The Master Institute of Visual Cultures (MIVC), part of St. Joost School of Art & Design at Avans University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, offers a leading Master of Fine Art and Design in Ecology Futures. Here's what its student Maria Magas has to say about what attracted her to this unique field and program.

Why did you decide to study Ecology Futures?

I was fascinated with the possibilities that Ecology Futures offers. It is a safe space to experiment with alternative materials -- especially with living organisms such as mycelium, lichens and scoby in kombucha. In the academy, there is a biolab, where everyone is invited to try out experimenting, under a lab specialist supervision. Without any prior biological knowledge, we were able to develop alternative materials for plant pots, single use tapper ware and developing photographs amongst others.

But besides working in the bio lab, we are also encouraged to explore other techniques. Ecology Futures is a place for product designers, photographers, software programmers, researchers, fine artists, and storytellers to explore their craft. I value this study because of the focus on theoretical inquiry. Every concept that we start developing, originates from primary and secondary research. In doing so, we make sure that our practice is still academic and reliable, centralizing creative narration.

What have you learned so far in Ecology Futures that you didn’t expect?

An important part of Ecology Futures is the practice of care. We learn that empathy and genuine compassion are the first step towards a better future. We discuss this in reference to other humans (especially the marginalized groups that are being treated unfairly), but also in relation to nonhuman entities. Questions that we raise daily are: How does it feel to be a flower growing on a city pavement? How does my skin colour influence my perception of the world? How are the bacteria in my body feeling today? How am I connected to the area that I live in?

By questioning the everyday, we learn new ways of looking at our surroundings. We can imagine how other entities experience the world that we share. In Ecology Futures, we value interconnectivity. We seek connections and relationships, to better understand systems that we live in. And in this, a practice of care is essential in order to build real bonds.

What is it about Ecology Futures that stands out?

In Ecology Futures we are looking forward, without dismissing the past. We believe that many answers to our modern issues already exist for hundreds of years. We are studying history, indigenous knowledge and theories, all in belief that these are essential building blocks for the future. Thanks to the international staff, we can gather multiple insights about a variety of topics. The lecturers all have different, professional backgrounds, and are always willing to discuss new thoughts and ideas. St Joost offers a really individual approach to each student which allows for focusing on the topics that specifically you are passionate about. With that and the desk research, a variety of workshops are there to be explored to feed your studio practice. Workshop specialists are masters in their craft and they are open to trials and tests.

What have you enjoyed most about Ecology Futures?

For me a significant event in Ecology Futures was a study excursion to Iceland. It was truly an amazing opportunity to explore such diverse environment in person. Each student had a possibility of performing their own research, alongside our core tutors, who also participated in the trip. Next to collecting samples, photographing and recording soundscapes, we could also feel like a community. We spent time together, where we shared our reflections and thoughts about our experiences gathered every day. It showed how diverse our group is and how we understand our surroundings differently. Ecology Futures is a space where all impressions matter and all will be heard.

Article written in association with Avans University of Applied Sciences.