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Since the start of Lars Strannegård’s presidency at Stockholm School of Economics, art has taken a central place in the school’s education – literally. Anyone who visits the school is engulfed in a diverse art experience. In the last part of the interview, we spoke to Lars Strannegård about these initiatives and what can be learned from the related controversies.

4 min read

Lars seems satisfied with how the increased focus on art has worked out so far. The focus on art has been the main sources for gaining external funding in recent years, since it reflects how the school offers an education with extremely high ambitions. The number of applicants to the school increased last year and the school has been mentioned as a “contemporary business school” in the Financial Times.

The art initiatives at SSE started with a collaboration with Magasin 3, when David Neuman offered to help SSE curate a video art exhibition with some of the most prominent female, international artist of today. Now, SSE continuously showcases video art installations in the main atrium. Later, the initiatives were backed by funding from the Lena & Per Josefsson and Ragnar Söderberg Foundations, as well as support from Daniel Birnbaum at Moderna Museet and Sigrid Sandström, professor at Royal College of Art. 

SSE has initiated a number of different art related projects at the school. The school has a Center for Business Arts & Culture, a research group with a unique focus on art and culture. SASSE Art Division is an art project operated through the student association (SASSE). The real trick is to have an organization, Lars says. SSE Art Initiative is the school’s hub for all the initiatives is led by its hard working director, Isak Nilson. Its goal is to promote knowledge exchange, production, and transfer through art and humanities.
One indication of the accomplishments so far is the symposiums that the school has hosted in collaboration with Moderna Museet. These symposiums have attracted 700 to 1000 registered attendees. The talk was moderated by one of the students as SSE, further reinforcing the direction that the school is taking.

That’s the exactly the point, Lars arguest, to make SSE a more intellectually exciting meeting place, where you can ask the real questions.

“All of this makes the education better and more attractive, more like an academy should be I think. You ask the big and important questions of the students, who are really smart. You shouldn’t just stroke them the right way.”

The increased focus on art and humanities has been very successful so far, argues Lars, but adds that there have also been problems. One of the works that has attracted the most attention and criticism is a work by Sigalit Landau. The artwork depicts the artist naked, balancing on a watermelon, with every muscle strained to balance in the salty water. It has mainly been criticized for depicting a naked women and some have claimed it to be unfit for a school environment. Some have simply denounced the artwork as being porn. 

”You have to be careful about these things. Why do you consider it offensive? If you discuss this question you end up saying, wait a minute, here is a women, it is a self-portrait, she has filmed it herself, and she has decided to expose herself in this way. If you consider this to be pornography, every exposition of the female body becomes pornography.” That’s not right, says Lars, the more diverse we want to become, the more we have to work with the pedagogy around this. Some say it’s porn, while other say it’s not porn. But we have to explain to the former group why it’s not porn”. Then these discussions become a way to create friction, to trigger the students to self-reflection, and to really start to think hard about these things. In this way you enhance the knowledge intensity at the school.” 

This is one part of the challenge of the pedagogical approach. In relation to this critique, pedagogy is extremely important, suggests Lars. “The challenge then is to find the right balance between being too didactic and saying too little about the art at the school.”

Strannegård takes another of the most widely talked about artworks at the school, Awakening by Meta Isaeus-Berlin, as an example. The artwork, which essentially constitutes a bathroom with a constantly flushing toilet, has been criticized for taking up space, being pointless, and giving away annoying sounds.

The art should have an “itching function”, it should be a little irritating, Lars says. “Like what is this damn bathroom doing here? And why are these other things here, what have they got to do with anything?” If you are to become a really good business leader, Lars argues, you must have the ability to critically analyse objects, and seek to decipher their meaning and importance. That’s the element of cultivation and education.