We recently lost a fine artist and a dear friend, Lone Høyer Hansen (1950-2021). Lone was a sculptress and professor at the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen, Denmark. It turns out that precisely today—September 11, 2021—eleven days after Lone’s funeral and on the 20th anniversary of the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, three of Lone’s sculptures are to be exhibited at Grønningen 2021 (Den Frie Udstilling’s building, Oslo Plads in Copenhagen). The vernissage is today, but the exhibit will last until October 10.
It was just today as I was told about the exhibition that I made the rapprochement between Lone, her art, and 9/11, but it goes back a long ways. What follows is not about Lone’s art as such. You’ll find more about that on several websites (Lone Høyer Hansen (lonehoyerhansen.dk) | Lone Høyer Hansen – Wikipedia | Lone Høyer Hansen | lex.dk – Den Store Danske) and you can see her works in different museums around the world. You’re also welcome to check out—but that’s in Danish only—the interplay between Lone’s art and my analysis on my website at LHHs “To på” | tutti-nove.
In the late Fall of 2001, I had invited a small number of friends over for dinner. I especially remember a long and much animated discussion about the then—by the United States and its closest allies (including Denmark)—newly declared war on terror. Two of us were particularly vocal, probably because of our deep ties to the United States: Lone’s husband Dan Marmorstein and myself. No bones were made about the intent to degrade the offensive capabilities of terror networks. The problem was the idea of nation-building.
Nation-building has a long history. You can build a nation by wiping out the indigenous population. Some famous, recent examples—in the context of millennia—are most of the countries on the American continents, and Australia. Yet it’s certainly happened numerous other times in history before that. Another method is to wipe out swaths of your own population, as we have seen in Russia/Soviet Union and China. As we saw with communism in the 20th century, you can also go for world revolution. That didn’t go so well, so the leftist revolutionaries backtracked and went for one country at a time, which today also seems to be the method favored by a lot of people on the extreme right.
In 2001, the United States wanted to try something different: infuse (solidly backed by the military) in a foreign, Muslim culture the values of (to some extent) free and democratic Western societies. Why not? After all, most cultures and countries who think they’ve found the ideal or even just the best workable arrangement for human societies are prone to want to export their solution to others. Here the US is not alone (look around).
All the more reason to be aware that the task is a daunting one. On that count, the United States were very badly prepared (as are most other cultures). You’d think the US had learned nothing from the defeat in Vietnam. No, the mindset at the highest levels of American power was even more self-confident than after the triumph of World War II, with a lot less reason to be. And yet, leaders were crazy enough to entertain the idea that “we’re an empire now, we make our own reality, we act and everybody else is left to reflect on our actions.” In my field, that is called crazy. That’s not how reality works. If you want nation-building to work, at home and abroad, better start learning how to listen to yourself and others.
In that respect, Lone had a wonderful installation years ago called “A Four Letter Word.” Street-level, many will think “fuck.” Many will also think “love.” Yet, there’s another four letter word you can’t avoid dealing with if you’re serious about nation-building: “hate.”