Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Great American City

AON in Chicago
Originally uploaded by amsterboy
It was somewhat accidental that I ended starting my summer holidays from Chicago last week. KLM offered a cheap deal and we thought it would be an easy way to get across the Atlantic. Before travelling, I did not give the city much thought. I always thought New York, LA, San Francisco and even Washington D.C. would be more interesting. I mean what do you think of when someone mentions Chicago: pan pizza and Al Capone, lately also Barack Obama.

Little did I know that in a day I would fall in love with Chicago. I loved the fact that its urban planning is based on a complete different notion than ours here in Europe. It is OK to make it big. The picture captures the idea well: green meets high.

My new top list for Chicago would be:

1. Millennium Park: Best display of public art I have ever seen. Great pieces which attract the public to touch and have fun. The fountain projecting faces of people of Chicago into it was swarmed by children, especially when the fountain spit high-pressure water out of the mouth of the projected person. The flower garden captured in the picture and the Pavillion by the great Frank Gehry really make it worth visiting. And hey, I don't mind at all that most of the art was paid by Wrigley and Boeing.

2. Bongo Room: the best and biggest pancakes I have ever had with constant refill of coffee in a design resembling a kindergarten. Friendly service just on Wabash (1152 S Wabash Av).

3. Sky scrapers: Chicago knows how to make it impressive whether it is Xerox, Sears, AON (see pic) or parking lots in the shape of corn cobs. It was rather funny that yesterday we went to see the fantastic new Batman film Dark Knight only to realise that it was filmed in downtown Chicago.

4. Oprah: I mean come on. In the hotel room our every morning started with her, filmed just around the corner. Somehow Oprah is like the beacon of what Chicago is about in its optimism, upbeat and freshness.

Yesterday Chicago, today chaotic but hope-driven Los Angeles and tomorrow blitz of Las Vegas. I love America.

Friday, July 25, 2008

I Talk With You

Originally uploaded by amsterboy
Having spent three days in the sunny Pyrenees talking about the importance of intercultural dialogue, I felt like my political scientist identity was raising its (ugly) head. I felt like we should more often go back to the basics of politics when talking about intercultural dialogue. With this I mean things like:

1. POWER: Who needs intercultural dialogue? Is it the immigrant, the scared native, both or is it a smokescreen for the bigger streams in contemporary politics?
We should remember that all relationships in the society are loaded with power and influence. For instance we can look at the phrase mentioned often around intercultural dialogue: tolerance. Even if people using the phrase often mean well, we should keep in mind that tolerance is a power structure where one party decides to tolerate the other and can on any given moment opt out of it.

2. MONEY: Who benefits financially from intercultural dialogue? What is the economic justification for it? Is intercultural dialogue about using all the talent in the labour market or about harvesting the savings of immigrants into local banks?

3. GENDER: Very often it seems like the only position left for immigrant women in intercultural dialogue is the one of a helpless victim waiting for the white (male) saviour.

4. POLITICS: A truly political intercultural dialogue requires a problem to be solved, different view points and a decision-making process. In order for people to join and get excited, they need to be able to link it to their daily realities. Too often intercultural dialogue is presented as a non-frictious process, which turns it easily into a non-term and it ends up being castrated from all of its political sides. No sane person would be against intercultural dialogue as a notion. If politics is seen as turning people’s individual concerns to the agenda of our society, intercultural dialogue by definition should be political and frictious.

5. COMMUNITY: Community is one of the buzz words of today’s politics. One often hears terms such as Muslim community, Turkish community, gay community or the black community without proper critique whether these groups see themselves as communities, whether they have legitimately elected representatives and whether politics or dialogue can be based on these groups in a world of fluid, plural identity. This leads me well to my favourite notion.

6. INDIVIDUAL: The phrase itself – intercultural dialogue – is paradoxical as cultures cannot talk to each other. Dialogue is a process between people. Intercultural dialogue should start more often from an individual and the individual’s self-definition, not from static notions such as a community or culture. I cannot know how someone’s identity is structured but most of us are able to explain our own position.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

All Together Now, People

Even in secondary school I was a fan of the United Nations. It somehow got me all excited with the idealism and with its bold mission to make the world a better place. As I proceeded to my university studies, I was encountered with the critical takes on the global structure and its inefficiency in several areas.

I remember a while back a friend of mine whose father is a UN Special Envoy telling about the difficulties in the field operations on living up to the ideals. It did not come as a surprise to me that a recent study showed serious misconduct from many peace keepers. In several target countries peace keepers are active clients of illegal prostitutes, often underaged. Anyone who has worked for multinational structures - whether corporate or non-profit - knows how difficult it is to carry the values all through the organisation.

I always admired Kofi Annan as the voice of humanity as the Secretary-General and have been rather disappointed by the invisibility of Ban Ki Moon in the same job. Annan was not able to push through reforms in the governance of the EU despite a lot of good will but he gave a face to the UN values.

In the course of the last weeks the global justice system has taken again taken again serious blows when China and Russia vetoed sanctions on Zimbabwe and therefore consciously continued suffering of the Zimbabwean people in steep inflation, undemocratic rule and poverty.

It is difficult to make one´s mind around the UN. Personally I feel that EU should be downsized in the Security Council to one seat and that Africa and South America need their seats as permanent members. UN needs to correspond better to the population division on our planet. But at the same time I am confident that Europeans are not willing to give in their power for the global good. In a way I would like to believe in reforming the UN. But its inefficiency to act on Sudan and just basic power politics create cracks in this belief.

I don´t see the UN as a advocacy organisation for Western values per se. I however believe that there are universal rights that we as the global society need to protect. These are right to life, food, education and freedom - the freedom to join and leave groups without a risk to your family and to yourself.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Just Different

Is defining yourself as different a legitimate position to take? And more so, is this a position a museum should be taking when curating an exhibition? This was the debate we ended into yesterday after visiting Cobra Museum´s exhibition Just Different on sexual minorities in visual arts.

The international exhibition looks at the representation of sexual minorities through more and less known artists, often themselves gay or lesbian. The exhibition varies from contributions by world renowned artists like Wolfgang Tillmans or Gilbert & George and to less known artists such as Karol Radziszewski (see pic) whose clever work on radical fag fighters attacking straight people wearing pink hoods knitted by Radziszweski's grandmother was one of the highlights of the exhibition.

All and all, I left the exhibition rather disappointed. The representation of sexual minorities was overly sex- and male-driven with even female artists reflecting their relationship on the penis. When it comes to the subject of penis, in this exhibition one saw it in all shape and form from graphic drawings to knitted hoods. Somehow easy, I would say. Or maybe I have just visited too many contemporary art museums.

But back to the debate. I found it bold that the exhibition in its works did not play on the notions of respect or tolerance but started more from self-representation and self-definition. I do understand that advocacy organisations wish to push forward the diversity agenda (all different but equal) but the arts needs to have to right to take also other stands (different by choice). I would have just wanted to see more works like Radziszewski, which step into more unexplored areas of sexuality and tackle relationship to the dominant forces from a fresh angle.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Originally uploaded by amsterboy
The last few days have been weird at the office. We are more or less drowned in pillows, flowers and signs that were bought or produced for the festival. We have constantly people popping their head into the StrangerRoom and asking how we feel, are we tired and what now. The answer is more or less the same to all of those: uhm...

Having focused on an event for a year and now having it behind my back feels weird and empty. Suddenly - like cut with a knife - the rush is gone. Our interns are ending their time with us this week which makes my eyes water. I had difficulties delivering my speech to them at the farewell reception on Tuesday. After working with a team of six, we will once again go back to two or three. It does not feel nice.

The festival was a surreal experience. It was bigger than I could have imagined, I met tons of great people and witnessed what we have been preaching: intercultural dialogue in action, not merely in words. Being in the centre of the tornado made it difficult to see clearly what happened. Suddenly it was just over.

The great thing was that one of my best friends and my partner were here for the event. Through their eyes I was actually able to see clearer what was going on. They met new people, had great parties, danced on the podium and were moved by the videos.

I do feel guilty that I was able to spend so little time with both of them. But having them seeing it, recognising its size and impact and sharing the great moments with me is just amazing. That is true companionship, friendship and love. The fact that they took the time to see the biggest thing I have ever produced really makes me choke up from emotion. They really made the event light up for me. Thank you both.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Strangers Are Here

1,5 years of work and here we are. StrangerFestival started today. All these people we have been communicating with by email and phone for ages are here with many young people who are scared, overwhelmed, excited and curious. We visited the location today and the entire team went silent: this is why we have worked so hard - to create an event that is beautiful, meaningful and fun.

Today my telephone has been ringing with questions on DVD formats, bus tickets, hotel and hostels and what have you. I have shaken many hands and had many 2-3-minute discussions. The great thing is that even if people are critical, they are grateful and enthusiastic and they appreciate the effort we make to make this a joint success.

It's a bit confusing the entire feeling- it is so much at the same time that it takes a moment to suck it in. I just came home for an hour to relax, change and get ready for the evening. Fun, fun, fun!