Welcome to the Salon – Andreas’ Final Project

Andreas Thorell is a freshly graduated Swedish Kaospilot from Team 23. His pilot project is called The Salon. It’s a concept he developed, which aims to host spaces where conversations around art and philosophy are at the centre.

“The concept started out small by me hosting salons within school and then it grew slowly.” Andreas conducted many Salon events during his third year project period. He did not work towards a set goal with these events but worked in an iterative way, prototyping his way forward and learning from the events, refining each salon after the other. The concept has gained attention and Andreas has developed a series of salons for Ark Books in Copenhagen and will in the fall collaborate with Aaros art museum in Aarhus where a series of salons will be held based on the exhibitions being shown at that time.

Putting the conversation at the centre

“The Salon should aim to put the conversation in the centre.” Andreas says, “There is no lecture, only you having conversations with others. You have an overall theme for the event which could be an existential question connected to a text, article or book.” Andreas works with an invitation technique where he invites someone he finds interesting to an event and asks that person to bring another person with them. This way he is able to make the event grow exponentially, gathering friends and strangers. “Then there are some frames for the conversation but no explicit goal or search for an outcome other than having the conversation.” he says.

The important topics

Andreas saw a need in himself for more conversations touching upon the existential. He decided to test the concept as a possible way to serve this need. “A lot of people said they were longing for these kind of spaces and wanted to participate in the Salon.” He says, “It turned out people were not only interested in having conversations but they were interested in having conversations around certain topics, discussing existential and philosophical questions like what it means to be alive today.”

Andreas chose art and philosophy as topics for his Salons as he felt those were topics that can give meaning to people. He also found these topics lacked spaces where they could be discussed. “In a secular world it is important to offer these spaces that were earlier provided by the church.” he continues, “and as important as it is to have conversations, it is even more important to have conversations around topics that impact on how we come to live our lives.”

An age-old concept needed in modern times

Historically the Salon is an age-old concept, which flourished in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, and most famously in France just around the revolution. “Women would open up their homes to a diverse group of people to talk about art, politics, history, philosophy, literature, etc.” Andreas says, “This was a chance for them to become a part of the public opinion and where a diverse group of citizens could come together and not only the nobles.” Andreas states that these conversations shaped a lot of the ideas and thoughts from this time, a time that was later defined as the Enlightenment. He found it interesting that these spaces ceased to exist and wondered who was shaping the public opinion of today. “Someone is coming up with the idea of how we should live but who is it?” Andreas continues, “Social norms and the public debate form how we come to view things in life but I felt that neither me nor the people had around conversed much around this, – I wanted to create a salon where we could do just that”

Inspired by the book The structural transformation of the public sphere by Jürgen Habermas, Andreas learned that since mass media has taken over most parts of the public debate, we have become consumers rather than producers of it. “We consume debates on TV, read newspapers, listen to podcasts and update ourselves but we are seldom a part of the debate and that’s something I find highly interesting.” Andreas continues, “We have social media yes, where we can try and be active participants in conversations but it often leads to polarisation, alienation and filter bubbles where we stay within certain societal spheres and therefore aren’t actually affecting the public debate or opinion. The concept of the Salon is therefore a method for engaging citizens to become more active, to create thoughts and ideas together with other people.”

A fire burning in people’s eyes

What Andreas loves about the Salon is that it can create an atmosphere where people leave feeling inspired and moved. “I love to see the fire burning in people’s eyes after a Salon evening.” He says, “It is the feeling of having reached a deeper level in the conversation, something that sometimes happens with close friends over dinner and a glass of wine. It is rewarding when you can create this within a group of strangers.”

We consume debates on TV, read newspapers, listen to podcasts and update ourselves but we are seldom a part of the debate and that’s something I find highly interesting.

With the concept of The Salon, Andreas hopes to create spaces where people can co-create different thoughts and ideas. “A big part of the salon is to create intellectual value. People practice argumentation, critical thinking, listening but also start empathising with each other.” Andreas says, “You start hearing other people’s opinions and thoughts, something that might challenge you to rethink what you stand for. It offers an alternative to harsh debate-driven conversation we see online.” Andreas stresses the fact that The Salon does not have any other end goal then the conversation itself, it’s not constructed for having an outcome in the end. The conversation is the goal itself.

You start hearing other people’s opinions and thoughts, something that might challenge you to rethink what you stand for.

Finding the “thing”

When asked about what has changed in Andreas since he first started at the Kaospilots he answers, “When I started at Kasopilots, I wanted to find my “thing” because I thought there was that one “thing” to find out there” He continues by saying, “throughout my years I’ve had the chance to prototype different kinds of lives, I’ve worked in different fields, lived in different countries and had the chance to meet so many different people and I’ve come to realise that finding that “thing” isn’t as simple as I thought.” With all the experiences and newfound interests behind him, Andreas says he’s been able to foster the courage to believe in himself and construct that “thing” for himself. “Had I done the third year project three years ago I would have created a more mainstream, market driven project. When developing The Salon, I reacted to a need around myself and created something based on my own passion and interests.”

Photo by Noora Sirén

Andreas is excited to continue his various projects under his production company, Thorell Productions. He will spend the summer managing the music festival Trævarefest in Lofoten, Norway and developing the Salon further. “It excites me to continue this prototyping lifestyle I’ve started at the Kaospilots.” Andreas finishes by saying, “Because of all the tools I’ve gotten from the school I’ve learned that it’s ok to be flexible in life and that having long term goals isn’t alway necessary. I don’t know what’s around the corner and it’s super exciting.”

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