The Power of a White Page

Helene Lundbye Petersen Photo by Paul Khera

Helene Lundbye Petersen

Photo by Paul Khera

We believe in the power of art and that artists will play an important role in shaping the politics of the future and providing create solutions for the challenges we face. Check out this recent one on 5 female artist's take on the future as female and this one on some the most amazing work being done in applying arts to social transformation is in prisons.

The journey of one artist Helene Lundbye Petersen's residency at the Danish parliament (courtesy of The Alternative DK) began in March of this year with a blank white page and an invitation for all politicians from the 9 parties to enter an open space, leaving behind dictations and limitations of the system, history and norms, and using this newfound freedom to reevaluate and rediscover what we genuinely want politics to be. Through this experience, Helene hoped the politicians would find what unites them and from there see new opportunities and find common ground for creating new politics.

The following 5 months Helene brought into the space her continuation of the WhitePageProject - a series of 11 hand written books each one titled with a colour to unfold an aspect of our existence. The white book represents the new beginning. The blue book is wisdom, orange is pleasure, red is war and green is love. Yellow represents balance, purple is language and the beige book is on time and space. Brown is nourishment, pink is the private, intimate and the erotic and finally, black is death. 

Her residency culminates today with one final exhibition presenting her experience of unfolding her project behind the thick walls of Christianborg (the Danish parliament building). In that occasion we had the opportunity to ask Helene a couple of questions:

Tell us about your experience as the artist in residence at Christiansborg.

"It has been an extraordinary experience to be an Artist in Residence at the Danish Parliament! At first, everything was closed to me. Even getting into Parliament seemed heavy (until I discovered that the heavy oak doors didn’t need my full body weight to open, but were actually automatic). I found myself feeling like a floating island, that couldn’t find the way to connect to that which was behind all the closed doors and corridors. But once I started unfolding my artwork, I discovered an openness, and now I'm leaving with having entered the most confidential spaces of the entire spectrum of the political parties in the Danish parliament and government. This is what makes it extraordinary, as it is to me an experience of a unity, where we least expect it. At my meetings, I presented them to my 11 coloured books which form the fundamental aspects of existence, and remind us of our complexity, and yet at the same time of the things that unite us all, but are interpreted differently. I gave them all an artwork - A large blank white page dedicated to each of the 9 political parties - reminding them of a free space that would always be there - the space of a beginning.

How was it different than other environments you've worked in?

"I think the political environment is extremely hard. It is a space of working with a level of constant battle and intensity. An ongoing risk, relating to polls and statistics and winning or losing - losing voters, power and influence. It is an environment that too easily creates a sphere of mistrust and scepticism, and these are very hard conditions for a genuine encounter. The way I see it, politics and the political environment merely mirrors society  - so this description could be applied to most working spheres. But because the battle ground is so easily visible here - by belonging to a certain political party, the oppositions and fragmentations are perhaps more outspoken and direct. 

How do you believe art can shape politics?

"I think that my role has been to create a unity, in a space that is free from the partial and heavily parted fragmentation that characterises politics. I think art can offer a space that is about being human, before anything else. And reminding us of this space - of being present in our lives. From the reactions I have gotten from many of the people working here, politicians as well as the administration, they have been moved by its premise and acknowledge how much it has given them. I think it is important to have a language that speaks to the sensitivity, that allows us to be open or fragile, curious, dramatic etc. inspired by the topics of my 11 books, that I have presented to them, it offers and justifies the human experience - not as one defined constant, but rather a unique perspective that interprets for instance battle, love or nourishment. Some of them have even wanted to use this colour spectrum as a tool to navigate in political conversations."

What opportunities has this opened up for you?

"I have just been invited to go to Lisbon during the Web Summit to perform the red book on war and exhibit and lecture on the colour spectrum. Next year spring I will do 6 performances in Greece, one of which will be in the Greek Parliament. 

Looking forward, Helene Lundbye Petersen now wishes to bring her artwork to Parliaments all over the world and continue to inspire politicians to focus on what unites us and ask us all, what we genuinely want life to be.  She is currently looking at coming to London. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date on her artistic adventures.

Watch Helene explain her vision of the WhitePageProject below: