I’ll not pretend that I have a good grasp of Danish politics, but since last week’s General Election in Denmark I’ve been picking up some conflicting reports about the state of Danish cultural policy (and the future of) in relation to other pressing matters that are occupying the attention of the Danish people as attempts continue to form a new government. Plus ça change? Well, yes, no, and maybe, are the answers on that score, it seems.
Art critic Pernille Albrethsen reported from Denmark last week (in the immediate run up to the election) with a brief survey of what’s upcoming in terms of contemporary art over the coming months, but her report was as much about her concern with regard the political parties that, at that point, all seemed to be spinning their way to notoriety to some greater or lesser extent. Understandable, I guess, for it was a long haul as far as political campaigning went.
With regard to this summer’s art exhibitions in Denmark, Albrethsen briefed that they will include, “an extraterrestrial ‘breast creature’ with a built-in fountain in Vejle Fjord, and a huge Congolese tree trunk in a sculpture park,” but culture wasn’t very high on the agenda as far as the the Danish general election went; at least from Pernille Albrethsen’s perspective.
Writing on 5 June, the day of polling to elect all 179 members of the Folketing, Albrethsen stated, “one of the most nerve-wracking parliamentary elections I have ever witnessed in Denmark is taking place. The campaigning period has been particularly long this time, and on the positive side, the climate issue actually ended up being one of the election’s main topics.” ‘Car-and-bacon-loving parties’, she said, (I’m not making that up) had been frantically trying to outbid each other in “their eagerness to look greener than anyone else.” Sound familiar?
This new development follows several decades of elections where the issue of refugees and immigration has been the overriding topic by far; it’s an issue that has also been given far too much emphasis after the elections. If we can deduce from this that the climate crisis will dominate agendas for the next four years, you’ll hear no complaints from me. Sadly, we Danes haven’t quite finished shaming and marginalising those with skin colours other than white, prompting new right-wing parties to be featured on the ballot.
At the time of writing, the ‘refugee issue’ in particular still seems to be getting bumped back up the agenda again, with refugee quotas being just one of several issues being what thwarts a satisfactory outcome for many. Childcare, social welfare, and a raft of other issues feature in the process, too, but where is culture?
The fact is, that in any polarised society where extremes are the spectacle that diverts our attention away from the realities of everyday life (to misquote some near-forgotten radical of the 1960s – was it Debord or Vaneigem?), cultural policy is that which suffers first, as always. As Pernille Albrethsen put it last week, in Denmark:
…as usual, cultural policy has received scant attention during the election campaign. It is quite simply too small a sector for the particular psycho-geological age we currently find ourselves in (and apparently cannot get out of) – an age where everything is judged in economic terms. The days when culture had some form of automatic legitimacy in Danish welfare society are long gone, and the cultural scene seems to have finally realised this on a more fundamental level.
As Hunter S. Thompson so aptly put it, ‘“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro!” But what is weird, now? Can we even tell anymore? It was hard to discern from Albrethsen’s report due to a typo that, for a while, I believed was a new word. In the run up to the polls closing, apparently, the extreme right parties that concerned her most were parties of ‘withattitudesso extreme’, and Albrethsen found it hard to witness them in action. Withattitudesso extreme? The typo tripped me up as I scanned the article (I actually tried to Google it – though, in my defence, it had been a long day) before I realised that it wasn’t a new word or phrase at all!
Sometimes such errors are just irritating, but ‘withattitudesso’ seems an apt word for our times, and probably works in several languages, too. Indeed, ‘With attitudes so extreme’ (as it should have read!) the phrase doesn’t really have the same ring to it, and so I’m actually tempted to adopt the typo I encountered as an affectation of my own. “Nigel Farage? Oh yes! Such withattitudesso!” …”Boris Johnson? Hmm… Withattitudesso extremo!” Sure, it has a romance language ring to it, lying somewhere between Spanglish and Englanitano, but all the more fitting for our times, maybe.
When the Withattitudesso extremos get going, it becomes ever harder for cultural pundits to make a sound assessment of weird, though. What we end up with is a pluralistic mélange a trois! The Good, the Bad, the Ugly? Who can judge anymore? Value judgements get jettisoned in favour of an ‘anything goes’ attitude, which is maybe why porn + culture have achieved level pegging in what Albrethsen reports is an upcoming exhibition (aptly titled) Art & Porn that, in Denmark, will coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the abolition of the ban on visual pornography in the country.
The list of participating artists is apparently as open-ended as the title of the exhibition itself, from Wilhelm Freddie to Anna Uddenberg; from Jeff Koons to Suzette Gemzøe’s humorous video about the ‘exotic life’ of a single mother. Kunsthal Charlottenborg will host the show in the autumn, but at present that same institution is staging the exhibition Europa Endios, which is billed as marking the two central events in EU politics: Brexit and the now completed European Parliament elections.
Germaine Greer once referred to the male member as the ‘pork sword’ but pork isn’t Denmark’s only export, for sure. Artist Asger Jorn was another and, fortuitously for my purposes here, he was connected to the same 60s radicals of which (above) one name eluded me, but now I recall it. It was Raoul Vaneigem who once wrote that Power,
…in a caricature of antagonism […] urges everyone to be for or against Brigitte Bardot, the nouveau roman, the 4-horse Citroën, spaghetti, mescal, miniskirts, the UN, the classics, nationalisation, thermonuclear war and hitchhiking. Everyone is asked their opinion about every detail in order to prevent them from having one about the totality.
It’s a dated list today, of course – he was writing in the early-1960s, after all – but it’s easily updated. By its very nature neoliberalism requires that such lists are regularly updated, right? In Britain today, Vaneigem’s list would read something like;
In a caricature of antagonism, Power urges everyone to be for or against Meghan Markle, literary transrealism, self-drive cars, tahini desserts, orange wine, animal print frocks (again), the EU, Piers Morgan, Re-nationalisation, Huawei, and the lofty art of cycling to work when you can’t afford a Hyrid. Everyone is still asked their opinion about every detail in order to prevent them from having one about the totality.”
As I began – Plus ça change!
Pernille Albrethsen summed up the current situation in Denmark thus: “among creatives and administrators alike, we now sense a general understanding that the cultural scene needs to gird itself for battle.” When has it not, though? With the UK’s Creative Review magazine last week reporting that ‘Pornhub.com is a surprising creative force at the moment,’ you know something is up. Apparently, ‘in recent years the company has earned headlines in the press not just for progressive campaigns, but for supporting young, and often marginalised, creative talent.’ Ok, then. And there was me thinking it was just another internet porn-portal.
A spokesperson for Porhub was further quoted as saying, “we love getting involved in different facets of the community, and our creative campaigns have helped us do just that.” Pornhub’s Vice-President told Creative Review, “We’ve worked tirelessly to penetrate a number of verticals, ranging from fashion to music to philanthropy, which has ultimately helped us bring the brand in front of the general public.” Spin it anyway you like, but it seems Denmark is one step ahead in that regard, based upon Pernille Albrethsen’s report from the cultural frontline, anyway.
Whatever the new Danish government’s position on cultural policy turns out to be, as far as Art North contributor and Danish art critic Bo Gorzelak Pedersen was concerned when I asked him, “in all honesty, cultural politics has played no role in the recent election. The only major proposal put forth was one by DF [the far-right populist Dansk Folkeparti], suggesting the abolition of our current Arts Council, replacing it with regional councils.” The UK has been there before with the Green Party arts manifestoes of the 1980s, but I’ll save that revelation for another day.
As Bo Gorzelak Pedersen put it to me, the DF “feel that the current Arts Council is too elitist, but then DF suffered a historical blow at the election, losing more than half of their seats, and so I think it's fair to say that that idea is now dead and buried. There is pretty much agreement on culture politics across the political spectrum (apart from the extremes, to which DF belongs) and so I doubt that much will change.”
Elsewhere, however, I was reading that the Danish Art Critics’ Award, has been cancelled, with members of AICA Denmark, the Association of Danish Art Critics, being informed by their board via email. The reason behind the decision was given as the withdrawal of financial support from the the Visual Arts Committee of the Danish Arts Foundation, which has supported the prize for a quarter of a century. Certainly that seems like a shift of quite seismic proportions but it seems to have gone unnoticed. As Bo stated when I asked him about it, “I hadn't heard about that and I seem unable to find anything about it in the Danish news.” That’s what happens when all eyes are on who will be able to form a new government, and with whom, maybe. Cultural policy just gets buried in the general slush of rolling political news.
Alternatively, I may not be getting the full picture here however, for as Bo was quick to point out, and I think rightly so, “the Danish Arts Council has just announced a new initiative aiming at getting art critics into schools.” Now that IS radical! According to Staten Kunstfund (the Danish Arts Foundation), “the new initiative for children and young people must put art criticism on the school curriculum,” and schools and colleges can “now seek the support of a professional critic who, together with the students, talks about art in new ways.”
I wonder how that would have gone down with DF had they had a better showing at the poll? In fact, I wonder how it would be received here, too. The very idea of children developing critical judgement in anything other than the most rudimentary ways has, for a long time now, seemed anathema to the aspirations of repeated governments in Westminster. Whatever the final outcome of the Danish election, this is one initiative that would be a great loss if not seen through to its natural conclusion: a society of young adults able to think freely, and in new ways; a legacy spawned by a thorough grounding in art critical thinking. What a world that would be?