Burn your porche, cut your hair and flee the country

(From the book, The Hornsleth Village Project in Uganda, 2007)

Svante Lindeburg

[Early on in the process Kristian Hornsleth hires a leading Scandinavian PR-agency to create as much media attention around his Uganda project as possible. Hornsleth expects nothing less than a media crisis. And that is what he gets. Massive coverage by everyone from DR (Danish Broadcasting Corporation) to the BBC, to the Sunday Vision in Uganda. Top stories on the news, on the radio, in national newspapers, in lifestyle magazines, art magazines, in the tabloids, letters to the Editor from around the world – and not to mention PR-value for millions of Danish Kroner.
Here PR-representative, Svante Lindeburg describes meeting Kristian Hornsleth for the first time.]

Burn your Porsche, cut your hair and flee the country

My mobile rings, it's Sunday afternoon and I am at home. "Lindeburg speaking", I say and hear a pleasant but clearly excited voice….

"Kristian Hornsleth here – I am an Artist. Hope you don't mind me calling. I have heard that you know a lot about art and PR and that you have excellent connections within CNN. When can we meet? I need your help. I have an idea."

I knew all about Hornsleth's idea. I had heard about it only two days earlier. And what an idea! Ingenious, devilish – the sort of idea that you want to tell your friends about just to see the reaction on their faces. The sort of idea that you're afraid to tell to your mother because you know that she won't approve – but also the kind of idea that is almost begging to get out into the media. It is sensational, it is controversial, it is personal and at the same time it is art – in other words it's great news.

Two hours later, Hornsleth arrives at my apartment with a massive black art book engraved with his characteristic name brand HORNSLETH in his arms. "Thought you might like to read about my art, so that you can get to know me better." Fair enough. I skim through it and stumble upon a couple of naked women with 'Fuck you art lovers' written on their bare skin.

Kristian strikes me as taller than I had imagined and even though there are a few paint stains on his pants, he doesn't look like your average starving artist. On the contrary, Kristian is very well dressed - in a shirt and jacket, his face looks healthy and tanned like he's just been out sailing, his eyes are alive and there is a certain spark in his personality that makes you want to listen to him. Perfect for TV, I think to myself. Intriguing, charismatic – almost seductive.

"It is very simple. I want to get as much media attention as possible. I want to see my face on national TV, I want to see my name in the leading Danish newspapers, I want BBC to call me; get me on CNN and throw in Sweden, Norway, Germany as well while we're at it. Tell me to burn my Porsche and I will do it, tell me to cut my hair and it's off – I will even flee the country if you tell me to. In other words I am all yours. When do we start?"

This project was highly unusual compared to other organisations and companies that I had worked for. Now I had to put everything I knew about crisis management into reverse. Instead of getting a company out of a media crisis, I now had to get Hornsleth into one. Instead of avoiding the crisis - I had to create it. And at the same time I had to make sure that Hornsleth came out alive and stronger than before the campaign.

"For me, the media is part of my art. I therefore need a strong brush to write on the media with – and I want you to be that brush."

As I saw it, the biggest challenge was how to tackle Kristian Hornsleth himself. His eagerness to tell people about the project could possibly kill the story before it ever reached the headlines. Trying too hard to get into the media is a definite turn off for most journalists – so that was a real threat. Also, it was important to show that Kristian Hornsleth was not doing this just to provoke. If the story should live more than a single day, we needed an argument with real depth.

"I believe in free trade. As I see it there should be no boundaries for free trade."

Another key element in a true media crisis is that the debate should be larger than the person who starts it. It would therefore be necessary to identify people who could argue in favour of Hornsleth's project, but it was also equally important to pinpoint some key voices that would be against it. It would be ideal if we could encourage debate in the media and slowly pull Hornsleth into the background.

"I leave for Uganda in a week, why don't you come with me?"

And then there were all the ethical issues. On one shoulder I had Jeremy Bentham representing utilitarianism shouting "Yes, yes – this will give poor people in Africa something they didn't have before" – and on the other shoulder I had Kant mumbling "No – no one can treat a person as a mere means to an end". Then I had the entire art world with Duchamp as lead vocal saying, "Hey - it's just art" but also Shakespeare reminding me exactly how much is in a name.

After Kristian Hornsleth leaves my apartment, I sit down and look through my notes that I had been scribbling down while Kristian's been talking. Then I look through his art book again and make a few phone calls.

Finally, I decide to call Kristian.

"Hi again. I have decided to be your media brush. The first thing your brush tells you, is not to burn your Porsche, not to cut your hair and not to flee the country. We lay low for the next two months and don't give interviews to anyone. We have one chance to make this big, so let's do it right."

Next time I call Kristian Hornsleth, I get his voicemail:

"Kristian von Hornsleth here. Please leave a message after the tone. Regarding Uganda, please call Mr. Lindeburg on 33959697."

Svante Lindeburg, danish communication expert, based in Copenhagen.

This text was first published in the book: The Hornsleth Village Project Uganda, Copenhagen 2007