Students’ Stories: Julia Kantelberg

Written by Julia Kantelberg

Six years ago, I stepped into the building of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. I started out by doing my bachelor in Media, Art, Design, and Architecture, which was a brand new bachelors program at the time. I got interested in sustainable design and wrote my bachelor’s thesis on Victor Papanek’s book Design for the Real World – Human Ecology and Social Change. This is where my interest in the confluence between the arts and environmental considerations was born. I went on by doing the Research Master Critical Studies in Art and Culture, that I just graduated from in the beginning of November 2019. In the beginning I sometimes got a bit overwhelmed by the high academic level of reflection, but after a while I got more comfortable and found out that, step by step, I too became able to follow the sometimes complicated lines of thought.

What I liked about my research master program is that it gave me a lot of freedom to choose subjects or courses that I was interested in. In my case, this is contemporary art and design, but also environmental philosophy and ethics. I find it interesting how arts have the ability to imagine and reflect upon philosophical questions such as: ‘how we should live with the earth or the environment?’ or ‘should we only take into account human interests, or also those of nonhuman beings?’. I was able to combine these subjects not only in my thesis, but also in the Environmental Humanities Center that I joined in 2016 as a student board member. With the Environmental Humanities Center we organized lectures and events on environmental issues from the humanities perspectives.

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The first board of the Environmental Humanities Center. From left to right: Petra van Dam, Katja Kwastek, Germaine van der Sanden, Sjoerd Kluiving, Kristine Steenbergh, Ankie Petersen, Tim Renders, Julia Kantelberg. September 2017.

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A photo of one of the excursions that we organized for the Outer Space Event to the European Space Agency ESTEC with Tim Renders – my friend and partner in crime during my masters and in the Environmental Humanities Center. November 2018.

Then the final part of studies: graduating and writing a master thesis. It’s one of the most stressful, interesting, intense and rewarding things I’ve ever done. I started doubting everything I thought I knew or learned, and even turned to Umberto Eco’s book How to Write a Thesis? to get some mental support. Spending a lot of days in the same spot in the same library, I became a bit neurotic as well, and I started taking photos in the elevator of the library every morning as a way of documenting the process – I guess. Turns out that six years of studies does prepare you to write a big research work, and I am very happy and grateful to have done it.

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Part of the thesis-writing-process-documentation in the elevator of the library. Spring 2019.

What I am also very grateful for, is a lesson I learned along the way. It is that in studying art is not so much about forming an opinion whether some art piece is ugly or beautiful, it is rather about losing such opinions, and learning to understand the many possible ways in which is interesting to look at something. I think this attitude is very important and meaningful, not only in the arts but in everything one does. For me this is a big thing that I take away from this education.

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Graduation Day. November 2019.

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