War in times of peace



I took this photo on a peaceful and gentrified central part of Stockholm, by the City Hall, therefore not in a country at war. The Scandinavian habits are usually far from violent, and therefore this object might be perceived as an eccentric work of art – an object acquires its meaning in a certain context, within the structure of its environment.

In John Searle’s book, The construction of Social Reality (1995), a distinction is drawn between a cause and a function. The physical world as described by the objective sciences is a world of causes (I tend to disagree, however, on Searle’s belief that physico-mathematical truths are completely independent from a human convention). The institutional world is a world of assigned functions, of imposed uses. There is, Searle says, a collective intentionality that is not reducible to a sum of individual intentions. This collective we sets rules and functions that consolidate social realities.

An object’s meaning is given by the social structure it belongs to, and that structure relies on a mutual agreement, based on a language representation, as Searle insists, but also on group hierarchies and power relations. Most of the time, we do not question realities because they are part of a repetitive ritual or because we think we do not have the power to change them. The more a social reality is mentally and physically comfortable for a dominant group (or a majority), the more it is likely to be adopted or imposed, and last.

When a burned old shopping trolley appears where it is not expected, we are surprised, charmed or annoyed. Since this was not part of an art exhibition, and Stockholm’s center is a hyper-protected social zone, no mainstream convention prepared me for that encounter. By publishing now this picture here, I allow you to create its meaning. And perhaps we will collectively agree on the truth of this manifestation.