Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Black Hole

I can remember mine vividly: sitting in front of my tent on a French camping site, starring into a big black void. I was sweating, and not because of the abundant sunshine, but out of fear: what in gods name am I going to do in September?!

That summer I graduated and for the first time in my life the month September had no meaning anymore. Until then it meant the start of a new year at school. Five years of high school, then 3 years of vocational education and five years higher education. So the last thirteen years September was always a start of something. Now, sitting there in front of that tent, there was nothing there. It made me dizzy, fearful and a little bit sick… My life was over! I was completely hospitalized on education and had no idea how to organize myself outside that context. It felt like I had to reinvent myself al over again.

After the summer all the drama was gone and I started working in a computer wholesale shop to make ends meet. Not the most exiting job you can think of, but I can still bubble wrap a pallet of boxes in under ten seconds… After three months, the newspaper of the university called if I want to work for them and things started rolling.

Every time when I tell my students the story above, I more or less get the same reactions: 'that was in the old days, it's not going to happen to me' or similar words of that order. And every time I meet those students two or three years later they say: 'you know what, you were right! It did happen to me!' I'm sure every student that commits his or her life to the intense period of higher education for a full four years, is going to experience some form of cold turkey in the period after that. Maybe a little, maybe some more, but those years at the academy are a bit like drugs; you get hooked and it takes time to detox. For some people it comes naturally and the period at the academy sort of flows seamlessly into the period after that with exhibitions and assignments. Maybe they were asked at the graduation show to join a gallery or some other fortune came along that made the transition easier.

But I think for most alumni the period directly after the graduation comes with bumps and hills and feels unnatural and difficult. During the last year of study many academies start programs and give courses to ease this transition, but I'm curious if that really make things better after graduation.

So please feel free to share your experiences of the black hole (or lack thereof) below!

The irony now of course is that I'm totally hooked again and more than a little addicted. When Jonathan emailed me for this column, my first reaction in my head was: 'hey, I'm on vacation now!' Oh dear, time for rehab…

Robert Philip is a photographer and course leader at the Utrecht School of the Arts.

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