diabolic character or a fanatic. He is just a dull bureaucrat with no ideas and a complete lack of critical thinking. He follows orders and is trying to do his job the best he can, wanting to climb to more important jobs and positions within the structure.

Since Arendt wrote this book in 1960s, even since the seminar in 2007, the European society has changed.

The economic crisis have had devastating effects in many countries with high unemployment rates and raise of poverty as a result. Art and culture has seen substantial cuts, of which effects for society we haven’t yet seen. Where will critical thinking be practiced?

Racist parties around Europe are filling seats in parliaments, some of them with roots in neo-Nazism. They changed their shaved heads to slick hairstyles and proper suits to better fit in to the political corridors. Their language is changing to not being immediately offensive and therefore suit a larger group of the population. Their main point on the agenda is limiting immigration, keeping a nation ”traditional” concerning everything from habits, culture and people.

As Ingrid Elam writes in her article (DN 15/1 2007), If Arendt had lived today she would have written about how today’s stateless people and refugees are handled by very ordinary people.

Hanna Arendt wrote the book ”Eichmann in Jerusalem” in 1963 and it is a collection of a series of articles written when she was covering the trial on Nazi Adolf Eichmann for the journal The New Yorker in Jerusalem in 1961. The book is translated into Swedish and published by Daidalos in 1996.

Article by Ingrid Elam in Dagens Nyheter (DN) on 15 of January 2007 can be found here.

In this year’s Göteborg International Film Festival (January 2013) they showed the film on Hannah Arendt by director Margarethe von Trotta.

American artist Andrea Geyer did an interesting piece on the trial with Hannah Arendt’s book as main base, Criminal Case 40/61: Reverb, 2009, which was shown, among other places, at Göteborg Konsthall in 2010.

Read related posts here, here, and here.

4 augusti, 2013

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More fragile than their creations

Two tables away from me in a smaller restaurant in New York the other week, I spot the well-known author Salman Rushdie talking intensely with a friend.

I see his backside, but still recognize his strong appearance. I remember seeing him November 2008 in a TV-sent seminar together with Italian author Roberto Saviano arranged by Svenska Akademin under the name ”The free word and the lawless violence” (original title: ”Det fria ordet och det laglösa våldet”). Two writers living under death threat because of their artistic work.

The day after the visit at the restaurant I read an article in New York Times (April 20 2011) written by Salman Rushdie.

Art can be dangerous. Very often artistic fame has been proven to be dangerous to artists themselves.

The imprisoning of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and other activists and artists in China is the latest example, he writes. And when the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, of which Salman Rushdie is the chairman, invited Chinese writer Liao Yiwu to the festival opening on April 25, he was denied permission to travel to the USA.

The latest issue of the Economist (April 16th 2011) follows the same line of thinking with the headline: ”China’s crackdown”. The detention of artists and activists in a steady flow sent to prison and ”disappearing” is following the latest ”freeze” in China and at least three things casts hope of a more open China into doubt, an article notes.

The detention of Ai Weiwei; the duration of this crackdown is longer than the former; and the cruel method of the repression picking up people under ”arbitrary detention rules and then made to disappear”.

I was reminded of Salman Rushdie’s strong article in New York Times reading this.

The lives of the artist are more fragile than their creations, Salman Rushdie writes.

The poet Ovid was exiled by Augustus to a little hell-hole on the Black Sea called Tomis, but his poetry has outlasted the Roman Empire.

We can perhaps bet on art to win over tyrants. It is the world’s artists, particularly those courageous enough to stand up against authoritarianism, for whom we need to be concerned, and for whose safety we must fight.

He could be writing of himself.

If we ever forget why art is important, this is a reminder.

Read former post on Ai Weiwei here.

29 april, 2011

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Fractured Atlas in New York

In the middle of the Theatre District, on the tenth floor on 35th Street on Manhattan you find Fractured Atlas, a business service organization for artists. For a service organization, it is well hidden from visitors. For obvious reasons, it shows. Fractured Atlas is solely an online tool and service for artists; a virtual meeting place and service provider.

It started off in 1998 as a performing arts producer in downtown New York City and they worked with theatre companies, choreographers, musicians, and performance artists. In 2002, they reinvented themselves as a service organization with the aim of impacting a wider segment of the arts community.

They have around 16.000 members, artists around the US, with a majority of members in New York State and California. They help artists within all art forms with what they need most in the US: Health Insurance Program and Fiscal Sponsorship.

Alongside these two flagships, Fractured Atlas also provide technological solutions for networking and calendar of events; matchmaking of free studio spaces; cultural asset map that collects data of cultural activity in an area, and other useful information.

This non-profit organization is completely internet-based with the aim of having all useful information online in a system easy to learn for the members. You can take easy step-to-step courses in what to think of when freelancing or running an organization, or apply to the Health Insurance Program and use the other services on your own wherever you are situated.

It is virtual service centre, focusing on what they think artists need most in form of insurance and sponsorship, and do not work with entrepreneurship. Instead, others do this like for example the incubator in San Francisco; Intersection for the Arts (look in the end of this post for a link to the visit Nätverkstan did in 2007).

Adam Natale, Director of Partnerships and Business Development, says there is a need, though, to build more knowledge at art schools and universities of entrepreneurship.

The little state funding that has been available in the US is declining and there are many examples of what being too dependent on grants and sponsorship from foundations could mean. The latest example being the old theatre in Seattle, Intiman Theatre, having to lay off all staff and close down during the rest of 2011 to try to get finances right.

The tradition among artists, at least within the performing arts, is to become a non-profit organization. Many artists are thinking of them as a charity and ask for grants. Even though Fractured Atlas offer an umbrella fiscal solution for these organizations, a legal and financial system by which a legally recognized public charity can apply for grants and receive tax-deductible contributions, this is not enough.

The troubles for Intiman Theatre are not only due to declining grants from foundations, but also to ”management missteps” as you can read in an article in The Seattle Times (November 12, 2010). It is, though, Adam Natale says, an example of the vulnerability for many theatres in the US depending on grants as their main stream of income.

Read about the Nätverkstan visit to Intersection of the Arts here.

26 april, 2011

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Sustainability as the new quality

It’s a busy time at the Design Management Program at Pratt Institute in New York and I have managed to grab the only whole in the calendar for a long time. Mary McBride, Director of the Program, take me past her office on the way to our meeting room, an office with the windows overlooking the busy 14th Street at Manhattan filled with around ninety applications for thirty places. All applicants are being processed and the majority interviewed. The attitude is to always to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Students are designers in organizations and businesses that would like to learn more about Design Management. They come in with experience and can use the knowledge directly in their organization.

In a world struggling with significant social and ecological challenges, a new economic paradigm – shaped by innovative design thinking – must transform business strategies and tactics.

The words are Mary McBride’s in an article in Design Management Review (volume 22, number 1, 2011) where she puts forward the Triple Bottom Line model as a way of thinking. It proposes to advance the sustainability agenda and encourages simultaneous pursuit of economic value, social equity and ecosystem quality.

”Sustainability is the new quality,” she tells me and in the Design Management Program this perspective is integrated in all courses. She talks about strategy and strategic thinking rather than using ecological terminology, which suggests an out-of-the-box thinking and a process starting with a company’s goal and mission all the way to realization, distribution, and customers.

Radical innovation, she says, is to go to the root of a business’ mission and start an innovation process. The problem is rarely innovation in it-self, but the diffusion of innovation.

To manage this profound change in companies’ values and attitude and the ”ecology of decision-making”, creators are needed. Businesses usually don’t like surprises, while creators are thrilled by the unexpected.

Two reflections come to mind as I leave the meeting: The strong commitment to sustainability as a life matter for all parts of society in business, economical as well as social, and the belief that creators play a key-role in this transformation.


21 april, 2011

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Lotta Lekvall
Director of Nätverkstan, a Cultural Organisation in Sweden. Nätverkstan provides services …

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