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Sustainability, inclusivity and care 

What is an art school? The answer will depend on who you ask and the vantage point you have. For our students, the school is a beginning: a place for learning, an opportunity to develop their creative work through mentorship and work in studios and workshops. To our teachers, the school is a workplace, where they, for a number of years, develop their pedagogy and their own creative work based on their artistic focus, and in the encounter with students and colleagues. Another perspective aligns with the time axis of the school, revealing a tradition heavy with artistic practices that have been formulated and reformulated over the centuries. Another art school emerges if one drills down into the present and looks at what is being done here today. In the horizontal perspective the interplay between other actors and areas of knowledge is the focal point, rather than the history of the school itself. As a Vice-Chancellor one often feels as if an art school is lurching and twisting wildly to escape simplistic definitions. This very reluctance to let itself be reduced to simplistic definitions is also the biggest strength of an art school. It emerges from a negotiation between different artistic perspectives and approaches. A negotiation that never is – nor should it ever be – without friction.

Is it possible to step back, outside this negotiation and artistic heterogeneity and get a picture of what the Royal Institute of Art is and does right now? The school’s Vision Statement, a chamber play written in 2018, provides some pointers. It speaks of the necessity of experimentation and innovation, of the freedom of art and the opportunity for every student to shape their own path as an artist. But the play also underlines the joy inherent in a joint quest for knowledge that shapes and makes space for encounters, and that generates an energy that makes possible a total that is larger than the sum of its parts. In that environment, in which all of us in the school dwell, certain words recur stubbornly in our conversations: sustainability, inclusivity, and care. There is a strong desire that the school become a place that can harbor the fragility of artistic creations, and to find ways to undertake artistic work beyond the destruction of the planet and the exploitation of living things.

One approach that has been present in the overarching work of the school as an institution, but also in programs and courses, in the past two years, is to find forms for communal work and creative endeavors. How can we find ways for everyone at the school to be able to influence our future direction, how can we articulate together, how does one work collectively as an artist? This is an endeavor that is not necessarily expressed in the works at the graduation show; rather it creates a place that supports and makes possible artistic work and strengthens the school as a meaningful context for more people. Now, in this moment, as we stand before the devastating war in the Ukraine, the strength in this common work is very palpable. The school quickly mobilized into action and leadership; faculty, administration, researchers, and students stepped up to help fellow students and colleagues who are affected by the war, and to open the doors of the school to Ukrainian students, teachers, and researchers. Meanwhile, contrasting with the will to find a common thread and the opportunity to share knowledge together, the experience of pandemic isolation still casts a lingering shadow. A difficult experience that also, paradoxically, gave our students an unusual opportunity to engage in focused work in seclusion. Something that I think one can see reflected in the works in this year’s graduation shows, in terms of strong, ambitious, and comprehensive individual presentations.

At the Royal Institute of Art, the graduation show is an integrated part of our learning. Throughout the program, the exhibition recurs, in various forms, as a fundamental part of our pedagogy. Therefore, we have chosen a format for our graduation show where we don’t invite an external curator to choose works and stage the show. Instead, students, teachers and the school’s producer shape the show together, without imposed themes. This is emphasized in our BA students’ show, which does not have a general title. In this way our graduation shows are very concrete exercises in creating a show, and an opportunity to test the relationships between fellow exhibiting artists, the institution, the space, and the audience. The opportunity to test artistic expression, method or technique is a pivotal aspect of an art education.

The choice of this format for our graduation shows ensures that no aspect of the students’ works is emphasized nor prioritized in favor of others. The show is an open muster, an opportunity to see on display the artistic heterogeneity that is a powerful driver in the pedagogy of the school. This year one can see how painting inhabits a strong place. But there is also a striking engagement with the physically palpable and explicitly material in the sculptural works. Aside from the established forms of expression, such as painting, sculpture, and moving image, the school has, in recent years, broadened its offerings to include teaching in performance and sound, to match these developments in the arts. It is also clear from the works on display in our graduation shows that there is an interest in trying these forms of expression, especially in hybrid art forms in which various materials, techniques and artistic expressions meet.

The title of the MA exhibition at The Academy of Arts is Vargtimmen [The Woolf Hour]. The word recalls not just the demons of dawn, but different states of change and transformation: the moment between sleep and waking, light and dark, life and death. Shifts that also sharpen the senses and make us observant of experiences that aren’t available to us in daily life. Several works articulate a strong consciousness of living in a time of change in which most things are at stake, and where we must alter our way of life and how we relate to all living things in pivotal ways. In that moment our students’ belief in art and engagement in expressing and portraying the world through art, becomes a powerful source of hope and strength, for me, and hopefully also for the visitors to the exhibition.

Sara Arrhenius

The Royal Institute of Art is currently exhibiting two graduation shows. The MFA students are exhibiting at Konstakademien until the 11th of June and the BFA students at Marabouparken until the 12th.