Et fixerum som kunstprojekt

I 2002 var fandtes der ikke lovlige fixerum i Danmark. Kunstneren Kenneth A. Balfelt satte gang i den danske debat om fixerum, da han indrettede et fixerum på bunkeren populært kaldet Nålepuden på det nyrenoverede Halmtorv i København. Fixerummet var et kunstprojekt, hvor Kenneth havde involveret fagfolk for at kunne indrette rummet optimalt og kende argumenter for og imod fixerum.

Efter at jeg havde skrevet en artikel i Politiken om renoveringen af Mændenes Hjem i Politiken i 2004, kontaktede Kenneth mig for at skrive tre kapitler i en kunstbog, der analyserede hans arbejde arbejde med social kunst. Min opgave var at interviewe deltagere og fagfolk om oplevelser og vurdering af kunstprojekterne i fixerummet, på Mændenes Hjem og i Hjemløsehuset.

Art ad Social PracticeTil kapitlet om fixerummet interviewede jeg sygeplejerskerne Charlotte Fich og Nina Brünés, der var vant til at arbejde med målgruppen af stofbrugere. Jørgen Kjær var talsperson for Brugerforeningen, der er en organisation for stofbrugere. Preben Brandt var tidligere talsperson for Narkotikarådet og daværende talsperson for Rådet for Socialt Udsatte. Politikeren Sophie Hæstorp Andersen var dengang medlem af Folketinget for Socialdemokraterne.

Nu er bogen endelig udkommet, og du kan købe den som ebog. Her er en smagsprøve fra bogen “Art as Social Practice – A Critical Investigation of Works by Kenneth A. Balfelt“. Bogen er på engelsk.

An injection room is a room where drug addicts can take their drugs. Basically, this is as much as Kenneth A. Balfeft knew on the subject when he decided to create an injection room himself. he has followed the debate and taken into account the opinions of experts and specialists. he believes that injection rooms are reasonable solutions to the health and societal challenges which drug abusers present. But despite the persuasive arguments from experts and positive experiences with injection rooms in other countries, the injection room was, and were until 2012 illegal and is still a controversial political issue.

– In making an injection room, my aim is to enable a multi-faceted debate on injection rooms. The debate on injection rooms had gone on for a long time. There had been statements from experts, Narkotikarådet (Narcotics Council) and various ministries, but the debate had been exclusively in the spoken and written language. I wanted to bring a visual contribution to the debate, says Kenneth A. Balfelt.

Protection Room – Injection Room for Drug Users was Kenneth A. Balfelt’s contribution to the Contemplation Room exhibition, which dealt with how one can use the public space. As a resident in the Vesterbro quarter of Copenhagen, which for decades has been a meeting place for drug addicts, Kenneth A. Balfelt has been witness to the everyday life of drug abusers. He has seen that life as a drug addict is both difficult and damaging to one’s health – to a larger extent than it ought to be. Therefore he decided to make an injection room.

As his knowledge of injection rooms was limited, he jumped head first into a three month long research process. Aside from written material he contacted a number of people active within the field, who had knowledge and opinions on the problem. Those whom he contacted urged him to use the project so they could get their own viewpoints across.

– As an artist I have the fundamental principle that I come up with an initiative and explain which direction I would like it to go in. Those I work together with can contribute their thoughts and in this way we get a  common platform to work from. In my experience the project improves when I am open to ideas from other people, says Kenneth A. Balfelt.

Halmtorvet on Vesterbro has throughout many years been a place  that respectable citizens avoided. But the area has been renovated.  And the authorities have done what they can to keep the original inhab- itants and their stoned existences away from the central square, in order to make it attractive for the area’s new inhabitants and the guests in the  fashionable cafés.

Nålepuden (The Pincushion) was a little hillock on Halmtorvet, situated beside a roundabout and formerly an air-raid shelter. On top of the mound one could have previously met some of the traditional stoned inhabitants from the area – namely drug addicts who sat there to get their fix. For Kennneth A. Balfelt it was a paradox that there was a shelter, but the people, who really were in need of it, had to sit on the street to get their fix. It was in this way he found out where to place the injection room.

Thereafter the task was to find out how an injection room should be furnished. During his research Kenneth A. Balfelt experienced that the physical surrounding in the existing injection rooms abroad did not show respect for the people who used them. And it made him decide to come up with his own attempt at designing an injection room.

– The general attitude seemed to be that if one offers social counsel- ling then it doesn’t matter if the rooms are unattractive. It made it clear to me that I also wanted to work with the stigmatisation and exclusion that goes on at the design level, says Kenneth A. Balfelt.

But quite quickly it also came to focus on human prejudices. Even though Kenneth A. Balfelt felt that he was open and non-judgemental, he realised that he also had prejudices. Deep inside he assumed that drug addicts were a little dumb and that in reality they had put themselves in the situation they had ended up in. He realised these prejudices during a visit to an outpatient department, where the head of the department treat- ed its visitors in exactly the same way as he treated any other people.

– Afterwards, when I interviewed an addict, I could hear a voice inside me that said – “what he says sounds stupid. What use can I possibly make of that?” I realised that I was prejudiced. I was able to put it aside, since I had become aware of it. For the first time I began to listen, and since then I have become more aware of the various nuances of these people I have met. I can see that they are just as different as any other person I meet and can contribute with just as much or just as little. It has been important for me in a humane sense to acknowledge this, says Kenneth A. Balfelt.

Even the physical furnishing of the room should be functional and reflect the value of the users. Kenneth A. Balfelt quickly realised that an injection room was not just a room with a particular furnishing. In order for an  injection room to function in this manner, there needs to be nurses. – From the start I had not considered whether or not there should be nurses in the injection room. It was only after I realised what an injection room really was that I considered this. An injection room is a nurse – that is the core of an injection room, Kenneth A. Balfelt underlines.

The project got engaged people involved, financial backing, moral support and practical help from around 30 persons and organisations. Amongst others, an architect student, a journalist, residents of the area,  a film documentarist and several local companies made contributions.

In this text you can meet some of the people who got involved in the project. The nurses Charlotte Fich and Nina Brünés work with drug addicts in an outpatient department and as a street nurse,  respectively. Jørgen Kjær is spokesman for Brugerforeningen, which is the union for active drug users. Preben Brandt is a qualified psy- chiatrist, former spokesman for Narkotikarådet (The Narcotics Council) and  current spokes- man for Rådet for Socialt Udsatte (The Council for Socially Marginalised People). Politician Sophie Hæstorp Andersen, the then  parliamentary member for Socialdemokratiet (The Social Democrats).

Charlotte Fich – nurse in the outpatient department “Stæren” for addicts: The project showed that there is room for both a subcukture and trendy cafés.

When drug addicts appear in art it is normally because the artists want to exhibit a hideous and cruel reality. Therefore, the nurse Charlotte Fich was surprised when Kenneth A. Balfelt approached her. His aim was to create a piece of art which took the addicts’ own subculture as its starting point, as well as their expression. He wanted to create an injection room where drug addicts could get their fix. Charlotte Fich has worked for the same goal for many years.

– Kenneth wanted to show that the injection room is more than just being practical and hygienic. It is an artistic assignment and a challenge to create a beautiful piece of city furniture, says Charlotte Fich and adds:

– He made an underground cave,  in order for the addicts to feel good. A model of an injection room in  actual size was like a gift. It gave  specialists an example from which to begin their discussions, and it could wipe out the myth that injection rooms should be sad and ugly.

– To have an injection room made, as I had myself wished for over many years, and on top of that to have it made by an artist, transforms it from a piece of bread, necessary from a health perspective, into a cream cake, she says.

When Kenneth A. Balfelt contacted her, Charlotte Fich had some mis- givings, but she knew that she had to participate. She used to work as a street nurse, and here in this country she is the one of the leading figures with insight into ‘fixing up’. She is known as an outspoken advocate of injection rooms, and as she is employed by Copenhagen local author- ity this has, over the years, given her a few political bruises. Therefore she asked her manager in the Familie– og Arbejdsmarkedsforvaltningen (Family and Labour Market Administration) for permission to participate and she got his approval.

Firstly, Kenneth A. Balfelt told her what she already knew about  getting a fix. And because it was related with artwork, Charlotte Fich felt free to come up with all sorts of thoughts and ideas.

– One could give one’s imagination a free rein, because an artist has a much broader framework and freedom to move in than an architect, for example. If an architect had asked for my advice, we would probably arrive at a very hygienic and precise injection room, says Charlotte Fich.

But even though the injection room was an art project it was, after all, more than a picture one went in and looked at. It also needed to function in practice.

– I could see that he had considered the height and weight neces- sary for the interior. If you need a fix in the neck, if you need to inject in the groin, then you need to have this much space. The room must have a certain openness, so you can be found if you are about to die of an overdose. And in order for it to not be a total exhibition of humiliating situ- ations for the individuals, it needs this kind of privacy. I saw those consid- erations in the finished product, so therefore he must have listened to our words, says Charlotte Fich.

When the injection room opened she was one of the nurses who was on duty. She remembers especially the white smocks the nurses wore.

– At the bottom of the sleeve was written stay with me (BLIV HOS MIG), and when one folded the edge of the sleeve up it read life with me (LIV HOS MIG). It was discreet and spoke volumes for what went on in an injection room with nurses, tells Charlotte Fich.

People attempt to close their eyes to the fact that there are drug ad- dicts who inject themselves. In this way they believe that they can be free from relating to reality and taking a position on it. If it were up to Charlotte Fich, the bunker would have had a sign with injection room written in pink neon over the entrance. A sign that could show that an activity takes place here, just as other signs tell us that here is a library, a hairdresser and a chemist.

She is against the tendency to cover up subcultures and hide them away, so they don’t bother others. This position became ex- tremely clear for her after she participated in the injection room project. She used to imagine an injection room on a bus or discreetly placed on a side street. Now she is of the opinion that it was appropriate that the injection room was placed on the newly renovated Halmtorvet.

– We can easily have several dimensions together. One of the trend- iest places in the city with cafés in steel and glass and in between them there was a bunker containing an injection room. It was perfect. Each culture has its own physical expression. Those from the subculture have a right to be, just like all the others. I learned from this project that it’s possible for these things to be placed side by side, says Charlotte Fich.

The placing in a bunker was meant to underline that this is a sub- culture. But when the subculture has its own style and its own place, it signals that it is there on an equal footing with other forms of culture.

– There is something symbolic in the fact that it is a bunker. It means that we go underground, we hide ourselves a little, but we also come up again. We are a subculture, and we play on it without being ashamed, says Charlotte Fich.

She believes that it is important that the culture becomes more visible in this way. Just the fact that we begin to talk about drug abuse can ease the burden for those who are injecting themselves, for example. At this present moment in time they see themselves as bad citizens, and they feel that everything they do is wrong. Charlotte Fich underlines that drug addicts are also sweet and helpful people and she wishes that both the population and the drug users themselves recognise that just because they take drugs does not mean they are hopeless at everything else.  Our acceptance of their lifestyle is a condition for them to be able to  hold their heads high as proud people.

Before, during and after the injection room project, Charlotte Fich con- templated how a subculture could be integrated in society. The project itself gave her the possibility of experiencing an injection room that gave her new arguments and a belief in a broader cooperation.

– How can we use each other to uplift society? If we put our energies together there may well be some problems that stand out clearer, rather than being blurred, she points out.