The brief from the Academy is challenging. I will be conducting research in the Utopian community of Christiania in Copenhagen as a 3 week artist residency. I leave in two days.
My guide to Utopia yesterday was Morten. I paid him but I think he enjoyed it. I took 444 shots for the time and motion study for three pounds. Morten is comfortable with an audience, although it was his first time in about 30 years of being the subject. It gave me the chance to connect the work and the place, and work out how he felt about his job without any verbal exchange (he spoke Danish). I am conscious of the Hawthorne effect though, so I did the tourist tour last week to give my study validity. The evidence is conclusive. He’s happy in his work. All of his customers were happy too.
So let me tell you about Henrik who has lived here for over 30 years. He used to be an art teacher. People think he’s mad because he left his job to be an artist full-time. It’s not the Danish way. But he’d sold some paintings the day I saw him. The financial exchange validates him as an artist – that someone appreciates his work enough to pay for it. The sun was shining, he lives in a stunning location with good neighbours, and he has a beautiful studio. He worked very hard to build up to this point, but now he feels a rich man. Not much money, but rich.
I asked Henrik about how Christiania organises itself. No – it’s not a democracy – he thinks. There are 700 adults and all of them are leaders. So to him it’s more a system of anarchy and consensus. Everyone is creative in finding ways to express their opinions. He does poster projects sometimes on contentious issues, and he paints the big meetings so people can see what’s going on.
The literature on leadership makes it obvious that you need people prepared to follow sometimes. Morten was a good leader and we followed him up the garden path quite happily. We were free to leave at any point, but we wanted to stay. We had our reasons.
But now I must go. I have fifteen minutes left before my gathering. Posters, balloons and banner up. Feedback mechanisms in place for cooperative inquiry. Recording equipment set up. Nails manicured, uniform on but hair a little fluffy. Fluffy is not a good look for consultants.
If no one comes I will pump up balloons for three hours.
I contacted the Academy about the mismatch between what we’re doing in the research on establishing the Happiness in the Workplace Awards and my experience as their consultant – that the job was not meeting expectations.
In Danish there’s a word ‘Arbejdsglæde’ meaning the joy and satisfaction an employee can achieve in carrying out their work. I can’t think of a word in English. Anyway – to cut it short – I’m happy to say that we had an ‘aha!’ moment.
But I’m not a whistle-blower – there’s no way I’d go public on this. Mutual trust and loyalty are part of the contract between employer and employee, embedded in employment legislation.
I put my glad rags on and went to the Tivoli yesterday. Obviously a visual sociologist’s paradise. I got lots of material, including photos of the Tivoli Boys Guards with guns and uniforms parading through the gardens, and film of men who paid to hit a piece of metal with a sledgehammer that shot another piece of metal to the bell at the top. I felt bad for them when the bell didn’t ring.
I did a couple of time and motion studies – one of rubbish collection and another on the carousel. Comparative studies provide rigour. I have a study lined up in Christiania for tomorrow – of the tourist guide (the Danish one to ensure I don’t understand a word). Laban is famous for dance and community choirs, but he studied the movements of workers in the munitions factories during the war to help management understand how labour could be productive. Christiania was originally an abandoned military installation.
I’ve realised I worked eight hours overtime at the Tivoli. Did they know that would happen when they said a day off to enjoy myself was a good idea?
I met someone here the other day who was part of the Christiania theatre company Solvognen. In 1974 seventy of them formed a Santa Claus Army, committing good deeds and invading a store to give away books to children. They were arrested. The store said it was the best publicity they'd ever had. He's now a bus driver and an artist. He has a Tivoli season ticket so that he can walk through there each day on his commute to work. Recently he was involved in an action about Guantanamo, all of them in orange, black hoods and singing Amazing Grace.
I also met Henrik who's a painter who likes Picasso. But I’m running out of space so I’ll tell you about him tomorrow.
I’ve found a supply of handy bags in the DIY store used for herbs and medicine I think. I’ll use those to encourage feedback at Tuesday's exhibition. Positive thinking is very important in Utopia, so I've decided to get one bottle of wine and one (large) bag of crisps for the private view. If no one comes I will feast on the leftovers as I pack to leave the next day.
I wasn’t too happy yesterday. The Academy contacted me to ask for an environmental audit while I’m in Utopia. I have a ridiculous amount of things to do already. Do they realize I have to write every morning, do my Management By Wandering Around, be the visual sociologist, articulate the research data, organize the exhibition and wash my underwear?
I can understand their interest. The Christianites could make a penthouse out of a brown paper bag. The self-build projects prove necessity is the mother of invention. One couple have added a new area to their house every time they have a new baby. DIY is the practical outcome of the self-reliance ethos, and the Green Hall – an old military building – is a DIY paradise for recycled materials.
A lot of the facilities are communal – like washing machines, and a communal bathing house powered through solar panels with a sauna. There are community gardening groups and most produce sold here is organic or fairtrade. They aim to recycle 90% of materials. Cans aren’t sold in Christiania. You pay a deposit on all bottles and people who need a bit of extra cash collect any left around. There’s a free clothes stall where people take what they no longer need for others to find and put to good use.
Everyone rides the customised Christiania bikes – there are no vehicles allowed unless it’s for basic services. At night they don’t have street lighting so that you can see the stars. Luckily the crime rate is very low here. It’s green too, often uncultivated, with more birds and butterflies than I’ve seen for a long time. Nature makes room in Utopia for mosquitoes too. I got another six bites doing the environmental audit.
I have been trying to catch up with my reading. I brought Nicolas Bourriaud’s Postproduction with me, and reading it reminded me that Tirvanija has ‘lots of people’ as one of the ingredients in his gatherings. I may not have one in mine. I continue to look at the key leadership concepts. Quiet leadership interests me as I’ve worked a lot with surround sound. John Cage said there’s always noise – the real skill is in the quality of the listening. There’s a lot in quiet leadership that is about building trust and setting standards, and sometimes quietly bending the rules. My next artwork may be about sustaining a dignified silence.
Or not. The Academy aren’t paying me to do this. This is a labour of love and sometimes it feels unrequited. They could show more of an interest and be more supportive. It shows a lack of respect I think. What matters is that I deliver the goods. I am going to call in sick and go into Copenhagen. The Tivoli Gardens is the other place that Danish pleasure-seekers go to and tonight there is a firework show. I will eat fast food and live the high life.
I have made a new friend. Rosa is a photographer from Chile who did an artist residency here and couldn't leave. She invited me earlier to go with her to Nirvana which is at the end of the road. But I want to be up early to go to breakfast at Woodstock, which is where and when the older Christianites meet to get down to business.
Yesterday I met a Christiania cleaner. He used to be a journalist and photographer and now plays the blues. He'd cancelled his holiday because he was worried about what might happen in the communal toilets if he wasn't there to clean up after people. There can be problems in Utopia if people don't take responsibility for themselves. He does feel appreciated though, which is lucky because he doesn't get paid for it. I think there was an opportunity for a work experience placement with him, but I didn't pursue it.
I need to do some work on analysing and interpreting my data for the Happiness in the Workplace Awards. I'm obviously keen to use the latest theories on social and cultural capital – especially since the World Bank are now on board. The literature on emotional intelligence will be useful too. My biggest concern though is that I stop myself talking about the social fabric as if it's a knitting pattern. Although weave and patchwork are tempting.
I'm hoping to identify some of the emergent themes by Tuesday for the 'private view'. Although like most private views I won't be turning anyone away. That would be wrong. Today I was kindly offered a gallery space for the exhibition, which threw me into confusion. I decided though that the apartment used for the artist in residence would give a better sense of place. I also met a guy today who did a residency here before me. He's well known here and invited people to come every week – but nobody came. That means if I get one person through this door I will have done well. Managing our expectations seems to be a significant issue in happiness.
It was 14 days since she'd last seen Stansted Airport. 14 Days in the Utopian community of Christiania. Fourteen days of trying to work out what makes this place work. Does she know the answers yet? Hell no. Does she think she'll find them? Hell yes.
I've had a difficult time getting hold of particular people I want to talk to – they seem to be away or too busy. Seeking them out has helped me get the lie of the land. It's a huge place. There's an inner city area – downtown Christiania you could say, the suburbs – which is where I'm staying, and the more rural countryside. The architecture, and the level of greenery and water, form a different feeling as you pass through each. I saw white swans.
I've been interested in the Hans Christian Andersen stories. So I'm making a story about The Unhappy Swan as a tribute artist. In the philosophy of science it was quite a problem when a black swan came along. This is the problem of induction. In a past event that collected people's recipes for the good life, one person thought it could be YELLOW. A good sign that the corporate colours work well. I'm still not sure whether to give the story a happy ending or not though.
I have to put out some more balloons soon. First of all I thought the ones I put there were burst. Then I realised they'd been taken. So now I'm feeding the habit, by replacing them each night. Slowly I will start to leave messages written on them to see if I can make a relationship.
I've decided to have an exhibition in my apartment the day before I leave next week. I have to test out how the grapevine works to publicise it. Last night I found some songs on my laptop, like the Beach Boys – Good Vibrations and Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World. I think they will set the mood. Along with Madness – welcome to the House of Fun. The right ambience. To see if art can make any sense at all.