The opening of the academic year begins with the solemn entry of the professors in gowns against the background of a moody hymn1. Draped around the theme of ‘AI’, the program is a tightly packed and diverse array of obligatory acts, such as clapping for all important people on the board and award ceremonies, to dazzling performances, including the keynote by artist Refik Anadol.
As Anadol tells his story, almost half of the auditorium is transformed by his AI-powered art, which is projected onto the walls. He races through his sheets as the constantly moving, changing, colorful shapes mesmerize the room.
Alderman of Education Said Kasmi cannot compete with that during the ultra-short ‘panel discussion’ where he is allowed to answer two questions (‘What can Rotterdam benefit from AI?’ ‘The staff shortage could be solved with self-driving cars. ‘) Chairman of executive director Ed Brinksma concludes with a fascinating speech in which he recites poetry (in Portuguese!) and emphasizes that one can (just) go far without training, like some gentlemen from the Bauhaus (architect Walter Gropius, artist Theo) van Doesburg).
Art, artificial intelligence and Gesamtwissenschaft at the opening of the academic year
The opening of the academic year is all about artificial intelligence…
After almost two hours (the program runs for half an hour), the visitors are finally allowed to have a drink. After leaving the auditorium, Chairman Brinksma, accompanied by his wife, promptly fills a cup with water. He looks back on the opening with satisfaction: “There were some technicalities error, but we have nicely shown how broad the theme of AI is.” Does he still want to talk to people for drinks? “Well, normally I get sued on a regular basis. Let’s have a white wine first!”
More show than serious
Unfortunately, it takes some time: a small army of waiters guard the bar. “Yes, otherwise it will stagnate,” explains one of them. “Then everyone stays here, for the flow we want people to go through first.” Ger Lugtenberg, braided hat in hand, is dripping with awe. “Until eight years ago, I was a PR guy here, so I organized this party. It has become more of a show than serious.” He is together with former employees Geert Stevens and Gert Goris. “Ger, Geert and Gert”, they all laugh. Stevens on the programme’s ‘show quality’: “It’s nice once a year, but I wouldn’t want a lecture like that. In this way, you make a small scientific impression on the elderly. So many prizes too, it’s driving you crazy!” “A show with an academic sauce”, declares Goris.
Lugtenberg ‘let it all come to him’, but missing an element from ‘his’ time: “We used to sing the hymn with the whole hall, now there is a CD on it, fortunately by Erasmus Kammerkor.” Meanwhile, a small army of former colleagues has gathered around the three gentlemen, so they can move on.
Getting to know people
A little further ahead are Laura Rolsma and Lisanne Bos, both started on 1 September as LDE students (Leiden, Delft and Rotterdam). They enjoyed the opening. Bos: “They really do their best to make it hip and modern. That artist was fantastic.” Rolsma: “So nice that the singer Meau was there! What? Don’t you know?!” They hope to meet new people over drinks, she says. Bos: “I was thinking more about wine, beer and the bitterball. And then getting to know people.” Rolsma: “It’s nice to get a taste of the university atmosphere.” Bos: “And tomorrow you have something to talk about at the coffee machine.”
The art continues
Also present is former Kunsthal and Rijksmuseum director Wim Pijbes. “What am I doing here? I’m invited. I was curious about the new Headmaster Magnificus, but he’s taken on a very modest role today with only the presentation of an award. I’ll have a beer with her in a bit.”
He is also satisfied with Anadol. “I saw his work in New York four years ago. It’s great that they invite an artist. Science is good, but art goes further. Art is limitless, Anadol said that you can shape everything with data, I think so is a fascinating statement.”
Former chamber president Frans Weisglas walks by and shakes Pijbe’s hand. They get to talk about the professors’ part-time jobs. Pijbes: “There is a broadcast about it tonight.” Weisglas: “As long as they’re transparent about it, things can still go wrong.” He has attended the opening every year since he retired as an alumnus. “Always nice to talk to other alumni. I only understood 60 percent of that artist’s story. Yes Wim, of course you understood that completely!”
Meanwhile, there is musical accompaniment at the back of the C hall, which is not very enthusiastic, except for the enthusiastic dance student Julia Picazo, who is standing there with Erasmus X researcher Lara Macarena. Macarena: “I found the technological topics very interesting, they are topics that we really need to talk about. AI is just here.” Picazo likes the emphasis on art. “It really showed the potential of AI and invited us to think with an open mind about how to use AI.”
The drink is already about to end, Laura Gasco and Iris Daleweij, both Media & Business master’s students, enter through the revolving door. Daleweij: “Laura recognized me from the introduction and spoke to me in the queue.”
Gasco was impressed by the program: “I studied for this in Turin and it’s a big difference from the scale here. It was nice to see the professors in their gowns afterwards, walking around with a drink.” Daleweij: “I came after the artist.” Gasco: “The art was breathtakingly beautiful. I came to experience university life in all its aspects, after all I am new in town.” Gasco: “The vegetarian bitterball was amazing, great to experience the local cuisine here.” Daleweij also waxes lyrical about snacks: “We chased the tray.” Meanwhile, the Italian exchange student Christian Granaldi has added: “I’ve only been here for a few months, so I want to do as much as possible. Free drinks? I’m there!”
- That Io Vivat and Gaudeamus Igitur.