Posted by: Stenros | June 1, 2009

Illegal Psychotic Pervasive Art

odellAnna Odell, a Swedish art student, is being charged with violent resistance, dishonest conduct and raising a false alarm after faking a suicide attempt and a psychotic breakdown as part of her student art project. The Local reports:

Odell’s alleged crimes took place on January 21st of this year when she was apprehended by police on Stockholm’s Liljeholm bridge following what looked like an attempt to commit suicide.

She was then taken to the psychiatric ward at St. Göran’s Hospital for treatment, only revealing the following day that the whole episode had been faked as a part of her final art exam at Konstfack.

The incident gained wide attention, with Odell and the school being heavily criticized by leading politicians and doctors from St. Göran’s Hospital.

The last part is an understatement. Though the discussion has not been visible outside the Swedish language media, it seems that Odell sparked the second largest cultural debate in Sweden this year (The Pirate Bay Trial is the undisputed king). The Local continues:

Earlier this week, Odell’s final exam opened at the school under the title “Okänd, kvinna 2009-349701” (‘Unidentified woman 2009-349701’), which portrays in three parts the time before, during, and after her simulated psychotic break on the bridge.

“Closed psychiatric care is the most dictatorial part of society we have, through which a patient can have all their rights taken from them. [And] it certainly needs to be, as I have also been helped by it myself. But there also needs to be control; patients are sometimes not believed,” Odell told TT in connection with the exhibition’s opening.

In a nutshell: Odell was fiercly criticised – and now charged – for lying and wasting the time of trained professionals. This case is frightenigly familiar. I have seen this exact same discussion before, but that was a few years ago on a Finnish larp discussion forum. The question, inspired by the game Prosopopeia, back then was framed as: Is it okay to go to a church as your character and waste a priest’s time by offering a (fake) confession? (To be honest I think that question is a bit more nuached than the “Is it okay to waste doctors’ time”, but let’s not get tangled up in details.)

Pervasive larps do this kind of things all the time. We certainly did it in Momentum, where a demonstartion was staged as part of the game and the police showed up to oversee it. The demonstration was real to anyone who witnessed it, but most of the people who participated in it were characters in a game. Most of the players might have participated in a similar demonstration even without a game (or at least wouldn’t really have objected to it). Were we wasting the police resources? And if we were is that just the price of a free society?

We don’t really have a clear cut answer to this dilemma. Different communities have different standards and legistation varies.  Also, each case should be considered individually as there are so many variables: For example if it is not okay to waste the time of a doctor, does that mean that the same applies to priests, police officers, librarians and people working at a hotel reception? In the chapter on ethics in the upcoming book we discuss the moving parts of the ethical equation so that the game designer is able to make an informed design choice.

(A) Blair Witch Project , (B) graffiti movement, (C) Dance Dance Revolution , (D) zombie walks , (E) competitive skateboarding , and (F) Big Brother .

(A) Blair Witch Project , (B) graffiti movement, (C) Dance Dance Revolution , (D) zombie walks , (E) competitive skateboarding , and (F) Big Brother .

It seems that these kinds of questions pop up more and more nowadays. Of course, it could be that I am just more prone to noticing these issues as I am convinced that they are such an important part of the cultural shift that ties also into pervasive games. All three student art works that we have reported on (Odell’s Kvinna, okänd, Endersten’s Rape Me and Kela’s Alter Ego) fit very nicely in our little triangle, somewhere between A, D and F.


  1. Well, on a purely practical level, there’s a huge difference between taking up a doctor’s time and taking up a priest’s time, since the time a healthy person takes up is often taken directly from limited resources available to people who are actually — and possibly seriously — ill. When it comes to emergency psychiatric care, the resources are always lacking and the patients tend to be in a very bad shape, and messing with a system that is, by its very nature, already overloaded strikes me as a kind of a dumb thing to do. Wasting a priest’s time, by comparison, doesn’t have a comparable effect. (Which is not to say that other ethical concerns wouldn’t come into play there, but that’s another story.)

    Also, doctors are actually useful, whereas priests are, well, priests, so what the hell. I mean, their imaginary friend, my imaginary personality — if they get to tell us fairy tales to us, I don’t see a major problem with returning the favor. But then, I’m an asshole.

  2. And this is the reason I though that the question about wasting a priest’s time is more nuanced.

    That said, it seems, unless my swedish is even worse than I think it is, that Odell’s stunt has generated actual discussion about the care of people with psychological problems. Not nearly as much about as it has about the horror of state funded art schools, but still. Of course, saying that such stunts are okay if they are motivated by a want to stimulate societal discussion would also be objectionable in many ethical frameworks. But the logic behind it would be similar to that behind civic disobedience (at least if Odell is willing to spend some time in jail for her art).

  3. […] for Walraffing? Jaakko previously blogged about the trial against Anna Odell, the art student who staged a fake psychosis on a bridge. The sentence was announced yesterday. […]

  4. […] films (I, II, III, IV) have always been popular, as have our commentaries of ongoing controversies (Anna Odell, Invoke, Conspiracy for Good). The ones I’m particularly happy made the top ten are my […]

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