The Embeddedness of Being Robbed

Yesterday, Maria Lind, Director of the Tensta Konsthall gave a public talk at Open School East.

She spoke about the Konsthall's process of 'becoming an institution'. The Tensta Konsthall is already an institution in a few obvious ways: it's a contemporary art centre in a poor suburb of Stockholm that opened in 1998 and gets most of its funding from the Swedish Government. But Maria spoke about the need to become something more like a 'local player'- an institution more like a school, or a sports centre, or a local restaurant - that is woven into the social fabric of the area and has enough stability to make long term planning possible. She said the three things she wanted for the Konsthall were embeddedness, inhabitation (of the local area) and autonomy.

One part of the talk particularly interested me. Maria was speaking about the Tensta Konsthall's café which opened in 2011, when she took over as director. It provides coffee and food at reasonable prices and to enter the exhibition spaces you have to walk through the café . There is a market on the same square as the Konsthall and many of the market traders get their hot drinks from the café   It gives the Konsthall visibility and presence in an area where it might otherwise seem quite alien.

And then she mentioned that since the café had opened, the Konsthall had been robbed twice, and they'd had several attempted break ins. The way she spoke, it sounded like she was talking about the robberies as part of the same process of becoming a "local player". Like, they started the café and only when people started robbing them did they know that the café was doing its job.

This made total sense to me - if the café was well known enough for people to rob it, then it was doing its job of providing the gallery with local visibility. It was kind of an impressive commitment to the idea of being part of a local community: the idea that to be embedded is to be robbed.

The reason you can rob a café is because it has cash and to enter it you just walk in the door. Imagine a commercial gallery in West London. Opaque windows and a buzzer entry system with a single intern on the front desk. Who has cash there? Probably no one. Maybe just the intern actually, when they get sent for coffee.

To even have a café to be robbed is to define yourself in very different terms to the model of the private, commercial gallery.

I spoke to a friend about it and he said someone he knew in New York spoke about being mugged as a rite of passage. It's crass - being mugged is totally shit and traumatic - but it's true in a way. It's only tourists who "worry" about being mugged in New York. A bit like how in London its hard to find someone who worries about getting burgled. You live in a city, it will happen at some point.

Bad things are necessary, not because they are part of a process, or that experiencing them makes you stronger, but because bad things exist. For bad things not to happen to you, you have repress or ignore a certain section of reality. A public institution should be embedded in reality as much as it should be embedded in the community.