Pippa Lobban: The Royal Danish academy of fine arts, Copenhagen.
I am a year 3 Communication Design student that recently went on exchange to The Royal Danish academy of fine arts, school of architecture and design in Copenhagen. I applied for that position because it was the one country I hadn’t been to out of the European options and I’m always up for a new adventure!
I arrived in Copenhagen in late August and instantly fell in love with the relaxed, stylish atmosphere of the city. I’d booked into a hostel for the first couple of days, as I hadn’t managed to organise permanent accommodation before I got there. It turned out I had to stay in a hostel and friends sofas for another month as it’s extremely difficult to find a place to stay! So I was tremendously grateful for the bursary money you provided, as I wouldn’t have been able to afford staying in the hostel that long without it and potentially would have had to go home.
So my first month was quite unsettling – juggling going to uni, finding a place to stay and meeting lots of new friends. Eventually, I found a home in the picturesque area of Frederiksberg. I shared a room with a Finnish girl, Jenni who was also on exchange and we became very close. I shared the flat with 3 Masters architecture students too. Our flat was opposite our Dutch friend Hedwich’s flat, where all our international buddies would meet regularly for dinner and parties!
I had bought a bike within the first few weeks, as it’s the only way to get around in Copenhagen. I’m a keen cyclist anyway so I fitted in perfectly! I would cycle the half an hour to university in the morning across the lakes, through the city, over the canal and past the opera house with the thousands of other commuters on two wheels. I’m going to really miss that part of my day.
For the first few weeks at university we did a group research project where we had to design a product for a supermarket. This differed a lot to what we usually do in Glasgow but I think that’s what exchange is about; learning how others approach design and reflect on how I personally prefer to do it. The group project was a great one to start on as it made me work intensely with a number of people allowing me to integrate with both international and Danish students.
I found that Danes don’t believe in working long hours (something that I think should be brought over to Britain) so there was lots of free time to explore the city and make new friends. In the evenings and weekends I would generally spend time with the other international students, going on cycles up the coast, visiting museums/galleries and meeting in the numerous lovely cozy cafes Copenhagen is blessed with. It was fantastic that being a student at the university allowed us to get into all the museums and galleries for free. My favourite place to go was little known late night opening at the Glyptotek (sculpture gallery) because we’d have the beautiful architecture and art all to ourselves. I really feel that I made the most of every free moment I was there; I had the urgency to visit places and do things because I was just there for a limited period. The money that I was gifted with really helped me to have the attitude that “I’m only here for a short amount of time, I’m allowed to do everything I really want to do”.
In the autumn break we had a course trip to Mainz, Germany to see the Gutenburg press then to Rotterdam. It was a lot of sitting on a bus but it was worth it to get to know more people on the course and to see new places. We visited The Hague design school which was interesting to see how yet another establishment works and what facilities they had. We also had a talk from an experimental typographer there. That was inspiring as we were going to start a typography course when we got back. I spent the rest of the trip taking photos and getting excited about typography again. In Rotterdam we visited numerous design studios. I’d never been there before but I definitely want to return. It was extremely different to Amsterdam, as it had got flattened during the war so the buildings there were modern and experimental. We visited the Kunsthall and saw the Keith Haring and a brilliant Soviet design exhibition.
When we returned we started two new projects that we continued for the rest of our stay there. One was the typography one and the other was to design meat packaging for a butcher (great one for the vegetarians!). I also spent a lot of my free time writing my FOCI essay for GSA. I didn’t mind too much as I enjoyed the topic I was researching and I also had to chance to discover some beautiful libraries in the city (I’d recommend a trip to the Black Diamond if you’re ever in the city). We had two fantastic teachers for the typography course. They had designed some brilliant, quite famous things and their enthusiasm rubbed off on us. We had workshops with them each week, which eventually evolved into designing our own font. The course opened my eyes to how much work goes into type design and also taught me how to use Fontlab (computer software).
I struggled with the meat packing project at first at it was very customer orientated which is something I’m not used to doing in Glasgow. I felt like it was good for me to have that experience though as I guess that’s what I’ll eventually end up doing after university. I did a lot of research for the project and found I was most interested in what people considered natural when it came to meat consumption. Why do people often trust a factory packed burger a lot more than a hairy pigs trotter when the latter is more natural? In response to this I created some packaging that encouraged people to confront and interact with the meat. I did this by creating some plain white packaging that revealed writing when the person rubbed the meat juice and blood onto it (maybe not too practical but it became more of a conceptual piece). It was a very unusual project for me but I’m glad I did it, as I managed to twist it into something I found interesting.
I had numerous visitors while I was away – I’m not sure whether they wanted to see me especially or just wanted a holiday! It was definitely good to see some familiar faces and show them around my new city. It gave me the chance to do all the touristy things like go on boat trips, visit Tivoli gardens and the little mermaid. My best friend from home came just before Christmas and we soaked in the wonderful Danish appreciation of the season. Then we flew home together on Christmas Eve; it was extra special! The whole experience made me really appreciate home.
I went back to spend New Years Eve in Copenhagen with all my new international friends. I experienced the Danes obsession with fire works – it was
stunning at midnight to see them over the lakes. The relaxing break gave me a chance to prepare for the hectic month ahead of me. We had the examination of the projects we’d been working on coming up so there was a lot of work to be done. We also had to cram in all the things we were yet to do while we were still living in the city! It was non-stop but I thrived on it – it’s making me really happy thinking back to that period!
As a final celebration and goodbye with my international friends we found 80dkk (£8) flights to Stockholm. We visited even more exhibitions and galleries, sampled Swedish meatballs and appreciated the Scandinavian atmospheric, snow-covered archipelago and city. It was a perfect end to the life changing experience of exchange.
As I’d written in my application for exchange, my artistic practice is heavily inspired by my surroundings. Throwing myself into a new environment and unfamiliar situations has given me a lot to reflect on. Perhaps I haven’t even had the time since coming back to properly soak it all in yet. All I know that the Danish sense of style is definitely pulsing through me; all the experiences I had and the people I met inspire me.
I hope this report will serve as a sign of my gratitude for the bursary I was granted. With out it I could have potentially gone home at the beginning due to not finding accommodation and not being able to afford the hostel. Denmark is an expensive place to live in comparison with Glasgow and because of the bursary I didn’t have to compromise any experiences I had due to their cost. Not all of my time there was plain sailing, adjusting was harder than I expected but that’s what exchange is about and (for fear of sounding clichéd) I feel more confident and a stronger person for it.
I will always hold fond memories of my time in Copenhagen and I thank you again for the part you played in making it the best it could be.