ARARAT – process and participatory research

ARARAT was not just the finished product, rather it was equally significant as a work method. It was an exhibition which assumed its particular form due to an unusual and economical method for pursuing research, artistic activity and social change.

In 1972 an application was made for a grant from the Building research council in Stockholm for formulating a program for an experiment station with full-scale prototypes of buildings with ecological technology. The grant was denied and the draft would later become the Ararat exhibition out-door section. In 1973 a group was formed and in 1974 it was decided that the exhibition would be located at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. In the intensive final development stages many individuals and groups were recruited by the means of advertisements in the daily press etc. and altogether over 100 people were engaged in the exhibition.


General meetings were held on regular basis during the course of the work, within each respective section group and within the ARARAT group as a whole. Professor Hans Nordenström was one of the initiators and driving forces behind ARARAT and he describes the process:

“One of the basic ideas behind ARARAT was the concept of participatory research as well as action research. It is a research method which entails the participants in clarifying which values they hold; their human and social outlook at as early stage as possible. This involves what sort of beliefs one has about mankind, either passive or active, and implies that a position be taken. When a participatory researcher does this the research can become more explicit, more comprehensible and more accessible to use. In the traditional observer research, this taking of a standpoint is not permitted to intrude.

Then we have the work forms, the practical applications and how one conducts such research. Here we depart from the individual centered work form and enter a work group. The whole process in itself is interesting, not just the production of a result which is then presented as such an exhibition. It is a successive process where everybody is changing all the time and developing. In this way we can constantly take advantage of initiatives, elicit it, and give it support.


We utilize that creativity which would otherwise suffocated within a pyramid organization. Yet we realize that when one enters into participatory research, it is very difficult going. It meets with resistance and everyone who participates rebels and says: I can’t keep running on my own steam. Can’t others tell us how we should plan this? Participatory research is not a method for solving problems – just the opposite, it is difficult and arduous.

The lead group had a rather formal program of meetings over a two year period. We had a definite decision making process and made decisions concerning how the planning group should relate to those who would be responsible for and deliver exhibition sections. The workgroup was responsible for the framework and guidelines. Some people must necessary coordinate things, while others carry out parts of it. The lead group conducted this preparatory work for several years, where we thoroughly discussed these various aspects of research, the entire work process. And everybody was in agreement on what this was about and what was important to realize. Naturally this process is subjected to strains when new people join, who lack the historical perspective, who have not talked it through. Newly involved groups come with a lot of various aspects on the entire process that has been cause to some of the difficult conflicts towards the end of the building period. This type of group structure, together with the type of work method chosen does not have an overriding ideal of bringing together something which functions harmoniously. I don’t believe in such theories of reality where everyone is in agreement as in a big family.

Another aspect of the work form chosen is the tactics themselves. We felt that we would not have reached the people we sought for if we used a political terminology. We wanted to demonstrate things, and show that many alternatives exist, and that present information is very biased and manipulated. We went to Moderna Museet and said: we have this problem. We are going to try go get people come to this museum – people who would otherwise perhaps not come. This is a different type of project, one which can not be accomplished with a conventional pyramid organization. It is a project with a large insecurity factor, which create large demands on us. As concerns our openness to differing viewpoints, we have come together on a certain direction – a direction which functions in the accomplishment of our plans. Practically no one has entirely quit the project due to differences of opinions and that is very positive for there are a large number of people involved. I don’t see how we could work in any other direction. To abandon this work form would be to regress.”


Quotes from people working with ARARAT:
“How shall a future ecologically balanced society develop? It demands a change of attitude which embraces our whole mentality. It demands a change of structure and power in our society. We need a general human interest for a comprehensive view of the world, on mankind and on the future. We need an appreciation of the historical responsibility which rests upon us for the plundering of resources of others, which contributed to our present “welfare”. We can make a few final conclusions: that we fight a battle against pollution, a fight against resource depletion, a fight for basic ecological awareness. We must regard ourselves and that which we produce as part of a whole. We must realize that production is part of our metabolism with nature and with that, appreciate what it demands of us. It is the obligation of every generation to leave the earth to the same condition of fertility as it was found. Our present cultural and social phenomena are bound by hierarchy and coupled to the myth of growth through industrialisation within the capitalist mode of production. We must also tear down the barriers brain work – the abstract theories and realization – the concrete action. We must build a society which recaptures the real value of our labours and relates work to creative and meaningful content for all of us.” Jan Öqvist


“There are many who have prepared for this exhibition, nuclear power opponents and technicians, artisans, growers and ecologists, artists and architects, teachers and inventors. We have come forward to show alternatives in art and technology. Energy-saving and ecological equilibrium become words of status and the manufacturers are happy at being able to show their new products. Certainly the exhibition exudes hopefulness, but to what extent are we really in agreement? From various quarters we have come towards a human-ecological way of looking at nature and technology. But we have not brought about any decisive change if the system remains the same, if profit still determines the interest taken by producers and if the creation of a demand is still equated with human needs. As long as the toil and hunger of others is the basis of our own prosperity we cannot rest content by solving our own “energy problem”. The society and the technology that we create must be based on a fair distribution of the world’s resources. But this calls for planned housekeeping of energy and raw materials in our country. Planning in which a capitalistic society will never be interested. You must choose your opponents.” Olof Antell


This material has been compiled as base for research from the original ARARAT exhibition catalogues scanned from the libraray of Moderna Museet and from the research dissitation Arkitektur & motstånd by Christina Pech at KTH school of architecture in Stockholm.
Ulrika Jansson 2015

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