RISD Museum exhibit engages community

Hanging above Bolt Coffee at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum is Pedro Reyes’ flag “Hands On With A Vision,” the latest installment in “Pledges of Allegiance,” a nationwide art project put on by the New York-based public arts nonprofit Creative Time.

With each opening of the cafe’s heavy doors, the sky-blue flag ripples slightly, revealing more of the image obscured by its folds. The flag’s graphic plays on the recognizable flag of the United Nations, which depicts a similar white emblem centered on a blue background. The emblem on Reyes’ flag reinterprets the UN symbol: An open eye sits in the palm of a hand and is layered in front of a globe that is dissected by longitudinal and latitudinal lines. The flag represents “The People’s United Nations” — “pUN” — which the flag’s placard describes as “an experimental conference developed by the artist” that has brought together individuals from over 160 countries at three meetings.

On the placard, Reyes writes: “This right palm with an eye at the center … has been a symbol of protection across cultures and millennia,” adding that the hand, which is open in salutation, “placed over an orb is meant to signal our mission to protect the planet.”

Reyes’ work is the eighth installment of a collaborative compilation of 16 flags, which will be on display at museums nationwide through July 31. Other featured artists include Alex Da Corte, Tania Bruguera and Jeremy Deller. The first flag shown at the RISD Museum “Untitled (Dividing Time)” was also displayed at nine other locations across the nation from Sept. 13 through Oct. 11 last year. The number of museums, galleries and institutions hosting installments of the series has increased each month as participants are continuously added to host pieces of the rotating series. In addition to the RISD Museum, California College of the Arts, Texas State Galleries and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell will also display the flags.

On its website, Creative Time states that, in response to the current political climate, the exhibition’s goal is “to inspire a sense of community among cultural institutions, and begin articulating the urgent response our political moment demands.”

“We … thought that this would really be a great way for us to … have a project that kept pace with changing times,” said Dominic Molon, the Richard Brown Baker curator of contemporary art at the RISD Museum. “Pledges of Allegiance” is dynamic in nature, which Molon sees as “something that would … demonstrate how the museum was wanting to engage with the present moment and with the future.”

According to Molon, “Imagine Peace,” the flag by Yoko Ono, was one of the most well received at the RISD Museum. On the flag, bold type reads, “THINK PEACE ACT PEACE SPREAD PEACE IMAGINE PEACE,” against a white backdrop. In the background of a video accompanying “Imagine Peace” on Creative Time’s website, echoing voices recite statements describing their definition of peace. For one speaker, “peace is understanding someone else’s point of view,” while for another, “peace is like a puddle of puppies … or sleeping on a marshmallow.”

Molon considers the museum a place where community members can find “some kind of reflection of what’s going on out there in the world.” “Pledges of Allegiance,” its changing nature and the artists’ messages demonstrate this concept. “Hands On With A Vision” will be on display at the RISD Museum until Feb. 14, while the entire exhibition, “Pledges of Allegiance,” will continue to show through July 31.

This article was published in The Brown Daily Herald on February 1, 2018. Click here to read more

Wonderland of Warp, Weft + Work

The D train was sweltering in early July as I traveled past 22 subway stops on my way to the Brooklyn studio of contemporary textiles artist Liz Collins91 TX/MFA 99. Looking around the D, I noticed that everyone seemed to be wearing elaborate prints, Doc Martens and/or visible paint stains. It was the first day of my nine-week summer internship and I was nervous, anxious and excited.

Not surprisingly, the other arty types and I all got off at the same stop and headed toward a trendy-looking block of buildings and restaurants. My enthusiasm for the internship only increased when I saw that one of Liz’s pieces adorns the main walkway of the subway station.

Studio manager and fellow RISD grad Zev Schwartz 12 AP greeted me at the door to the large studio, which is clearly Liz’s space: a well-organized wonderland of colorful yarns, knitted fabrics and wacky furniture. I immediately recognized her signature use of bright colors and sharp lines and peered around the room, finding samples of her WW3 (Warp Weft 3) series, which I would later get the opportunity to work on.

Liz primarily hired me to assist with a new installation that opened on September 27 at the New Museum in Manhattan as part of Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon. My first task involved sourcing materials. I was on the hunt for mesh fencing, a quest that led me through the Park Slope and Sunset Park neighborhoods of Brooklyn, where I encountered an eccentric hardware store owner and a talkative bus driver who complained bitterly about the city’s increasing traffic problems.

I was happy to collaborate with Liz, but was also excited that my friend Felix Beaudry 18 TX landed a summer internship at the studio, too. We were both psyched to brainstorm ideas for the New Museum show.

Later that week Liz assigned me exactly the kind of work I had hoped I’d be doing. Once she explained that she wanted to use stills from the weird 1982 film classic Liquid Sky to create a carpet for the exhibition, I spent weeks piecing together images in Photoshop and was happy to apply the skills I learned in my CAD in Textiles class last spring. We worked with an industrial carpet producer to finalize the design and select just the right swatches to match the film’s color palette.

Another highlight of the internship was going to the New Museum with Liz to mock up her plan for the installation. After seeing countless museum exhibitions where the designs seem so self-evident, it was great to get a behind-the-scenes look at the planning process and to be included in conversations about the overall cohesiveness of the show and what was working and what wasn’t.

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Nature Lab Wins NSF Support

The RISD Nature Lab has won $280,000 in support from the National Science Foundation EAGER (EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research) program to help develop a new bio-design maker space in the Waterman Building. The space will provide an immersive environment for students to engage in hands-on design projects that cultivate a working knowledge of biology and natural systems. The timing is perfect, notes Nature Lab Director Neal Overstrom, since the lab will celebrate its 80th anniversary during the 2017/18 academic year.

Led by the lab’s Biological Programs Designer Jennifer Bissonnette and supported by co-principal investigators Paul Sproll—head of RISD’s Teaching + Learning in Art + Design (TLAD) department—and Associate Professor of Interior Architecture Eduardo Duarte, the project will not only provide additional nature-rich spaces in which students can work but also find an avenue for both RISD and K–12 students to engage with the biological sciences beyond the traditional STEM curriculum.

“Ultimately, we are trying to prototype a space with biophilic elements as a cornerstone of design and the study of design,” Overstrom notes. As Bissonnette explains, biophilia is a recently coined term that refers to “our natural affinity for life and lifelike processes around which we evolved as a species.” Think of the hardwired and cross-cultural fears humans have of heights and snakes, for example, which evolved to protect us from harm—or our shared attraction to plants and water.

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Supporting Cross-Cultural Engagement

Music fills the first-floor studio of the Metcalf Building where a digital design by Sara Al Ahbabi and Shaikha Al Ketbi is being transformed into a colorful textile on RISD’s high-tech Jacquard loom. “I’m in love with this machine,” Al Ahbabi effuses as Al Ketbi squeezes past, her arms loaded with spools of richly colored thread.

“Architecture and design programs in the UAE are very strong, but there seemed to be a need to strengthen fine arts programs, which is why RISD got involved.” TEXTILES DEPARTMENT HEAD ANAIS MISSAKIAN

Al Ahbabi and Al Ketbi are two of the 15 fellows from the UAE who visited RISD in May and early June as part of the 10-month Salama bint Hamdan Emerging Artists Fellowship (SEAF) program. Jointly designed and directed by RISD and the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation in Abu Dhabi, the program selects some of the UAE’s most promising emerging artists in order to help them develop a sustainable artistic practice and potentially prepare to apply to MFA programs across the globe. Once they’re accepted, it then covers their tuition.

“Architecture and design programs in the UAE are very strong, but there seemed to be a need to strengthen fine arts programs, which is why RISD got involved,” explains Professor Anais Missakian 84 TX, head of RISD’s Textiles department and academic program director for SEAF. “The expectation is that alumni of the program will go back to the UAE and drive a community of serious artists—maybe as teachers or maybe by starting arts-related nonprofits.

Now in its fourth year, the program has surpassed expectations in terms of the number of fellows who have gone on to pursue MFAs at top-tier institutions like the Royal College of Art in London, Yale University and RISD. “We’re currently supporting 10 graduate students across the US and the UK, and nine more will be matriculating in the fall,” says SEAF Program Manager Khulood Al Atiyat, who visited RISD for the third time this spring. “SEAF has been an experiment for everyone,” she adds. “It’s so exciting to watch the fellows’ practices expand in response to the experience.”

This two-week visit to the US—which includes workshops and critiques at RISD as well as studio, museum and gallery visits in New York City—is a small component of the 10-month program. A team of RISD faculty members travels to SEAF’s studios in Abu Dhabi four times per year to work directly with fellows, who also complete a series of online seminars administered by Amy Horschak, Associate Director, Graduate Commons. “The online community was created to keep the fellows and faculty in contact throughout the year,” explained Horschak. “It provides a platform for discussions and virtual studio spaces where works in progress and ideas are shared.”

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