Message to the soon-to-be-graduates:

I am the dean in the department. In this role, I represent the institution, which sometimes feels a bit awkward. I am me, I am a mother, a sister, a daughter and a partner. But I’m also someone’s boss, someone who makes rules to follow, someone who says no often and sometimes yes, someone who usually passes questions from some to others so they might eventually become answers that I can send back to those who asked. In an opening situation, I would normally represent the institution, being some kind of person-image of the whole of Kunstakademiet, or the whole KHiO, someone who perhaps shows someone’s father what an school official looks like. For that reason, I dressed up today. But, let’s be honest, I also dressed up today since I have not had an opportunity to do so in over a year and I am enjoying it.

While being excited to put on a nice outfit, I am also very happy that I am dressing up for this non-occasion, where my outfit isn’t required. Often a graduating show is a collection of shiny things for people like parents, grandparents and gallerists, where the interesting parts of art school, like process, ideas and doubts have a tendency to fall away and things are left on the floor, hanging from the ceiling or on the wall. From past experience, the graduating show has been when the knives come out, as formally good colleagues vie for the best position for their work, away from the bathroom.

This is instead to my mind to manifestation of what is the most important about art school. The bringing together of a group of people to experiment in ways that are not possible anywhere else. Where doubts and questions about art and what art is and why are we make and why we interact with it, still, are allowed to float in the room and be looked at by many people who care about it, but from different angels. This is a special moment that will never come back and I am sure that several of you will maintain the bond you have had the space, time and lack of pressure to build on while in residency here.

Since no one is here, not those you would like nor those you would not like, we might as well conjure those you would like the most to invite in. I can help guide you through this experience. In order to do this, I need you to close your eyes.

First I would like you to invite in to this space your best friend. They are here, right beside you. What would they do to celebrate you and the fact that you are now passing from being a student to being a practicing artist? Imagine that they’re doing just right now. Since no one is watching anyway, you and they don’t need to be discrete.

Now let us invite your foremost mentor. The person who taught you that it was good to be you and what you did at a crucial moment in your life, someone who may have put you on the path to being in this room today. What was it in particular that they did for you? I will give you a few seconds to think about who that might be. ------ Invite them in, give them a handshake, or a hug, whatever mode is suitable to the nature of your relationship.

Now invite in a hero, an inspiration. It is alright, you can have met them only in a book or on YouTube or in a film, even on Instagram or TikTok. That person who made you feel or think differently, or who inspired you to do what you now do. I will give you a few seconds to think about what that might be. If you need to invite in more than one, be my guest, it is a real big space.

Now bring in someone who has died and is no longer on this planet. Someone you loved but is no longer here. Think of the thing about them that you miss the most. That thing is now here with you.

Keep those eyes closed still. Imagine that your best friend, your mentor, one hero or more, and a dead beloved, are now here together. Let’s give them a moment to look at the chatter, to meet. How do they look together as a group? Does their presence together give you that feeling that you might have when your childhood friend meet for the first time at a party and their different versions of you makes you feel like you need to go to the bathroom and stay there stay there for a while.

But these people of yours are not the only guests here. They are joined by the best friend, mentor, heroes and departed of your fellow students. Each one of you has an entourage of at least 3. That means we are at least 50 people here now. That is a lot of people. I feel the urge to pull out my mask but it’s OK, we are just as safe as we were 5 minutes ago. Let’s give the best friends, the mentors, the heroes and the dead a moment to crowd in, introduce themselves to one another, mingle a bit, and then sit down alomg the walls of this room.

Now that everyone is here, this is the moment for a toast.
We need to open our eyes to toast and drink.


Congratulations MFA class of 2021. You did this, you did this together, and I, your professors, your friends, your mentors are all so very proud.

(Commencement Address given by Sarah Lookofsky at Kunstnernus Hus in April, 2021.)