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An engine in a larger art world

Victoria Verseau, A Body of Ghosts 2015-2020. Avgångsutställning / Graduation Show 2020, Konstakademin. Jean-Baptiste Béranger.
Victoria Verseau, A Body of Ghosts 2015-2020. Avgångsutställning / Graduation Show 2020, Konstakademin. Jean-Baptiste Béranger.

The final weekend for this year’s graduation exhibition has now passed. At the time of writing, the exhibition is being taken down and graduating students are facing the next step in their artistic endeavors. The positive reception that both public and press showered on the exhibition has provided momentum to students and school alike. Commenters have focused on its consistently high artistic level and its unusual breadth of expression and technique. One recurring notion is whether the extended time in preparation has afforded us the opportunity to give the material an extra polish. There may be some truth in that. Covid19 forced us to close the school last spring and work remotely. Nonetheless, we decided to move forward to open the graduation exhibition in connection with the term start, instead of as is custom in May. I believe that the thorough crafting of the exhibition is the result of this unhurried process. In its clarifying and serene spirit, there is a force that highlights the individual works and an experience that we will bring to next year’s work.

But not only praise is important. Criticism is also a crucial aspect of the dialogue with the outside world, crucial, as I see it, for a dynamic art school. It is in that colloquy that we get to see ourselves. There are huge expectations on a graduating exhibition and a freshly hatched artist to deliver something novel. The art world—and the art market—has an eye out for works that visually rattle and roll. Preferably something scandalous to inject new blood into the system. Some of the same logic applies to the idea, often proclaimed by a vociferous avant-garde firmly distancing itself from the past, that art must constantly supply new artworks. Marianne Lindberg de Geer’s debate article in Expressen breathes disappointment when none of this is fulfilled. I feel that her reading misses much of what I see as the strength of the exhibition. Several of the artists involved have a strong, open-minded relationship with art history. Previous conceptions of and approaches to art are pored oved, turned inside out. 

Evident here is a curiosity to rediscover materials and techniques which our school, with its considerable experience and strong focus on artistic practice, can accommodate. But the exhibition also betrays a clear and comprehensive critical perspective, often shedding light on a history of imagery that has not found a home in the mainstream of art. I believe that one can discern here an important departure towards a circular approach to the history, methods and materials of art, at a time when thoughtful consideration and reuse trumps a never-ending stream of novelties. A reversal that in turn influences how an art school might view its mission.

A decisive question for this generation of artists is: how can we create and act as artists in an age of peak production and consumption?

In an engaging text in Kunstkritikk, Frans Josef Petersson discusses whether the exhibition’s low-key expression can be read as a reaction to the demands to simply produce. He further contemplates whether the exhibition shows signs that our current obsession with a more managed educational format in art education has also reached Mejan. On that point, I can reassure him. As a student at Mejan, you are free to shape your own course of study with your own work as an undisputed nexus. On art’s own terms, we exercise the freedom in our open teaching model to develop our pedagogy and test new forms. Only then can school and art develop. At Mindepartementet, our department for film, photography, new media and performance, we are currently testing a different model than the traditional professorial lecture by having our teachers undertake joint supervision of the students. During the year, we also try out forms of collective and collaborative artistic work, such as for the course Collective Practices Research led by Visiting Professor Grégory Castéra.

My experience is that students today resist, rather than embrace, the expectations of art school and art world. At the Royal Institute of Art, they stake out their paths through the program, often taking a gap period to find artistic work outside of school. While enrolled, they are active with exhibitions and other projects, both internal and external. Accordingly, a graduation exhibition does not have the same role of marking the end of schooling and stepping out into the art world. We have followed up these changes through elaborating our courses for professional artists and researchers. The Royal Institute of Art of today is a university where career artists can return to deepen their artistry. A community for lifelong learning. It also shifts the school’s position in the art field. Artists who are active at the school as researchers or take our courses spark an exchange of views between the school and the outside world. An exchange, through which I hope the school will serve a significant function as an engine in a larger art world.