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Art in Society

September 2023

This month, a new group of students at the five-year program in Fine Arts begin their studies at the Royal Institute of Art, together with students in our one-year postgraduate courses in Architecture and Fine Art. As always, we have a broad span of students, and now their journey begins – shorter or longer – through our programs. 

Meanwhile, the debate about culture is raging outside the school. The economic regression, that we probably all experience some kind of consequence of, has its effect on arts and culture, as well as the rest of society.

The climate is on top of the list of urgent matters that we need to act on, outside as well as inside the art school. Sustainable thinking is necessary in all aspects of existing from the ecological crisis to global migration.

Where do we find ourselves in this landscape of national, financial, political, and ecological global crisis? How can art and architecture reflect upon, contribute to and help us orientate in this new landscape?

The notions “art” and “architecture” are very broad conceptions and mean various things. Fine art can appear esthetical and epistemological in its being, but it can also develop as political and critical ways of thinking and doing in relation to a very broad spectrum of output. The same applies to architecture, which at the Royal Institute of Art is not only about buildings, but includes a variety of social, critical, and ecological sustainable practices. In short – material, immaterial and performative practices contribute to thinking and understanding in and of society at large.

How can we contribute to a changing society and an ever-changing world through art and architecture? In 1976, some artists and architects tried to answer this question through a project called ARARAT that took place at Moderna Museet. The exhibition ARARAT – Alternative Research in Architecture, Resources, Art and Technology (apart from being the mountain in Turkey) – was an interdisciplinary attempt to create a sustainable vision for the future. Based on a critique of growth and accelerating capitalism, they offered alternative ideas for the future in relation to sustainable living from the point of view of art, architecture and new technologies.

There is probably no simple way of answering the question of how art and architecture can change society. But there is a constant. Art will remain a free discipline. Art does not need to serve a specific purpose outside of itself. Art must be able to exist as an aesthetical and epistemological investigation into the unknown. But still: we – a school for art and architecture – need to be self-reflective. As an education and research institution, we must reflect on how we place and articulate art and architecture in the context of society and how we, together, will define the school in the years to come.

We are, and will always be, an education for the future, an education that through centuries have been defining the art, architecture and culture of tomorrow. Together, we will have to face the changes in the years to come, and create an education and research institution that means something to us, but also will mean something in society.

Sanne Kofod Olsen,
Vice-Chancellor, Royal Institute of Art

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