2024-03-28

The Vice-Rector for Research passes the baton

Cecilia Roos is leaving her post as vice-rector after overseeing research for just over eight years, a period in which artistic research at SKH has changed profoundly. She tells us more in an interview.
A portrait image on a street.
Cecilia Roos. Photo: Heidi Möller/SKH

When Cecilia Roos had a final meeting with her closest colleagues at the Research Centre last week, she was given a haiku poem written by profile professor Rebecca Hilton.

Haiku for Cilla the swan 

Gliding on water
Seemingly serene but
So busy beneath

Artistic research is dramatic, says Cecilia Roos. And as a leader, it is therefore necessary to dare to be calm.

“Artistic research is based on your own artistic practice,” she explains. “This creates strong emotions, engagement, passion and drama. Because of this, you have to remain calm and not try to solve everything at once.”

While dramatic things have happened during Cecilia Roos’ time heading up the research at SKH, it has also been characterised by slow processes that have gradually built up and strengthened artistic research in Sweden. Many of the most intense debates have gradually subsided.

“There is a big difference compared to ten years ago,” she says. “Our colleagues take up space and use their own initiative in a different way. There is greater experience and awareness of how important artistic research is. The corpus of artistic research in Sweden is getting bigger and bigger, with more and more of us defining ourselves as researchers. And now that some time has passed, we also see how the first PhDs at SKH have really influenced their professional fields.”

Challenges and definitions

This was not necessarily the case when Cecilia Roos came into the role. After a decades-long career as a dancer – including studies at SKH's predecessor, the Swedish National Academy of Dance, 1979–1982 – she became professor of dance and head of the Department of Dance. In 2016, she was appointed acting director of research, a role that became vice-rector for research when she was appointed on a regular basis in 2017. In 2020, she was granted an extension for another four years.

“It has been the best job in the world for me,” says Cecilia. “We have had to build something from scratch, creating a research environment with the help of new recruitments and working methods. It has been extremely fun and challenging, the Vice-Chancellor gave me the broad discretion to operate freely, and we have been privileged to have been given high priority in terms of budget.”

At the same time, the strong focus on research at SKH has also been a challenge.

“All teachers are so passionate about their work with their students and are struggling to organise schedules and times. This makes it a great challenge to make research a prioritised and positive thing, that there is value in taking the time to deepen your focus. Now it feels like many more people are active with their research and that it really affects their way of teaching. And many of the students, both bachelor and master students, have taken a huge interest and are demanding to be part of the research environment.”

Meanwhile, there has been an ongoing debate with external criticism, a debate that Cecilia admits has sometimes been difficult to avoid becoming defensive in. She has had to be the one to constantly explain, and it hasn't always been well understood, even though there is increasing comprehension.

Part of the challenge in explaining artistic research and its value, she says, is that all projects are so unique, so clearly linked to the artistic practice of each researching artist.

“More than talking about what artistic research is, I'm interested in what artistic research can do to your artistic practice, and vice versa,” she says. “The history of art has always been told by people other than the artists themselves, by researchers from other fields and critics, and now the artists themselves have the opportunity to articulate what art can do.  And that is provocative! It would be a threat to their freedom and ability to develop further if we necessarily have to define it as this or that.”

Burning friction

Cecilia is now moving on to a position as professor of artistic practices, although she will retain some of her previous duties until the summer. But then, in the autumn, she will finally have time to do research of her own.

“It’s both fun and scary,” she says. “I have been invited to two projects this autumn, one with the Academy of Music and Drama in Gothenburg together with Södertörn University, and one with Stockholm University. Then I will hold a series of moon salons together with Tilde Björfors, who until recently was the artistic director of Cirkus Cirkör.”

You can really tell that research is not going to let go of Cecilia Roos. For her, it is a key to understanding and developing her own artistry, and she is as eager to learn today as she was when she started researching herself many years ago.

“For me, research comes from a curiosity, a need to understand and know more,” she says. “Something that's burning, a friction that you just can't stop thinking about.”

It's an attitude that has come to permeate the research environment at SKH, as much as her own research projects. The swan's feet beneath the surface keep on paddling.

“There is such a passion for art here at our school, and such potential in our expertise. This will take us very far. We will aim high and big! There is such power in that expertise and passion.”

SKH is turning ten

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SKH is celebrating ten years as a university college in 2024, ad we'll be filling the year with retrospection, foresight, articles and events that connect to the decennial in various ways.

Read about the anniversary and our history on our website

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Cecilia Roos has a long career as a dancer behind her. Here in the short film The Hidden from 1996. Photo: Bogdan Szyber

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Cecilia Roos's own research often focuses on what dance does to the body. Here together with both dancers and non-dancers presenting the research project Material of Movement and Though in Zurich in 2011. From the left: Anna-Petronella Foultier, Katarina Elam, Cecilia Roos, Cecilia Sjöholm. Photo: ZHdK

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The annual showcase of SKH research during the research weeks are among Cecilia's favourites. “I like that we both show things that are new and a bit fragile, as well as the completed,” she says. Here she's testing VR equipment at research week 2023. Photo: Johan Palme/SKH

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