“We need to distinguish between the logical future, which is the development of the present – and the desired future, which is the world we want to create.”
This statement represent the guiding vision for the exhibition ARARAT, shown at Moderna Museet in Stockholm April – July 1976. The exhibition was the product of a large group of people such as artists, architects, researchers and engineers brought together in a project called Alternative Research in Architecture, Resources, Art and Technology – ARARAT!
The exhibition’s theme dealt with the skewed distribution of the world’s resources. The exhibition’s philosophy was based on the interaction of nature – ecology. Its contents presented a number of alternatives for survival – in a world which for various reasons, is rapidly consuming and ruining its natural preconditions for human existence.
The exhibition had a thought-provoking view on environmental issues, with a focus on recycling, small-scale production, transparent democratic processes, alternative energy and construction, organic farming and public transport, in line with the 1960’s experiments with art and technology. It showed small-scale technologies, recycling and organic alternatives in a humorous and educational way. For example methane gas was produced of elephant droppings from the neighboring zoo Skansen, gas that was used to heat planting hotbeds and boil eggs. It was a very good example of an educational experiment, across all borders and ages. The fusion of practical work, theory, decision-making and the time constraints of the project, created a vibrant, joyful knowledge exchange for all involved.
A comprehensive, exhaustive definition of what ARARAT was about and what its purposes were nearly equal to the number of participants involved – some 100 people. Every participant or group had its own vision, its own interpretation, its utopia and specific aims intended by their participation. What can be described are the underlying guidelines drawn up by the original ARARAT group:
“Those who have more, get more, while those living at the existence minimum meet with ever worsening conditions. All groups in society recognize this fact, yet there is a dividing line running between those who merely observe it and others who work for a change. We are beginning to be many people within various fields who have become increasingly aware of the technological requirements for adapting our society to the ecological system. We are not prepared to silently stand by, while we are forced to live in an increasingly resource demanding society with waste and nuclear power at the center.
The exhibition’s main problem is the skewed distribution pattern which characterizes the world generally, and the fact that flows continue to run in the wrong direction. This exhibition deals with the future, with the opportunities open to us for building a society in a vital balance with the surrounding nature, and which acquires its energy from the inexhaustible resources made available to us by the ecological system – from the sun, wind, water and biological energy sources. We seek to present constructively critical material, which can promote a deeper and broader discussion concerning future production and social forms. We begin from the viewpoint that people are conscious that the characteristics of present-day development are exceedingly unsatisfactory. The exhibition seeks to provide concrete and clear examples of what is presently taking place in alternative technology. It endeavors to demonstrate the special conditions our country has. It seeks to provide impulses and inspiration for a more active participation and an increased spreading of knowledge. The exhibition deals with many technological fields, but the fundamental political, social and economic questions concerning life patterns, survival and global distribution are naturally the most important. It has become increasingly necessary to do away with the prevailing society’s relations between capital and labour, between the oppressor and the oppressed. In addition we must dispense with technology which devastates nature and our own life conditions.”
These guidelines served as the supports for all the visionary bridges that extended in every direction throughout the exhibition. It was an exhibition composed of a complex of statements and problems at various levels. The exhibition was subjected to hard criticism – both from within and without: for its political vagueness, the inadequate pedagogical organization, social naiveté, and an information overload. Yet it was considered one of Sweden’s most important exhibitions ever. The exhibition’s own ideas were subjected to criticism and development in recurrent seminars – assisted by experts and laymen from throughout the world. The subject matter of the exhibition constituted a demanding experience. Banal, awkward and vague parts were combined with brilliantly formulated information. Visitors were constantly challenged, forced to take positions – to agree or reject, to give up or grapple with the material. There were no secure point from which to begin your experiences. The ideas and objects were overwhelming, it was an ecological carnival, which must have provided many with a visual ragout in the head. You could spend unlimited amounts of time in constantly assimilating useful facts and emotional stimuli. The exhibition had placed some of mankind’s most important problems at the center of its impetuous body.
“The development of a new ecological technology may lead to an unforeseen increment in growth which lies in the interests of economic powers. We believe that this problem is best confronted by broad information and greater knowledge of the possibilities open for the future. We state: if money can be made on a new technology in this society, then those who have economic power will see to it that they maintain it in this area also. Our only recourse is to present exhibitions which can reach as many as possible – where our values can find a wider dissemination. It then may happen that these values develop among people; that more and more come to understand that we must curb this skewed distribution, which bit by bit becomes increasingly unequal. This exhibition can then become a small puzzle piece in such a development. We believe in knowledge and the dissemination of this information – to get people to think along these lines. Knowledge is still the only thing we have to oppose the economic powers.”
The ARARAT exhibition was unique in many ways, and in any case could be considered controversial. For example, the exhibition was not finished and ready for presentation following the vernissage. It continued to develop and change in the course of the exhibition itself. The objective was not to present a completed, homogenous product. Nor was the project finished following the exhibition at Moderna Museet. Sections of it travelled to the Biennale in Venice and represented Sweden in 1976. And many of the exhibition participants continued to develop their ideas in various forms, such as in the culture house Kapsylen that was later created in Stockholm and still exists today. Even if it was one of the most visited exhibition in the history of Moderna Museet it has not gained much attention or writings after it was finished.
This material has been compiled as base for research from the original ARARAT exhibition catalogues scanned from the library of Moderna Museet and from the research dissitation Arkitektur & motstånd by Christina Pech at KTH school of architecture in Stockholm.
Ulrika Jansson 2015