man i ateljé leende
Photo: Natalie Greppi

From Toronto to Gothenburg for art at HDK-Valand


Shawn Vieron lives in Toronto and studies at the Sculpture/Installation program at Ontario College of Art & Design University (OCAD). But this spring semester he will spend at HDK-Valand in Gothenburg to study at the Bachelor program in Fine Art.

Doing a semester abroad during the study period at OCAD, one of HDK-Valand's many partner universities, is optional. But for Shawn, it was a given to apply for an exchange.
“Studying involves gathering new experiences, and that's why I couldn't let this opportunity for experience pass by”, says Shawn.

The exchange from OCAD takes place during the third year out of four, while Shawn's classmates at HDK-Valand are in their second year out of three. In the process of choosing an exchange school, Shawn looked at many partner universities, mainly in Europe but also Korea, which he was curious to visit.
“Something that stood out to me about HDK-Valand was the close connection to research. It seemed like a lot was happening in that area, which felt interesting.”

Another factor that attracted him was the opportunity to have his own studio, something that isn't offered at his home university until the final year. But the fact that he would end up in Sweden and Gothenburg was perhaps more of a coincidence.
“To be honest, I had very little knowledge of the geography when it comes to the Nordic countries before. This is my first time being in Europa, and it wasn't until I came here that I understood where Sweden and the surrounding countries are located. It feels funny now in retrospect because now I obviously have much more knowledge”, laughs Shawn.

rum med arbetsplats och pågånede konstprojekt runtomkring
Photo: Natalie Greppi

The Bachelor program in Fine Art at HDK-Valand is conducted in Swedish, but since the program has an exchange student this semester, the language has been adapted to English.
“It´s going really well, when I'm present, my classmates use English. Even outside of school it works okay, everyone seems to know English. But now that I'm here, I think it's only fair that I learn some Swedish, so I'm trying. I want to acquaint myself with Scandinavian culture and take the opportunity to learn from the environment around me as part of the experience of the exchange semester.”

A Slower Pace

Shawn, who is staying in Gothenburg until June, have recognize some similarities between Sweden and Canada, for example, he appreciates the familiarity in weather and climate and the beautiful nature.
“There is a lot of nature preserved here, and I feel that the nature reserves are more accessible and used extensively by Swedes, which is a positive surprise.

A difference related to the education is what Shawn describes as a better life work balance.
“The schedule is structured differently, which provides greater flexibility and a good variety of lectures, workshops, and discussions, it's different from what I'm used to. I think there's a slightly slower pace here overall than life in downtown Toronto, and I mean it in a good way”, says Shawn with a smile.

Another difference is that the class at HDK-Valand is significantly smaller. And that, in addition to the elective courses, the entire education is conducted Whitin in the same class. This allows you to get to know your classmates, as well as your teachers.
“My professors are really accessible, we can have, and have had, many good and free conversations, and I don't feel limited in what I can talk about. I understand it as a natural part of the student experience here, to get to know your classmates, create networks, and lasting memories.”

människa sittande skrattar
Photo: Natalie Greppi

Lessons to take home

Shawn sees the experience of being far from the comfort of home as rather constructive.
"A lot of the lessons I take with me are experiences also occurring outside of school. Making sure I take the time for myself to do the simple things. Meditate, exercise, learn from new people. I think being here has made my personal values become more evident.”

Shawn argues that his artistic practice in terms of method and material has not changed during his time at HDK-Valand, but his way of reflecting on his own art has.
“There are certain themes and subjects that I worked with in Toronto that I find myself returning to here, even though I am in a completely different environment. Because of this, I have understood that these areas must obviously be important to me, and worth continuing to develop. I think the time here has given me greater confidence in describing my artistic practice and making decisions related to my work. I'm a big fan of intuition, and an art education has challenged me to consider my work with an intellectual perspective.”

Shawn's artistic practice spans a breadth of drawing, painting, creative writing, and collecting materials within urban exploration and community.
“This process is a way for me to think through material research in my sculpture and installation work. My interests are somewhat kept open and inspired by uncertainties in everyday life, but recently I've been returning to topics like trade and labor, spirituality, cultural displacement, material culture, and the apocalypse.”

bildäck med textil, händer som arbetar
<br /> Photo: Natalie Greppi
Photo: Natalie Greppi

Exhibition in Vänersborg in April

Right now, Shawn is working with his classmates to finalize an exhibition that opens on April 26 at Vänersborg's art gallery (Vänersborgs Konsthall) titled Where the rivers meet.

“My work for this exhibition is based on the Saab as both an automotive manufacturer and a military defense company. This research was prompted by the bankruptcy of Saab Automobile in 2011 and its impact to Vänersborg residents who worked at the assembly factory in Trollhättan. I use camouflage netting as a main material in this body of work to associate physical and cultural impacts of military productions within societies.”

One last question: will you come back to Sweden?
“Yes, I will definitely come back, and hopefully soon! I would like to see the northern parts of the country and the northern lights. I definitely have more to explore here!”


Facts about exchange semesters

At HDK-Valand, exchange semesters are offered on most of our Bachelor and Master programmes. In many cases, incoming students are accepted during both the spring and autumn semesters. HDK-Valand has partner agreements with about 90 educational institutions around the world.
Some of these are:

  • School of Visual Arts in New York
  • Hongik University in Seoul
  • IED in Italy
  • The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation in Denmark
  • Aalto University in Helsinki
  • University of the Arts in London