By JACK EWING
September 16, 2010
FRANKFURT When stocks go up, most people agree, that is good. But
what if the whole Frankfurt stock exchange parted company with Mother
Earth, hovering like a U.F.O. above the adjacent plaza and causing
patrons at the Starbucks across the street to spill their lattes?
To the Swedish artist Annika Lundgren, the idea is no more
preposterous than what goes on in financial circles.
"For us, not being part of the Börse world, it seems like a weird
ritual," Ms. Lundgren said of the stock exchange, which she will
attempt to levitate on Tuesday with the help of kinetic energy
collected from supporters on the Internet. "I don't see the ambition
to levitate the building as less absurd than what is going on inside
"The Stock Is Rising," as Ms. Lundgren calls the project, is part of
a series of public art events organized by the Schirn Kunsthalle, a
leading Frankfurt gallery and art center. As it happens, one of the
Schirn's main corporate sponsors is Deutsche Börse, the company that
operates the exchange.
A spokeswoman for Deutsche Börse, who had not heard about the plans
to detach the building from the underlying real estate, said the
company would not comment.
Ms. Lundgren, 45, is drawing her inspiration from another famous
attempted levitation. In 1967 a group of protesters led by Abbie
Hoffman, founder of the Yippie party, surrounded the Pentagon in
Washington and tried to make it rise in the air, spin around and turn orange.
The radical antiwar leader and his band, which included the Beat poet
Allen Ginsberg, did not achieve their aim of elevating the nerve
center of the U.S. military.
But Mr. Hoffman, who died in 1989, did create an enduring legend. "I
found it to be such a fantastic combination of poetry and politics,"
Ms. Lundgren said. Mr. Hoffman would probably approve of her project.
He once scattered dollar bills on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Ms. Lundgren, who lives in Berlin, actually laid eyes on the
Frankfurt exchange building for the first time on Sept. 9, a day
after attending the opening at the Schirn of "Playing the City 2," as
the series of public art projects is called.
The building, a modern structure which preserves its original
pillared façade, was smaller than she expected, a plus for the
"It felt strangely do-able," Ms. Lundgren said as she sipped a latte
and puffed on a cigarette at the Starbucks nearby. "I was thinking
that the building is not that big. How hard can it be?"
Unlike the 1967 attempted Pentagon levitation, part of a protest
against the war in Vietnam, Ms. Lundgren says that her attempt to
make the stock exchange hover is not confrontational. "This is not an
aggressive protest in any way. It's going to be very quiet and
focused," she said. "It can be interpreted as giving them a hand,
getting rid of evil spirits."
Indeed, Ms. Lundgren wants the event to be meditative, in contrast to
the frantic pace of exchange trading. She plans to display a tally of
how many people participate via the project Web site,
www.stockisrising.com. But she will use an old-fashioned manual
scoreboard, the kind once found at sporting events, in deliberate
contrast to the deluge of electronic trading data.
Already, visitors can make a donation of kinetic energy by clicking
on a circle on the Web site and holding down the mouse button. A
graph tracks "accumulated levitation units" alongside the German
blue-chip DAX Index. The levitation index, in fact, was recently
outperforming the DAX.
Although not trying to provoke a standoff between traders and
levitators, Ms. Lundgren said she intended to make a political
statement. The event is a way of channeling the helplessness ordinary
people feel at being at the mercy of the finance world. It is also a
comment on the financial instruments that caused the global crisis,
some of which strike her as fictions with no more substance than the
incantations of levitators.
"There is a big need for us to do something because we feel
powerless," she said.
The project is part of a series of public actions staged by the
Schirn which began Sept. 8 and will conclude on Sept. 26. Other
artists are planning subway singalongs, or trying to get passersby to
spontaneously fill-in missing dialogue from a play recited by an
actor standing outside a Frankfurt theater. And the Russian artist
Leonid Tishkov has constructed a two-meter, or 6.5-foot, replica of
the Moon, which lights up and which people can borrow. He is mapping
where the Moon spends the night.
Ms. Lundgren's project is probably the most overtly topical. "I
hadn't asked her to do something special for Frankfurt," said
Matthias Ulrich, the Schirn curator who oversees Playing the City.
"But after a few days she came back with this slightly absurd idea.
The public, the community, the Web a lot of elements come together
that I liked a lot." Ms. Lundgren is still working out how to stage
the event, but she said she hopes for a good turnout and has been
sending e-mails to potential supporters and handing out pamphlets.
A certain crowd is guaranteed. The exchange building is centrally
located, next to a busy pedestrian shopping street and amid numerous cafes.
The chances that the action will interfere with trading are slim,
even if the building does rise a few meters. Although some floor
trading continues in the exchange building, the overwhelming majority
of transactions take place on electronic platforms in servers a good
distance away. The corporate headquarters of Deutsche Börse is in a
nondescript office park outside the city center.
Ms. Lundgren's work has often examined what she calls the relocation
of power. Her "Power and Illumination Project" has hooked generators
to exercise bikes in fitness centers in cities such as Utrecht, in
the Netherlands, and Berlin. The electricity is used to illuminate
exhibits on energy, the idea being to convert physical energy to knowledge.
She has also engaged the financial world before, once using the
format of a corporate presentation to spin a tale of a stock broker
trying to deal with his role in the system.
To the inevitable question Does she really think she can make the
stock exchange lift off? Ms. Lundgren replied, "It's about faith
"There are still people who swear they saw the Pentagon hover in
1967," she said. "We'll see how it goes."