Economic Sur-realities: My Conversation with Bjøernstjerne Christiansen of SUPERFLEX (via Art21)


Today, my interview with Bjøernstjerne Christiansen, one third of the Danish art trio SUPERFLEX, was published on Art21. I was particularly interested in his thoughts about the latest failures of our global economic system.

Hrag Vartanian: Were you surprised by the recent economic crisis?

Bjøernstjerne Christiansen: No, that’s the nature of economic systems. There is always someone thinking that he or she can develop a perfect system but it never works. Systems are doomed to collapse and restart in other ways and forms. It is interesting for us to examine and challenge the systems; that’s part of our work.

HV: While we are talking about the recent economic crisis in a larger abstract way, there is a very personal side to economics, isn’t there? So I wanted to ask you if the economic crisis has taught you anything about yourself.

BC: Not so much. Because we have always had a playful relationship with the economic system (which I mean in the best way), we have always considered the system very delicate and fragile. And if you create work in our way and the types of artists we are, anticipating ups and downs, we can deal with the modulations. It may be harder for people who are used to a steady life since they may react to change with greater difficulty.


I also got a chance to ask him about one odd aspect of their When the Levees Broke We Bought Our House (2008) which appeared at Prospect.1 and confuses me to no end. Coincidentally, I wrote about it in my review of P.1 for The Brooklyn Rail (Feb 2009):

…Superflex devised a rather complicated project…entitled, When the Levees Broke, We Bought Our House (2008). Friends of theirs had purchased a home in Denmark right after Katrina. At the time, Danish banks had forecast lower housing needs as a result of the Katrina catastrophe and the artists calculated that the average Danish homeowner would have saved $20,000 when financing a mortgage at the time. The scenario, even if true, sounds a little farfetched since the artists don’t offer proof of why any bank would predict lower housing needs due to a hurricane on the other side of the world… Even if their story is fictitious, it exposes a greater truth, that fortunes are invariably reaped from the tragedy of others.

Bjøernstjerne was able to clarify things a bit, though I’d still like to speak to an economist or two about this:

BC: The reason we made that work is so that the person who lives in NOLA and has that experience of his or her own personal economy should learn about the global factors involved. We wanted to highlight how the system is connected. We wanted to show that friends of ours, when they went to the bank, were directly told by the banker that there was a connection. We have been discussing this with banking and financial people and we are told that there are common economic issues involved. It might feel strange for someone outside that sector, but these variables impact other things in amazing ways that aren’t always obvious.

One thing about this project was that it was difficult to explain how to show this impact. We could have shown the financial papers explaining the situation, but we decided on creating a space in front of the photograph on display to give the feeling of volume. A typical house in New Orleans could be built by buying construction material equivalent to the amount the Danish family saved.

In the interview, we also discuss other Superflex projects, including Flooded McDonald’s (2009), Free Beer (2005), Free Shop (2003-8) & a piece the group staged last week in New Zealand, Today We Don’t Use the Word Dollars (2009).

Original Post on Art21: Economic Sur-realities: A Conversation with Bjøernstjerne Christiansen of SUPERFLEX | Art21 Blog.

Image caption:

TOP: Left: photo of SUPERFLEX by Nikolai Howalt (Courtesy the Artists). Right: my Skype conversation with Bjørnstjerne Christiansen.

BOTTOM: SUPERFLEX, “When the Levees Broke We Bought Our House,” 2008. Courtesy the Artists.

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