Because it’s there

The first 10 to 15 years of Jeppe Hein’s artistic career are reminiscent of a mountaineer’s struggle on Mount Everest. The climb to the top of the world’s highest mountain is shrouded in awe, daring and faltering resolve.

When the British mountain climber George Mallory was asked in the 1920s why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he responded brusquely: “Because it’s there.” In that answer lies an all-too-human impulse, namely the impulse to seek the difficult and overcome the dangerous, apparently without any other ambition than to test your limits.

Naturally, it wasn’t Mount Everest that Jeppe tried—and is still trying—to conquer. It was an artistic career that knocked him out in the first round. He lived without compromise, without any deeper contact with himself.

His sense of direction wasn’t yet well-developed. His anchoring in the now hadn’t been established …

From the book When life blooms: Breathe with Jeppe Hein, in which Finn Janning describes the philosophical and spiritual development of the artist and social entrepreneur Jeppe Hein.

Read the rest of the excerpt here.

When life blooms

I’m pleased to announce that my new book, When life blooms – Breathe with Jeppe Hein will be released November 28th.

The publisher writes about the book:

“Danish artist Jeppe Hein soared to the top of the international art scene before the age of 35. His works were showcased at the world’s finest exhibitions and sold for sky-high prices. Then suddenly his body said stop. In 2009 Hein went down with stress.

In this book philosopher Finn Janning follows Jeppe Hein’s development from the tome immediately after his diagnosis with burn out and onward – a period where Hein underwent psychoanalysis and developed and interest in yoga, breathing exercises and spirituality.

Janning shows how spirituality has become more present in Hein’s works, and in the book, he develops an existential philosophy in continuation of the artists spirituality and art.”

I may add:

Although I was commissioned to write this book, I aimed at turning it into a philosophical biography that describes the life of the artist Jeppe Hein. In doing so, I’ve tried to exemplify Gilles Deleuze’s idea that “life is not personal,” that is to say, each life is a case study.

I choose this approach as a way of addressing the narcissism of the artist without making the narrative confronting, or in anyway judgmental.

Instead, I illustrate how Jeppe is formed by the major cultural trends during the last 40 years, such as the growing accelerating and spirituality and social entrepreneurship. He is an artist of his time.

It’s a book that tests and nuances the popularity of today’s spirituality through a philosophical, primarily existential lens.




Whenlife blooms_cover

When life blooms

Get your copy – either Danish or English version.


Når livet blomstrer

Den 28. november udkommer min nye bog, Når livet blomstrer – Breathe with Jeppe Hein.

Selvom der er tale om en bestillingsopgave har jeg forsøgt, at skrive bogen i forlængelse af den franske filosofs Gilles Deleuzes ide om, at “livet ikke er personligt.” Snarere er livet et casestudie, der kan rumme varierende grader af eksemplariske fortællinger.

Denne tilgang valgte jeg af flere grunde.

For det første, som en kærlig måde at konfrontere Jeppe Heins narcissisme på, uden at dømme denne. For det andet, tænkte jeg, at det kunne være sjovt, at skrive en slags biografi præget af tidens tendenser – fra 70erne og frem til i dag. For det tredje, for at vise hvordan hans kunst i høj grad er formet af tiden, fx den øgede konkurrencementalitet og teknologiske acceleration, der for mange, inklusive Jeppe Hein, fører til stress og angst. Efterfølgende finder mange, inklusive Jeppe Hein, mening i den fremvoksende spiritualitet.

Så, bogen er både eksemplarisk og en mytedræber. Den er et stykke liv på papir!

Forlaget skriver bl.a.:

“I 2009 sidder Jeppe Hein i en flyver i 10.000 meters højde, da han får et angstanfald og ikke kan trække vejret. Efter et år med over 15 udstillinger og utallige rejser siger hans krop simpelthen stop.

”Jeg måtte lære at trække vejret igen,” fortæller Jeppe Hein i bogen.

Forfatter og filosof Finn Janning har været ven med Jeppe Hein, siden de var helt unge. I bogen følger han på nærmeste hold Jeppe Heins menneskelige og spirituelle udvikling efter hans burn out og viser, hvordan den er uløseligt knyttet sammen med hans kunst.

Undervejs i beretningen om Jeppe Heins spirituelle og kunstneriske rejse giver Finn Jannings indsigtsfulde analyser en baggrund for at forstå, hvad der er på spil. Han kommer rundt om filosoffer som Aristoteles og Kierkegaard, den spirituelle tyske lærer Eckhart Tolle, forfatterne Albert Camus og Peter Høeg og mange flere, og dermed bliver bogen en slags filosofisk monografi, som læseren kan bruge til selv at overveje nogle af livets store spørgsmål.

Janning udvikler i bogen en eksistensfilosofi i forlængelse af kunstnerens spiritualitet og værker.”

God fornøjelse …

Når livet blomstrer

Right here, right now

“Know thyself” is one of Greek philosophy’s best know aphorisms. This aphorism, or saying as Aristotle called it, was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Greek philosophy tried to turn people inward in a friendly confrontation with themselves and their approach to the life around them.

“Know thyself” was not the only aphorism in ancient Greece. Another well-known example is “Take care of yourself”.

The two aphorisms are tied. The better care you can take of yourself, the better you will know yourself. And the reverse. Philosophic practice consists of both. You cannot get to know yourself better without self-care. One way to show self-care is to know yourself better, for example, by acknowledging your limitations and mistakes.

The two aphorisms underscore that philosophy is a practical investigation of life. An investigation into what it means to live. Seen in this tradition, philosophy is both ethical and spiritual, because in order to gain self-awareness, the individual must necessarily take his or her experiences seriously. Philosophy becomes an ongoing testing of one’s opportunities and conditions for existence. Life becomes a great laboratory. And it is here that philosophy’s third aphorism or pillar comes into play, as a balance between “Know thyself” and “Take care of yourself”.

The third aphorism is “Know your place”.

Knowing your place is to know your own history as well as the history that surrounds you: for example, when you were born, where, in which body, with which colour, which gender. To know your place is one way of making the ideal of knowing yourself and taking care of yourself relative, as it always happens in a specific context. Life is always lived here and now. A here and now that winds back and forth in time, yet underscores that what happens is happening here and now.

It is through your presence in the now that you can take care of yourself, test or experiment with life as a lasting attempt to become better at living, meaning knowing yourself. It is never too late, as every self-examination begins here and now.

The moral is therefore just as simple as it is difficult to practice: If you are not paying attention to where you are, if you are never present, it is difficult to care for yourself and impossible to get to know yourself better.

This journey never ends, as you and I and everyone else changes all the time. That is why certain questions never go out of style:

Who are you? What kind of life do you want to live? Are you here?


In connection with the launch of a new Danish ecological clothing label, I was invited to write three semi-philosophical reflections: I am Right Here, Right Now is the second.

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