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we begin

we finish



we begin

we finish when


Š 2015 Rhode Island School of Design

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means without permission in writing from the publisher.

A production of the Graduate Student Alliance and the Division of Graduate Studies

Guiding Forces: Alexander Stewart and Whitney Bosel

Editor: Jennifer Liese

Designer: Micah Barrett

Advisors: Patricia Phillips and Lucinda Hitchcock

This book was set in Atlas Grotesk, Atlas Typewriter, and Mercury on Domtar paper.

Printed by Puritan Capital, Hollis, NH

Cover: Henry Brown, Mazda with Picket Fence, 2013, silkscreen on paper, 22 1/2 Ă— 15 in. Cover flaps: Raina Belleau in her studio. Photo: Jo Sittenfeld




We Begin . . .

Yes, I Am:

Teaching Modes of

Alexander Stewart

An Interview with the


& Whitney Bosel

Artist Radha May

Christina Webb &



Discovering the

Are We There Yet



Elise Kirk

Certainly Speculative

Minkyoung Kim

Drew Litowitz

Amanda Pickens 70


Sketches & Sounds


We Are All Fruit at

of Project Open Door

I j Theo

the Same Time

Tess Spalty

A Secret Admirer

Jack Yu & Jacob Kaichuan

74 Raqs & Raunik


Jagdeep Raina

A Moment at Rocky Point Park


Khanh Luu

On Snow, Smell, & Becoming a Better


Human Being

The Bento Swap

Christina Poblador

Lauren Tedeschi 84 38

Here & Where:


Navigating Fuzzy

Kelly Walters

Borders Aaron Tobey

50 recordings:detroit &


the Geographies of


Collaborative Work

MairĂŠad Byrne

Dane Clark, Shou Jie Eng, & Rami Hammour

Katie Bullock, Cosmic Marble, 2015, glass, 1 in. diameter

We Begin . . . is part of an ongoing discussion happening in studios, on sidewalks, in galleries, wood shops, spray booths, bars, and cafes, online, in person, between our fleeting experiments and eternal pursuits, and among our mentors, critics, and audiences. That discussion is about how to look and discover through making, and it permeates all that we touch. We Begin . . . is one loving attempt at joining these myriad experiences for one moment, as much for now as for the past and future. Putting ideas down into words and images helps us mark a place and a time, contend with where we are, and consider where to go next. We Begin . . . includes stories of voyages here and afar. That so many of the voices in this book touch on other places reflects our values. We are present here and also invested in the world. You’ll find inquiries into the current and future states of our disciplines and reflections on finding ourselves and finding ourselves through each other. Together, these narratives, interviews, and ruminations start to depict who we are. We Begin . . . emerges from a year in which many RISD grads felt somewhere between one state and another. It was a year in flux. There were debates over rights and access to certain studios, an ultimately resolved President search, a disruptive labor strike, and, here and nationally, questions about the value of a graduate education in art and design. We Begin . . . was our attempt to flip the metaphorical script. It felt important to publish a book that acknowledged our collective great work and ideas. This is not a yearbook or a catalogue; our intention was no more and no less than something else entirely. Alexander Stewart and Whitney Bosel Graduate Student Alliance Officers


Graphic designer and/or music


I’ve been wrestling with for the past MFA Graphic Design  2017

half-decade as life has become the

Drew Litowitz

Discovering the Columbus

journalist? That’s the identity crisis

type of frenetic blur only a run-on list-sentence could do justice: I have written for a music blog gratis and been published by a newspaper and branded small companies and interned at a small design studio and art directed a music blog and worked full-time as a museum interactive designer and film editor and interned at another small studio and interviewed my favorite musicians on my lunch break and transcribed those interviews before bed and written intro paragraphs on the next day’s lunch break and headed to the music venue that night and reviewed the show on the following day’s lunch break. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Then, one day, I received an envelope from the Rhode Island School of Design. Today—or least for the next three years while I pursue an MFA in Graphic Design at RISD—it’s graphic designer. When I was accepted to RISD last winter, I decided that once I arrived, I would set aside my writing career and all of its accompanying antics to fully immerse myself in one thing. I would use my lunch breaks to eat lunch. I would listen to music for pure enjoyment. I would work hard to become good at one thing, instead of decent at two. It’s worked out well, for the most part. But I guess some habits aren’t

easy to shake. Though I have journalism proper, it didn’t take long before Providence’s unique music scene began to reveal itself to me, and I began to follow along the only way I know how—with mild obsession. Soaking up a rich RISD music history that includes David Byrne

Views of the Columbus Theatre. Photos: Drew Litowitz

mostly steered clear of music

and Lightning Bolt, I was also quick

shows, talked to these folks with

to cling to the current state of

more frequency, exchanged e-mail

musical affairs.

addresses and phone numbers, and

From my very first few weeks here in Providence, I found myself frequenting a place called the

became an acquaintance of the theater. It wasn’t long before I became

Columbus Theatre. Right out of the

curious about the place’s strange

gate, it had an inescapable allure.

origins. Physically, the Columbus

The first time I visited I saw a

Theatre feels more like a time-

performance by Mount Eerie, a

warped playground and community

musician from Washington State by

center than a regular music venue.

the name of Phil Elverum, who tours

There are seemingly no stuffy

sparingly and performs endearingly

regulations or codes, there are no

mystical folk vignettes. I knew if a

wristbands or pat-downs at the door,

rare and DIY artist like Mount Eerie

and everything is very homespun.

was playing an odd venue run by

The guys who work there also

young guys from local bands, there

produce and book the shows. It feels

had to be something special going

old, like a long-lost haven hiding in

on. When I arrived the space was

plain sight. There are two seating

intimate and inviting. It felt right.

areas, one of which looks like an attic

From there, my interest in the

space with movie theater seats, the

Columbus blossomed into a fascina-

other like a gargantuan Italian opera

tion. I began to converse with the

house abandoned since the 1950s.

folks running the shows, mostly

Entering the theater is like stepping

members of a Providence band

through a time machine into a frozen

called the Low Anthem, a group I had

state from the past. It is creepy in

appreciated long before realizing

an endearing sense, like the setting

their Rhode Island roots. As the

of a Neutral Milk Hotel narrative—all

weeks passed, I saw more and more

old-world circus-centric.


Obviously, it wasn’t enough to

chamber with organ pipes and

merely be fascinated by the theater.

drums. I trekked up to the organ

My journalistic tendencies urged me

room while Ben played the organ

to do more, but I had made a promise

below. I got vertigo in the dark due to

to myself: no more music journalism.

a growing fear of heights. I took

My identities were confused. How

numerous photos. Pleasantly

could I not write about this place?

spooked out by the space’s delightful

How else could I tell this place’s

eeriness, I reveled in its haunted

story? Then the assignment that

mansion-turned-theater mood. If

pulled it all together came along in a

only these walls could talk . . . well,

Graphic Design class called Making

they basically do.

Meaning: Create a conceptual map

I needed to know more, so I

of a space or location in Providence.

began digging deeper into the

The map could be geographical,

theater’s history. Here’s the basic

conceptual, textual, verbal, or a

gist: the Columbus Theatre opened

combination. It was clear to me that

in 1926 as a vaudeville and silent film

there was only one option—all of

house. A cultural destination for

the above.

New Englanders, it was soon

Over friendly text messages,

renamed the Uptown Theater, which

I requested a tour from the Low

it remained for twenty-five years.

Anthem’s Ben Knox Miller. It took

Misak Berbarian, the current owner’s

place one late evening, an experience

father, bought it in 1962, made

as ethereal as the aura surrounding

extensive repairs, and restored its

the theater. An endlessly relaxed

original name. In the ’70s there were

Knox Miller guided me through the

some hard times, which prompted

labyrinthine, gigantic space, flipping

stints of adult film screenings (hence

light switches and spotlights like

the weird attic upstairs). After four

they were his very own toys. I

decades of intermittently hosting

climbed catwalks and played a

film, music, and theater events, the

Wurlitzer organ hooked up to a

Columbus closed in 2009 due to fire

code updates. It lay defunct until 2012. All this repurposing for a

into a record-listening loft space. to Providence that the Columbus is

beautiful mezzanines lined with

much more than a concert venue or

portraits of classical composers, a

a musician’s dreamland. It is a hub

mural-painted ceiling, and a

of creativity in a famously hyper-

Wurlitzer organ hooked to a set of

creative yet financially strapped city,

overhead drums and organ pipes is

the center of a legitimate musical

shocking. Comparisons to places like

scene that feels rooted in communal

the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville,

music-making and bringing musical

Tennessee, where the famous Grand

joy to a town with a unique set of

Ole Opry takes place, would not be

struggles. On a cold winter night,

far off—and imagine that few people

there’s no better place to be. And as

currently living in Providence have

the theater’s vision continues to

ever set foot inside.

grow, its occupants are becoming more comfortable using the space

Anthem encouraged the theater’s

for whatever events they want.

owner, Jon Berberian—an opera

Recently, the Columbus collective

singer and Brown alum who was

hosted a benefit show for a friend

gifted the theater by his father

who was shafted by her health

decades prior—to allow the band to

insurance company after they had

reopen the space to the public.

already given her the go-ahead for

Booking is curated by Low Anthem

gender-reassignment surgery.

band members and friends (among

Members helped their friend gain

them former Brown Bird manager

back expenses lost on flights and

Tom Weymen), who bring in shows of

hotels for the surgery, and to fund the

the highest order, including Swans,

procedure. Mayor Jorge Elorza was

Xylouris White, Black Pus, Bill

even in attendance.

Callahan, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and

So how did all of this come

local stalwarts like the Low Anthem,

together in my mapping assign-

Death Vessel, Ravi Shavi, and

ment? Ultimately, my design project

Lightning Bolt. The band also

took the form of a typographically

converted the theater’s many back

driven poster that served as an

rooms into a recording space, filling them with vintage instrument oddities and assorted memorabilia. Bands who perform at the theater fall in love with the space, and often spend the night in one of the back rooms, one of which has been turned

Discovering the Columbus

classic Italian-style opera house with

In 2012 members of the Low


It is clear to me as a newcomer


abstract history lesson on the space. I described it with a number of typographic phrases, band names, and an array of titles of events that have taken place at the theater over the years. These words are positioned such that they both describe the space verbally and physically embody the shape of the space. The words tell the story, but they also physically form the building’s structure and architecture. Much to my professor Tom Wedell’s satisfaction, the poster is a shockingly large 57 x 57 inches. It is a testament to the capacious story of the place, its incredible rebirth, and the joy it has brought so many people throughout its strange and storied history. It is also proof that I have not lost my passion for telling stories, especially those relating to music. If anything, I have merely gotten better at fitting the puzzle pieces of my identity together. Instead of vying for multiple means of expression as mutually exclusive endeavors and identities, I’ve come to see my multiple directions validating themselves in ways I never could have imagined. In the language of graphic design, I guess my ambitions will always be a “split fountain.” Today, it looks like that’s a reality I can live with. I even got to write an article about it.


Discovering the Columbus

Drew Litowitz, New and Old Horizons: Map of the Columbus Theatre, 2014, digital print, 57 Ă— 57 in.

A Conversation Between Jack Yu & Jacob Kaichuan MFA Ceramics 2015

MFA Furniture 2015

Jian (Jack) Yu is from Shanghai; Kaichuan (Jacob) Wang is from Beijing. They met during International Student Orientation and got together this spring to talk about RISD, Chinese art and design, and wishes for the future.

Jack Yu (top) and Jacob Kaichuan (bottom) in their studios. Photos: Alexander Stewart

We Are All Fruit

We Are All Fruit at the Same Time



Jack  How did you hear about RISD and why did you choose to come here? Jacob   Oh, it’s famous in China, famous for being the best design school in

the States. After my undergrad program in Product Design, I was working as a product designer, artist’s assistant, and sometimes I would even do graphics — anything to pay the bills. A few years ago I established a small company manufacturing rosewood furniture. I can do a lot of things, but I came to RISD to study what I’m really interested in. Jack  My undergrad was at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred

University, in upstate New York. I had a couple friends who came to RISD, and they told me really good things. I know a lot of people look at branding and ranking, but my goal was more about location. I wanted to be close to New York and Boston to have opportunities to see what's going on in the contemporary art world. I wanted to eat good food and meet great people. I also really liked that Providence was a little bigger city where I could show my work around — and that the weather would be much better than my undergrad. Jacob  Reputation or rankings are pretty tricky. From the other side of the

planet in China, you don’t know much about U.S. schools, so what people say is truth. My experience once I got here was different from what I expected. If someone from China came to me asking, “Do you think I should apply to this school?” I would tell them that it’s not about the school, it’s really about yourself. You have to ask yourself whether you are ready for grad school. I think I was, but it’s not like I finally got into the fancy school that I dreamed about. I just came here and started doing things, and I learned from that. Jack  I totally agree. You have to be ready to learn. You only have two years,

and it goes by really fast. You have to learn how to manage your time and come up with ideas and contact the outside world to show people your work. But it’s your body of work that is the most important thing. You have to use the school to make your work. Jacob   It’s very different from China, where when you choose a school, you’re

choosing a professor to be a mentor. They instruct you and might even give you a job. When you go to a master’s program in China, it’s like settling down. Here, it’s more of a way to launch yourself, to put a lot of things together for the future that fit who you are.

Jack  Yes, I’ve had two studio jobs here that allowed me to make an income.


And I’ve been able to meet lots of curators and gallery directors, who we have the NCECA [National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts] Conference in Providence. I never had that kind of opportunity before. That’s made me pretty happy. Jacob   It’s more competitive in China. Jack  Yes, we do have 1.3 billion people in China. You really have to fight to

get a job or a good position. But there’s also a huge opportunity to put work into that system. During the Chinese Civil War and the Cultural Revolution, with China a communist country, everyone owned the same things. We didn’t have a choice . After 1980, China reformed and shifted focus toward economic development. Soon people wanted things with personality; everyone wanted their own style. For twenty years we have been learning to produce multiple things for everybody. We have a really strong base in terms of factories and standardizations, but we still don’t have that many designers. We don’t have material research. Our generation wants to make interesting, new, identifiable work, while still respecting craft. It’s an opportunity. Jacob   It’s a little bit chaotic in the Chinese furniture industry. We have a lot

of factories, a lot of highly skilled workers, and great handicrafts, but we are not improving them or making progress. In the furniture company I started with my friends before I came here, we use old techniques to make works for modern life. We use the nice tongue-and-groove joinery of the Ming style. The problem with that usually is that it makes the furniture cost probably three times something put together with bolts. People appreciate the beauty of traditional furniture but they cannot afford it. Also, Ming furniture is not about comfort; it’s about sitting in a specific way — the furniture forces you to do that. That’s totally different from what people expect from furniture today. So something needs to change or traditions will die pretty soon. It’s the responsibility of the designers of our generation to think about these issues. Jack  Another issue is that a lot of products are over-produced. People make

the same things over and over, the work never sees the right price in the market, and it just gets cheaper and cheaper.

We Are All Fruit

have asked me to be in shows they are putting together. And this year


Jacob   In Jingdezhen, the ceramics capital of China, everyone is connected to

the ceramics industry. I did some work there. They have these very delicately made ceramic flowers and they charge like fifty cents for one flower. They are so nicely made, I bet you couldn’t even make one. Jack  Yes, Ai Wei Wei’s sunflower seed piece [millions of individually made

seeds that filled the Tate Modern in 2010–2011] was manufactured by 1,600 craftspeople in Jingdezhen over two years. You know, I try to use traditional skills like you do. We have a one thousand year history of Chinese ceramics. It’s important to me to use those tools and techniques and to address where I’m coming from. At the same time, it’s really important for me to see Asian and Western cultures, information, and resources mixing. Jacob   I see those cultures mixing here at RISD. I appreciate that people are

coming from many different backgrounds and different experiences, but everyone here is a student, and everyone here is practicing design or art. It’s a big group of creative people. It can be hard sometimes because people don’t know a lot about China and Chinese culture. I have classmates from Mexico, and they have a good history of handicraft, so we share that in common. Jack  I have made a lot of friends here who are from outside the United

States. This opens doors, and I get a glimpse into other countries and perspectives around the world. Sometimes in critique, to explain why I have made something, I’ll have to tell a story about where I come from. People find this interesting, and I like to use my work to tell that story. Jacob  Sometimes classmates from other cultures give us this reminder.

Someone from another culture will be able to point out how weird something is, something you would have overlooked or taken for granted, and you get to look at it from a different angle. Jack  Critique culture has been very new to me. Learning to talk about your

work is one of the most important parts of an education here. Jacob  The critique culture is totally different from China. In China, you listen

to the professors, and that’s all. Speaking in English has also been a

process of learning a new logic. Two months after I came here, I had a


dream where someone was speaking English, and I think that was a

Jack  What do you think you’ll do next, after RISD? Jacob   I want to travel. Furniture designers are designing living environments

for people. You can’t do that if you are twenty years old and have very limited life experience. It has always been my dream to see the world and have more experiences. Jack  Right now, I just want a studio space. I want to make my work. But

someday maybe I’ll open a restaurant where I can cook and have my ceramics. Maybe I’ll call you up to make some furniture. A restaurant is a symbol for building together and trusting each other. I have a dream that a team of people from different disciplines can make something like this happen. It’s a simple, beautiful dream. I want to connect really tightly with people. You know, we are all here in 2015, we are all from the same tree, and we are all fruit at the same time.

We Are All Fruit

very important sign.

MDes Interior Architecture  2015

see it as if I were standing right there. So I also integrated watching the sunrise as a key poetic moment. Reflecting on the sky’s

history. The park faces east. The sunrise there captivated me. It entered my dreams. Even when I closed my eyes at home, I could

transitional moments along paths where visitors could experience the elevation, enjoy the views, and acknowledge the site’s

My final project was inspired by the distinctive topographic characteristics of Narragansett Bay. The design highlighted

had recently acquired the site and engaged RISD to help reimagine its future.

until 1996, when it was torn down. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the Rocky Point Foundation

Rocky Point Park, a site about ten miles south of Providence that had been a famous and beloved amusement park from the 1840s

In Fall 2014 I enrolled in the Advanced Elective Studio in the Landscape Architecture Department. The course centered around

Khanh Luu

A Moment at Rocky Point Park


Following three spreads: Khanh Luu’s Rocky Point Park sketchbook pages

that even though this was one of the most difficult studios I had taken yet, I had also taken the most from it.

back, I see a semester full of research, site analyses, precedent studies, sketches, questions, and finally, a “moment” when I knew

My notebooks, where I do most of my design thinking, tell the story of this studio not in retrospect but as it happened. Looking

could do it—or at least that I would learn something new.

specialized in Landscape Architecture consistently produce incredible quantities and quality of work, I had to assure myself that I

relate to, to prioritize, and to develop my design from there. Self-confidence was also a challenge. Seeing my colleagues who

multiplied my usual scale many times up. To solve this problem, I used a zoom-in and zoom-out strategy to figure out what I could

student with a background as an interior designer of a luxury hotel in Singapore, I understood relatively smaller spaces. This project

changed my way of seeing. “Scale” was a real challenge for me at the beginning of the semester. Being an Interior Architecture

personal boundaries. I learned to accept what I don’t know and do whatever it takes to push my ideas forward step-by-step. I even

The studio was significant to me not only because of my project, but because it challenged me to push disciplinary and

ones’ names on the benches, honor and remember them, and help raise funds for the redevelopment of Rocky Point.

palette, I proposed a series of “Due-east Commemorative Benches” at the water’s edge. Here, visitors could inscribe their loved








Views of the bento swap. Photos: Lauren Tedeschi

My thesis work has focused on developing new culinary rituals to accompany contemporary American eating habits. A Wintersession studio in Japan—Meditation and

MID Industrial Design  2015

Lauren Tedeschi

The Bento Swap

Clay—gave me the opportunity to add cross-cultural culinary observation to my research. Here is an excerpt from my field notes . . . A mismatched gang of students caked in clay, we stand out in the sea of yellow jackets worn by the Okamura Printing Co. employees. The cafeteria ceilings are low with fluorescent lighting, and the sounds of Japanese PBS fill the air. There are sixteen of us around the table, and our daily ritual—the bento swap—is about to begin. A hungry bunch, we offer up unwanted foods and eagerly grab what we like. Some eat meat. Some only eat fish. Some say they are vegetarian but wind up taking a bite of everything. Some eat only cooked foods. Some eat only fresh foods, nothing fried. Then there are preferences for vegetables, for pickles, for sweets, for tofu, for rice.

Things don’t touch in a bento

foil cups and plastic grass provide

box, which makes our one especially

further separation. Individual por-

picky eater happy. Each box sits on a

tions of sauces, wasabi, and ginger

tray along with wooden chopsticks, a

are carefully placed. Even the food

toothpick, a tea cup, a portion of rice,

itself acts as self-packaging in the

and a bowl of miso soup. Inside the

form of tofu skin or egg.

box are six compartments. Today the

Now for the swap. Warnings

five small ones hold grated burdock

to the fish-only people are called

root, carrot, potato-gummy pickles,

out, and the volunteer meat eaters

and tofu shavings, macaroni salad,

announce, “I’ll eat your croquette if

bean sprout pickles, daikon pickles,

you don’t want it.” Then there are the

and a half moon fish cake. In the big

less predictable things, like the

square: shrimp and corn croquette,

vegetables. The slimy okra is offered

a potato and green onion dumpling,

up in excessive amounts. People

a piece of very pungent fish, and

pass their bentos across the table,

panko-dusted mystery meat.

scooting out the parts they want or

There’s something about

don’t want. It’s more polite than

uncovering the box, beholding the

it sounds—no one wants to be the

big reveal, and relishing the lunch

human equivalent of a garbage

lady’s handicraft that is like eating a

disposal. The most important part of

visual appetizer. The inner space is

the whole process? Save the best

sacred and treated as such, and the

bite for last.

physical barrier provides for a mental transition. Inside the compartments


Nafis White, Black Gold (detail), 2014, 10 gold-leafed basketballs, dimensions variable

Kindred Kelly Walters


MFA Graphic Design  2015

Sometime last spring, Nicole Buchanan, an undergraduate in Photography, was taking portraits of students at RISD who identified as being of African descent. When I read the call for participation, I immediately reached out. Around the same time there was a call for proposals for student-curated exhibitions for the Gelman Gallery in the RISD Museum. As Nicole took my portrait, I started to think about what it might mean to represent the same students of African descent through their work, in an exhibition context. I connected with Tia Blassingame, a graduate student in Printmaking, who became the co-curator of what would become known as Kindred. We had bonded during a Wintersession course, where we realized race and identity were at the core of both of our master’s theses. Together we submitted this proposal:

The purpose of the exhibition is to explore issues of identity and race among African-American artists and designers at RISD. We hope to connect the RISD community to prints, photographs, sculptures, and corresponding audio/video of students talking about their experience. The exhibit space will use performance as a catalyst to start meaningful dialogue and foster connections across campus. We see this as a platform to fully engage the RISD community, staff, faculty, and students in a conversation about the cultural context of their work. In our respective disciplines we are both exploring topics of race and racism and provoking conversations on difficult subject matter. Tia is conducting historical research that investigates racial tropes within seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Providence that are still germane today. Kelly is unearthing historical artifacts throughout American history as a way to better understand her own culture. When we learned in late May that our proposal had been chosen for a fall 2014 exhibition, we were ecstatic and started reaching out to as many artists and designers as we could before the spring semester came Posters designed by Kelly Walters


to a close. In the fall, we met many times to strategize about our curatorial direction and how the show would serve the RISD community more broadly. One of the most difficult aspects of this process was trying to decide what to call the show. Temporarily at a loss for something inclusive and specific enough, we settled on no title and posted flyers around campus with an “untitled” e-mail. Our sensitivity to issues such as

naming carried over into the way we connected with each student in the exhibition. We wanted everyone to be able to express the complexity of their artistic voices in a variety of ways. We asked everyone to prepare artist statements, which ultimately would shape the exhibition catalogue for the show, and we conducted a series of studio visits to meet everyone one on one. Part of our mission was to engage not just with each student’s work but with their experiences of race—and with the combination of the two. In our

recorded interviews we noticed that some students made work dealing


extensively with race and identity while others explicitly sought to explore Photography, and I discussed notions of “post-racial” identity and the sense of erasure in black culture. We also talked about our desires to excel and the worries that come with failing—or, to be more specific, the internalized overcompensation we enact in an attempt to not fail because we are black. As Andre explained: My thesis is called How to Be Good, so that’s what I’m focusing on . . . being good to a certain extent, or in someone else’s eyes. And the eyes are different, they’re polarized. There are white eyes and there are black eyes. But “being good” does something for both visions. Like it solidifies you as an athlete, or as a father, or as a success. But then that success deteriorates a normal conception of a black man as one who fails. So what I’m trying to work out is this idea of being good and how you deal with those messages as they relate to sports, sex, and school. Looking back now, I recognize that the trajectory of the show was influenced by Andre’s story and others like it, each highlighting the vastness of what it means to be an artist or designer who happens to be black. In recognizing our common experiences, we all began to feel a powerful connection with each other. Searching for a word to describe it, I stumbled on “kindred,” which turned out to be just the right title. Our exhibition poster highlighted our kinship in the form of two unique intersecting circles. ••• The closer we got to the opening reception, the more buzz I was hearing on campus about “the black art show.” One grad student asked me outright: “You’re doing that show with all the black people, right?” I didn’t know what to make of these characterizations. Were they rooted in some negative thought? Were they innocent comments? In some ways they seemed to diminish the richness of the cultures within the African Diaspora, and


shared aspects of the human condition. Andre Bradley, a graduate student in

Kindred, installation view, RISD Museum. Photo: Kevin Hughes




overlooked that the students in the show represented a cross-section of ethnic affiliations that included European, Caribbean, Hispanic, and Asian ancestry. But as I commiserated with Tia I realized this was the reason we were creating this show: to unpack who “black people” are and what “black people” are doing. We didn’t know how individuals or the larger academic institution would respond to this effort, which was unprecedented in a RISD Museum gallery space. We were nervous, but we knew we had to see our vision through. A week or so before Kindred opened, I attended a public conversation at Brown University between the artist Glenn Ligon and the art historian Huey Copeland. Ligon has been at the center of exhibitions and conversations about race and art and has written very articulately about these issues, so I knew I had to get his perspective. I raised my hand and described our curatorial project and the intense reservations some of the artists in our show had voiced about being forced to represent their race. Then I asked him: “To any young black artist or any artist dealing with race or identity [in their work], what advice would you give . . . if they are at the crux or the crossroads of deciding that they don’t want to do this anymore? What would you say to them?” He paused for a moment and laughed along with Huey at the enormous weight of my question. Then he paraphrased Toni Morrison’s rejection of assumptions about blackness being a fixed aspect of anyone’s work: “Well, that presumes that blackness is some knowable thing. That we know the contours of it, and [it’s] like a well we just dip into. We know there’s black water down there, [so] we just dip into it, and there’s your content.” I loved this analogy as a response to generalizations that lump all black art into the “show with all the black people.” Then Ligon ended with another idea—that we might ignore those who narrowly define identities in favor of those who don’t: “Anyway, I don’t know if I have any deep advice for you, but I’ve just found that the older I’ve gotten the less concerned I am with people’s limitations around the subject matter of the work because there are people . . . who deeply get what I’m trying to do.” ••• On opening night, December 4, the room was electric. People stayed the entire two hours, and the last stragglers had to be shepherded out. Looking at the work of Nafis White, an undergrad in Sculpture, I clearly saw the community Kindred had created. Her installation Black Gold is made up of ten gold-leaf covered basketballs. Nafis allowed us to strategically scatter

them throughout the exhibition space, and somehow their dispersion,


whether in isolation or in groups of two or three, symbolized myself and other We might be a small segment of the RISD population, but we were visibly present in a way many artists said they hoped we could be in their interviews months before. In January we followed the exhibition with a two-part evening symposium supported by the Mapping Identities Initiative of the Provost’s Office. The first part featured presentations by RISD alumna Blue Wade, Associate Professor Digital Media at Marymount College; Forest Young, Creative Director at Interbrand; and Bolaji Campbell, Associate Professor in RISD’s Department of Art and Visual Culture. In a moderated conversation afterward, they offered varied responses to questions like: Are we beyond creating all-“black” shows? Is there a tendency to combine the African-American experience with that of all African-descended people? And how are those experiences seen by the mainstream? One of the most critical questions I asked was: Who is a person of color? While Forest chose “to see a person of color as one who colors,” Blue believed this was a “question that has to be answered by the community.” Bolaji talked about the relationship between privilege and education, noting that “A person of color is the marginalized. It is not just about your skin color.” In the second part, students featured in the Kindred exhibition talked about their work and responded to Kindred’s themes. Patrice Payne, an alumna of the Teaching + Learning in Art + Design program, recalled co-founding RISD’s student group Black Artists and Designers (BAAD) a few years ago. Nafis noted that there are only eighty-four black students at RISD and described an “unwillingness on the part of some of my peers” to engage with her recent work, which responds directly to the fatal shootings of Michael Brown and other black men. Jamar Bromley, a graduate student in Graphic Design, shared photographs of his multicultural, “innocent and naïve” childhood on military bases abroad, not in the real America, but the “America we strive to be.” Luther Young III, a graduate student in Industrial Design, and Dora Mugerwa, a Brown-RISD dual-degree undergraduate in Furniture Design and Environmental Science, both talked about how Kindred had led them to rethink aspects of their own identity in relation to their work. Here is Dora’s experience, which gets at both the individuality and the collectivity of identity:


students of African descent thriving in various departments across campus.




Kindred, installation view, RISD Museum. Photo: Kevin Hughes


Participating in the show has helped me to realize there are multiple layers to the subject matter in my work . . . and race and identity is indeed one of those layers. But at the core is my multicultural experience of being born and raised in Sweden until I was about eleven years old, of being someone living in Sweden but of [Ugandan] descent, and then moving and living in Northern Virginia up until now. . . . Through these experiences I have come to realize that I rely heavily on the human body, more specifically body language, to sense my place in society no matter who I am engaging with or where I am. As a result I personally see the human body as being one of many commonalities across cultures, across race, across all kinds of people. That is the one thing I feel like I can 100 percent identify with no matter where I look in the world. Such references to the “human body” and the “human condition” and “human culture” surfaced multiple times, illuminating greater societal concerns as the focus of her work. Following the symposium, the Kindred artists were invited to a luncheon with MLK Celebration Series keynote presenter Danny Glover. Hearing this famous actor and activist recall his introduction to acting and his start in the film industry was perhaps the most surreal moment in the narrative of Kindred. Later that night in his opening remarks he described the lasting impression our exhibition had had on him: If you haven’t seen the installation of the Afro-descended students—whether from Haiti, from Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, New York, Florida, or San Francisco—you’ll be missing something very special. And to have lunch there, and to be fed physically with the food and also to be fed spiritually in my soul with their artwork, it was just amazing and I just want to thank you, all of you who participated this afternoon. Sitting in the auditorium, I couldn’t have heard his shout out more clearly, and I was proud to extend our audience so far beyond RISD. ••• For the past few months since the show has come down, I’ve been asking myself what Kindred accomplished and what its afterlife might be. Throughout the planning stages Tia and I met regularly with Tony Johnson

from the Office of Intercultural Student Engagement to share our ideas, so


I thought I’d return to him to help unpack this experience. Tony shared a student. He said of Kindred, “There aren’t a lot of opportunities that come to RISD organically, from who we are, that provide this kind of elegant approach to something the institution has historically struggled with.” He said he saw our project as an “offering” that had the capacity to “affirm, liberate, empower, educate, build space, and inform the institution.” This response was moving. An “offering”? I had never thought of Kindred like that, but somehow the word felt spot on. And the offering had been accepted: after the show and symposium, I was inundated by responses from friends, faculty, and the RISD Museum community, who were all so eager to share what they saw, what they experienced, and how they reacted. When I asked Tony whether he thought Kindred was a success, he answered, “You expanded the institutional framework in a new way, using the very same systems that at times seem to marginalize communities to build conversations and model this kind of practice.” Tony then paraphrased a Peggy McIntosh text, saying that Kindred was “in some ways a window and in some ways a mirror.” This, I believe, was the best outcome we could have hoped for. By giving authentic voices a chance to be heard, we allowed the artists and designers to be seen differently and encouraged RISD to be reflective of its own community. It is my hope that RISD students continue to propose exhibitions and design forums that celebrate cultural multiplicity and ignite conversation, that push not only the institution but themselves to be more supportive and attuned to the artistic practices of all peers across

Kelly Walters, Tia Blassingame, and Danny Glover viewing Kindred. Photo: David O'Connor



historical perspective I wasn’t aware of in my short time here as a grad

MARCH Architecture 2015

MARCH Architecture 2015

MARCH Architecture 2015

Dane Clark, Shou Jie Eng, and Rami Hammour

recordings:detroit & the Geographies of Collaborative Work


As Architecture students at RISD,

way we want them to be. For

our work in the studio often deals

recordings:detroit, we started by

with difficult problems of site and

researching the city’s history,

program through a process of

architecture, culture, economy, and

abstraction and diagramming. As

current successful communal

soon-to-be graduates of the

projects. Then we went to Detroit,

program, we started building on that

met with people who work on these

foundation by questioning the type

projects, walked and drove around,

of practice we want to someday be a

and drew and documented parts

part of. The collaborative research

of the city. Based on this research

that we undertook, recordings:

phase, we identified a site for a

detroit, with funding from a 2014

design intervention: the former

Graduate Studies Grant, was a first

Tiger Stadium in Corktown.

step in identifying the subject matter and methodology of our anticipated

  On Detroit (Shou Jie) 

future work together. Detroit is a prime case study of the   On collaboration (Rami) 

Fordist city in a post-industrial landscape. It stands, scarecrow-like,

We come from different cities around

as a reminder of the effects of

the world; Detroit, Singapore, and

large-scale racial divisions and

Damascus. Our main objective for

suburban flight on an urban area. In

recordings:detroit was to establish a

a world facing rising inequalities in

collaborative method that would

wealth, education, and access to

allow for a culturally and intellectu-

basic needs, the Detroit experience

ally multi-layered design process.

reinforces the importance of

We thought of our method as a

equitable distribution for sustain-


able growth.

tions.” Each of us starts with an

But Detroit is also one of the

initial design concept, then gives it to

few cities where cumulative urban

the next person to develop, then the

trauma has produced something

next, and so on. Between each step

akin to the “proletarian position”

we have critical discussions to

that Slavoj Žižek describes, after

inspire everyone’s next move, and in

Marx, as a reduction to a zero level,

the end we further develop one or

where the conditions of daily

more of our iterations.

existence are exposed and open to

Another objective was to

evaluation. The city’s population,

understand and design for cities

with its civil society, local govern-

the way they are, and not only the

ment, and private enterprise, finds



itself in the rare position of holding

departure point for developing

the trump to future placemaking.

a thesis.

This potential is rapidly being

My involvement with the

exercised, in part by large land-

project left me with two acute pains:

holding developers, but also by

one wrought by the spaces and

community organizations and

people of Detroit as they are


rendered in its post-collapse state,

As a group that was born at the

and one by the city’s spiral narrative

dawn of what Rem Koolhaas terms

and operations of abandonment.

“the bonfire of neoliberalism,” we are

Abandonment, in this case, is the

able to compare with ourselves the

liminal state of being post-loss and

generation of architects that shaped

pre-found; it is a moment in a

the post-historical spaces in which

lifetime when the spaces and people

we grew up. Detroit and other cities

we come to dwell with are undefined,

like it represent our fears of what our

independent, and alone.

own contemporary cities could

My thesis work has continued

become. At the same time it presents

to address the state of abandonment

the possibility of testing and negoti-

I found in Detroit toward under-

ating the terms on which urban

standing how it relates to the people

environments are shaped, in an

of the city, the controlling powers

attempt to pre-empt their eventual

of the city, and the physical state of


the body. My current work leans and builds on the findings from

  On next steps (Dane) 

recordings:detroit. My individual thesis would not have happened

recordings:detroit was not only about

without the work of the group.

experimenting with collaborative design methodologies, it was also a catalyst for our independent thesis work. The project demanded we develop an individual, ethical stance regarding engaging with the city, especially in a post-collapse state. It was only after developing an individual position that the work could be collided and conflicted through collaboration. That initial interest, operation, stance, and focus varied for each of us, and served as a Background: Dane Clark, Shou Jie Eng, and Rami Hammour, R-D-S (Thick Lines with Circulatory Flow), 2014, digital rendering


Dane Clark, Shou Jie Eng, and Rami Hammour, S-R-D (Topographical Volume with Excavations), 2014, digital rendering


Radha May, When the Towel Drops, Volume I, Italy, film installation, Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, Brown University, 2015

Yes, I Am: An Interview with the Artist Radha May

Radha May explores forgotten and hidden histories, peripheral sites, and feminine myths. Her projects begin with an investigation of things she does not understand but wants to bring closer to her. She uses tools borrowed from anthropologists, historians, and journalists to conduct her research. She works in the field, meticulously sifting through historical and social archives, distilling what she finds into fictional and surreal scenarios that complicate our assumptions about history, borders, and cultural and social formations. Interviewer  Hello, Radha May.



Radha May Hello. Interviewer  Let me start by asking, who is Radha May? Radha May  I am a researcher-artist. I am from three different cities—

Kampala, New Delhi, and Palermo—but I am currently living in both Kampala and New York. Interviewer  So you come from three different cultures. Is this reflected in

your work? Radha May  I think it impacts the sensitivity and nuance with which I make

work. It complicates the way I look at things and informs the sites of my investigations and perhaps even the depth with which I explore a subject. It’s also an opportunity to address subjects from three different perspectives. Any dissonance is an opportunity to dispel assumptions and to merge what otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. Interviewer  I was just re-reading your artist statement, and three areas of

focus you mention intrigue me: feminine myths, borders, and hidden histories. Radha May  Femininity is an abstract notion that takes many forms across

cultures. It is a term I choose to understand through artistic research. If femininity is a social construction, it begs me to ask: What then is innately female? But actually the first image that comes to mind is of my grandmother in Sicily prohibiting me to wear shorts like my brother. She wanted me to only wear skirts. Interviewer  What do borders mean to you? Radha May  Borders signify the beginning of one thing and the end of

another. Borders underlie cultural assumptions and cultural formations that we use to separate things around us, most of the time in a way that subjugates. People make borders, and I am interested in discovering more about that inherent subjectivity. When I was a graduate student at RISD, I went on a class trip to India. We missed a connecting flight from India to the USA and we ended up in transit in Munich overnight. My colleagues—Americans and

a lone Canadian—were given a hotel room in Munich for the night,


which also included free dinner and breakfast. I was commandeered to I hold three different passports, and each brings with it different possibilities or restraints around mobility. If your country is not in the Schengen agreement, for example, movement to and within the twenty-six European countries in this partnership can be difficult. I am collecting such traces of geographic bureaucracy. This archive of documents will become an artwork at some point. Interviewer  What do hidden histories mean to you? Radha May  These are histories, representations, or ideas that have been

censored and thus restrict the ways in which we make sense of the world. Finding those hidden histories and re-circulating them can change both the present and the future. The Brown professor and theorist Ariella Azoulay’s concept of “potentializing history” has influenced my thinking here. Interviewer  And what personal experiences inform your work? Radha May  Extremely rigid ideas of sexuality, gender, and the roles of men

and women. I am keenly interested in the stories of women—their interior lives in the face of social norms, the intersection of the two, and how they are negotiated. And of course my work is informed by my experience as a woman negotiating so many different social, cultural, and technological contexts. Interviewer What project are you working on at the moment? Radha May  A long-term, trans-national, art-research project about

instances where gender and sexuality were censored out of cinema. The first phase of the project, When the Towel Drops, Volume I, Italy, addresses cinema censorship in Italy in the 1950s and the 1960s. It’s a film installation that resurrects censored footage of women’s femininity and sexuality from the Italian film archives. It premiered this spring at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts at Brown University and was featured in the Cinema Ritrovato Festival and the Interrupt Festival. The next phases will most likely explore aspects of censorship on the

YES, I am

a military cot in a forgotten corner of the airport with a 10-euro voucher.

Radha May, When the Towel Drops, Volume I, Italy, film installation, Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, Brown University, 2015




Internet in parallel with censorship in Bollywood and in South Africa during the apartheid era. Interviewer  What is it about censorship that interests you? Radha May  It’s a form of hidden history. At the root of it all, censorship is

about all kinds of fear, including the fear of being corrupted or changed by images. Do images really have that power? And now that we are able to re-circulate those images, many years later, what might change? Interviewer  Can you talk more about the relationship between femininity,

cinema, and censorship? Radha May  In many cultures, the censoring institutions are patriarchal.

Looking closely at what’s left in and what’s left out of cinema, I saw how the “acceptable” or “ideal” woman was marketed: she is not sexual, not provocative, does not challenge authority, and in fact does not even give birth. By making visible the scenes that were censored, I intend to show that the “acceptable” woman was not always imagined that way. Interviewer  Can you give me an example of a censored scene in When the

Towel Drops? Radha May  There are many censored scenes of women dancing, kissing,

bearing their bodies, experiencing pleasure. In Ingmar Bergman’s Brink of Life a woman is having complications during childbirth. The camera moves between the faces of the birthing woman, the doctor, and the nurses. There is no nudity. And so the scene is not about what you see, but about what you can imagine. Dialogue was censored too. Dubbing allowed for an additional censorship—a soft censorship. In the original French version of Godard’s Breathless, Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) says to Patricia (Jean Seberg): “All right, we are good friends, so we should sleep together!” But in the Italian, dubbed version he says: “All right, we are good friends, we should get married!” Interviewer  Today, in 2015, how does censorship play out in technology?

Radha May  Governments can try to control what circulates or block certain


sites, which is one thing. But also the Internet offers unrestricted certain hostility that indicates a person’s idea of acceptability. Flagging a video, trolling, flaming, or revenge porn can all be considered violent or controlling acts of censorship between Internet users. There’s also self-censorship; a friend of mine will wear her hijab in pictures that will be posted on Facebook, but otherwise she doesn’t wear it. By allowing multitudes to express their ideas of acceptability, censorship on the Internet becomes a discursive act between individuals. Concurrently, the circulation of controversial representation is regulated by less visible decision-making processes, such as those made by algorithms or social media subcontractors adhering to private companies’ undisclosed policies. Interviewer  Are you planning on sharing your research? What form will it

take? Radha May  Yes, part of my methodology is to make my research open and

accessible. For instance, When the Towel Drops, Volume I, Italy took form as a 35 mm film installation, a performance, and a limited-edition free publication. I am now working on other ways to share the research so that it reaches a wider audience and is not bound to a physical location. Interviewer  Thank you very much, Radha May. By the way, are you a

feminist artist? Radha May  Hmmm . . . maybe? Yes, I am.

Radha May ( is an artist comprised of Elisa GiardinaPapa, Nupur Mathur, and Bathsheba Okwenje, all recent graduates of the Digital + Media program. She is also the interviewer.


dissemination, which can lead to hyper-visibility, and as a result a

Elise Kirk, all works untitled, from the series “Mid–,� 2014, archival inkjet prints, dimensions variable

Are We There Yet Elise Kirk

MFA Photography 2015

Like many Americans, I grew up in a place that I left when I turned eighteen. Since departing my native Midwest two decades ago, I have lived in half a dozen cities on two continents and worked strings of freelance jobs for weeks and months at a time across the globe. As Alexis de Tocqueville and Nathaniel Hawthorne observed early in our country’s history: No one moves around like an American. Ours is a nation founded upon mobility, ambition, exploration, the pioneering spirit, prospecting, westward expansion, and greener grass just down the way. But in my lifetime American society has become exponentially more mobile and correspondingly placeless. In Country of Exiles: The Destruction of Place in American Life, historian William Leach warns that our love affair with mobility has drastic effects on our national psyche: “We live longer but emptier, without those nurturing habitats or places which remind us where we came from and, therefore, who we are.” Leach describes two competing forces at play in this collective migration: a centrifugal force pushes us each outward into the world while a centripetal one pulls us back into center, to


our vital connectedness to place. These competing forces once had a regulatory function, but today they are deeply strained. Recognizing that my own modern-day dislocation had run amok, I set out on a sort of road trip in reverse, charting a centripetal voyage back to my own home state (Missouri), my mother’s (Kansas), and my father’s (Iowa). I traveled to ancestral farms and towns and points in-between, searching both for people still grounded in place and those just passing through, as well as those who reside in perpetual limbo, always on the brink of a possible move. In the new American landscape of the temporary, the Midwest is perceived as a transient zone—the so-called “flyover states” of flat, endless highways to be endured on the way to someplace better, exemplifying restless tension and setting a stage for the universal question, Should I stay or should I go? In Why People Photograph Robert Adams observes that “photographers can be especially vulnerable to dislocation.” When my drive began from Rhode Island, I was a bundle of nerves. Fears ran laps in my head: I am inadequate as a photographer. I gambled everything on my dreams. What is my work about? The playlist repeated through Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio. But something happened when I hit Indiana. I was on the homestretch, and, Bam! There was land as far as the eye could see—flat, wide, infinite, beautiful land. Cruise control land. Barely sharing the road land. Change the dial land. My mind let go of its ruminations and made room for visions of photographs.

Arriving in Kansas, I tracked down a family farm passed through the


lineage of a grandparent’s sibling, a parent’s cousin, and my second cousin, same homestead my German ancestors first settled in America. I first made their portrait in the backyard—the boy with his twig-and-duct-tape slingshot and the girl with her kittens—then asked if they would like another photograph made in their favorite spot. They led me to the front porch, where they like to watch cars pass by. My mom and I revisited the plot in Kansas from which her restless father uprooted the family sixty years ago. She planted her bare feet in the ground, accepted the hot prairie wind in her hair and face and limbs, and was at once transported by the landscape to the particular pains and pleasures of a particular childhood in a particular place, making peace with it. Traversing my family’s home states, I would be drawn to a detail without knowing why. Placing my tripod on the ground, I set to work, unfolding my 4 x 5 camera, adjusting knobs, tilting my lens left or right, leveling bubbles to indicate straightness, flatness, satisfying an itch in my brain. I adjusted my focus: a live bunny trapped under a fake swan, a painted buffalo grazing on a planted tree. When I was patient and lucky, the magic happened: sunlight emerged from a cloud to illuminate the side of the farmhouse, just as a girl in a tire swing set sail; a driver pulled his car between the grazing buffalo and grain elevator to stare back at me.

Are We There yet

where now a fifth generation—that of my would-be children—is rooted in the


Are We There yet


Though motivated by own return home, I hope this work speaks to anyone stuck in the cycle of Where do I go next? The photographs play on the Midwest as a metaphorical transitional zone, but what I find most interesting about the region is not its rootlessness, but its rootedness. Here is an area of the country where interstate highways speed travelers and truckers past the homesteads and small towns that have sustained kinships for time immemorial. Right in the heart of the country, the centrifugal and centripetal forces beat in time with unobserved vascular strength. This must be what I was looking for.

Description of what's going on in this picture and who's in it (at about this length, including parenthetical).


Are We There yet

Last fall I had the chance to observe


high school students participating in Michael Lamar’s two-week Design Studio offered to students in RISD’s Project Open Door. Project Open Door is a free college-access program that supports the artistic development of teens attending underserved public high schools in Rhode Island’s urban core cities of and Woonsocket. The program increases rates of acceptance and retention in higher education, supporting students’ long-term success in art and design. Throughout my observations I

MAT Teaching + Learning in Art + Design 2015

was struck by how articulate the high

Tess Spalty

Sketches & Sounds of Project Open Door

Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence,

school students were when speaking about their work. The intelligence and intimacy of their words was deeply moving, and I was surprised by their sophistication at such a young age. I wanted to create a simple, personal project that would highlight their words during their final critiques in the program. While the students stood up to explain their final projects, I drew quick, live sketches of them next to their work. I wrote their most articulate expressions describing their creative process. The end result was a large poster I recomposed into a multipage book. Looking back on the students’ progress I realize their ideas were already rich before coming into the program. They were just not tangible

yet. I often find that high school students hold back their most imaginative ideas, opting for practicality and waiting for permission, but the students I observed in Project Open Door were fearlessly inspired. They wanted to explore, and without limitations of resources or materials, they were confident in their process, and their realized work was amazingly mature. The students were proud of their work, and my project set out to spotlight their accomplishments through simple image and text.

This page and following spread: Tess Spalty, Art Talk (details), 2014, ink on paper, 22 Ă— 30 inches


This spring Rhode Island School of


Design welcomed the internationally acclaimed Raqs Media Collective (Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula, and Shuddhabrata Sengupta) as the Vikram and Geetanjali Kirloskar Visiting Scholars in Painting. The collective, formed in New Delhi in 1992, joined forces with Painting professor Dennis Congdon to teach A Myriad Marginalia, an experimental studio course exploring manuscript marginalia from medieval to contemporary in both research and practice. The course culminated with the creation of a large-scale, 100page experimental manuscript beautifully bound by bookbinder and the real heart of the course was our month spent with Raqs in the RISD MFA Painting 2016

Museum’s Lower Farago Gallery,

Jagdeep Raina

Raqs & Raunik

RISD alum Jim DiMarcantonio. But

where we looked, drew, wrote, read, talked, and drank tea, all in a space open to the whole RISD community and the public. Prior to the Raqs arrival, we met with Printmaking professor Andrew Raftery, who demonstrated how to make iron gall ink, Chinese ink, and quills from scratch to create marginalia drawings in the manuscript pages. Margot Nishimura, a former RISD professor, gave an insightful talk at the Fleet Library, where she shared her book Images in the Margins, a survey of absurd, horrifying, and playful marginalia found in the borders of English,

French, and Italian medieval manu-

to see an imminent solar eclipse to

scripts. We also visited the John

imagining how humans would

Carter Brown Library at Brown to

someday become walking images

study the marginalia scribbled in the

and archives. Soon Monica arrived,

pages of a wide range of texts. Kim

and the reading discussions began.

Nusco, Reference and Manuscript

The Raqs shared more than forty

Librarian, and Ken Ward, Maury A.

texts, ranging from their own

Bromsen Curator of Latin American

experimental writings to the private

Books, devoted themselves to an

diaries of a man named Heeraprasad.

extraordinary afternoon with us,

As discussions floated off, students

sharing material ranging from early

would wander over to the tables

editions of Aristotle’s works to

full of waiting manuscript pages.

children’s drawings in the margins of

We added our marginalia to the

eighteenth-century New England

scorching indigo-blue designs that

families’ books.

peppered the printed paper. Collab-

In March the magical trio

orating on the same sheets made the

arrived in Providence, bringing with

pages even richer, as did taking them

them the spring weather, a flux of

home with us and inviting people

experimental and eccentric ideas,

outside the Museum’s walls to make

and infinite raunik, the Punjabi word

their mark. Each class was different

for livelihood and joy. The very first

from the last, adding an element of

class was with just Shuddha and

surprise and mystery; we were never

Jeebesh. Our phenomenal conversa-

quite sure what would happen.

tion set the stage for what was to

This page and following spread: Views of A Myriad Marginalia, RISD Museum. Photos: Dennis Congdon

come. Topics ranged from yearning

Over the course of the month, the gallery transformed from what I


had known as a restrained space for

just two of hundreds of small,

quiet visitors, academics, museum

visceral memories that changed my

curators, and prowling guards into a

relationship with the RISD Museum.

vital communal space for not just

Every person who entered became a

looking but creating. I began to see

part of a conversation and had their

raunik in every nook and cranny of

voices heard.

the gallery. Films were shown on the

The weeks slipped by, and the

walls, tables were littered with

manuscript book began to bulge.

drawings, art supplies, books, and

The drawings and writings became

tea bags. Conversations were held,

livelier and livelier, and we all fell

laughter was constant, and the

deeper and deeper into the raunik of

crowd became extraordinarily

the page. Acting as writers, artists,

eclectic. One Sunday afternoon a

philosophers, and provocateurs,

museum guard excitedly grabbed

much like the Raqs themselves, we

my arm and asked if she could sit in

engaged with intensive criticality the

and draw in the manuscripts. An

question of how we see ourselves as

elderly gentleman picked up a rare

artists and realized the necessity of

first edition of Salman Rushdie’s

engaging with the world around us

Midnight’s Children, helping himself

every single day. To enter a course

to some tea and sitting for hours

with rigid expectations of how I

engrossed in the novel. These are

should live my life as a thinker and

create meaningful artwork, engage

tions completely unraveled and

in honest discussion, and develop

remade—nothing is initially more

a work ethic saturated in rigor and

devastating yet ultimately rewarding.


Looking back on my first year

The drawings on the following

as a graduate student at RISD, I can

pages—of the Museum’s current

in retrospect say that one of the

exhibition of our marginalia, a far

biggest factors that lured me here

more orderly rendition of the course

was the Vikram and Geetanjali

itself—are my attempt to resuscitate

Kirloskar Visiting Scholar program.

the dizzying and majestic transfor-

This initiative, started by a generous

mation of the space during our

donation from the Kirloskar family

collective residency. The Raqs’ swift

to the school in 2013, has given

departure out of Providence to

students meaningful exposure to

continue their adventures beyond

Indian art and culture. Being a

the margins of the United States

first-generation South Asian born

left a gaping hole. But their legacy

and raised in Ontario, my knowledge

has already become legendary,

of contemporary South Asian art

forever living on in the hearts of

had always been very little. Taking

those they touched.

Contemporary South Asian Art with Chitra Ganesh—the prior Kirloskar artist-in-residence—in the fall of 2014 and working with the Raqs allowed me to not just expand my knowledge of South Asian art but to acquire the tools necessary to

Following spreads: Jagdeep Raina, The Gateway of Kingdom and Riches and Gems and Jewels, Rubies: On These Blessed Walls, each 2015, watercolor and pastel on paper, 22 × 30 in.


Raqs & Raunik

artist and then have those expecta-


Raqs & Raunik


Raqs & Raunik

It was the morning of my birthday was so strong that the state of Rhode Island had banned driving. My usually childlike self would have enjoyed this surreal moment—I would have been out there making snowballs in the streets—except for the fact that the Glass Department’s graduate exhibition was scheduled to open in two days, and I had a lot of work to do. There I was, snowed in on my birthday, feeling a little sorry for myself and worried that the piece I had been working on for months would be doomed. Ambient Scentscapes was the craziest and grandest work I had MFA Glass 2015

conceptualized in the history of my

Christina Poblador

On Snow, Smell, & Becoming a Better Human Being

and the blizzard outside my window

art practice. It built on my research on scent, synesthesia, and cultural and feminine identity to create an immersive, participatory performance in which I translated a musical composition into six scent “notes,” referencing the top, middle, and base notes in the language of perfumery. Each note corresponded with a color-coded taxonomy that infused the stage. The band I had been working with was scheduled to drive in from New York that day but was forced to cancel. In a pool of anxiety I thought to myself, How can I possibly pull this off? Then I remembered where I was years before, on the other side of the world, alone in my studio in the Philippines having conversations

Christina Poblador, Ambient Scentscapes, 2015, performance view

with myself and making the same

practice. This is what graduate

thing over and over again. I realized I

school gave me. It taught me the

had never cared about my work as

value of experimentation and the

much as I cared about that piece on

courage to push forward despite the

that day.

risk of failure. It gave me professors

As not all stories in my life have

who challenge me yet are patient

happy endings, it brings me great

enough to see through my failures

pleasure to tell this one because of

and notice when I am onto some-

how it ends. It ends with the band

thing. It gave me peers who under-

braving the storm the next day and

stand the rollercoaster of making,

with the student gallery team and

support critical feedback, and help

my friends troubleshooting until the

each other grow as artists.

last second before the opening. One

Someone once told me that

fellow grad helped me tack up the

two weeks in RISD grad school are

giant cloth backdrop, another

equivalent to two years in normal life,

advised me to get a bigger torch to

and I laugh, sometimes in exaspera-

disperse the scent. I was still a

tion over the pain and sweat of

nervous mess, but once the perfor-

digging so deep and sometimes in

mance began, I fell right into the

disbelief because I know how rare

moment and found that sharing my

this experience has been. I wouldn’t

vision with such an appreciative

go as far as to say that I know myself

audience was priceless. I thought,

completely now—nothing is ever

This is it. This is the feeling that

certain; but I know that the changes

makes everything worth it.

that happened during my time here

Moments of frustration often bring the strongest version of ourselves to life. I persevered through the frustration and I got back the passion I had for my art

have made me better not just as an artist but as a human being.

This page: Aaron Tobey, Hinge, 2015, Plexiglas and mixed media, 18 Ă— 24 in.

MARCH Architecture 2015

on a six-month search for fuzzy borders of all kinds.

just begun to imagine the beginnings of answers. This photo essay is about where these questions began and where they led me—

trade account for individual experience? And how do we experience the scale of the global in our everyday personal lives? I’ve only

How do we define and occupy space? How do spaces structure our interpersonal relationships? How do the mechanisms of global

My graduate written thesis, Edges / Excess, asks a series of open-ended questions, including: How do lines both connect and divide?

Aaron Tobey

Here and Where: Navigating Fuzzy Borders

Following spreads, photos: Aaron Tobey


Given the persistent colonial-style dedication of land and labor to growing these crops, I began to question the external control of Sri Lankan nationals’ relationship to the landscape and the degree to which the land itself could be called Sri Lankan.

During a Landscape Architecture

course taught by Lili Hermann in

Wintersession 2014, we visited Sri

Lanka, a country blanketed in tea

plantations. It struck me immedi-

ately that the crops growing in

these Sri Lankan fields are slated

for instant export as “English

Breakfast” tea.

Tea drying, Mackwoods Plantation, Nuwara Elia, Sri Lanka

by land.

time to get there, traveling only

months, and gave myself that much

home from Paris departing in five

from RISD, bought a plane ticket

and first-hand. So I arranged a leave

national identity more widely, deeply,

implications of global trade and

end, I realized I had to explore the

throughout the course, and by the

This question persisted and grew

Colombo International Container Terminal, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Here and Where

Tea plantations, Nuwara Elia, Sri Lanka


replaced the city’s organic center.

speculative building projects have

opment; mega-infrastructure and

ment has come fast-paced redevel-

foreign investment. With this invest-

laws, creating a favorable climate for

environmental, export, and taxation

is exempt from China’s labor,

China. Established in 1980, Shenzhen

Special Economic Zone, Shenzhen,

My first stop was the world’s first

Demolition / Construction in Luohu District, Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (SEZ), China

A massive migration of workers from around China fuels Shenzhen’s manufacturing operations. Workers form social groups based on their home provinces, patronizing segregated bars and restaurants.

The redevelopment has occurred in piecemeal fashion. Corporate symbols—in the shape of foreignarchitect-designed iconic formalism — take precedence over practical connections. Isolated blocks and

walkways to nowhere.

islands amid a labyrinth of elevated

empty streets reflect off these glass

Street bars in Longgang District, Shenzhen SEZ, China

Skywalks in Futian District, Shenzhen SEZ, China



Here and Where


Remnants of historical southern Silk Road trader settlements litter the valley. Tombs, family mosques, and homesteads rise out of and return to the dusty earth. History intersects with the present, creating a temporal complication of borders and identities.

Next I traveled west to Tashkurgan, a

semi-autonomous trade and military

outpost at a strategic intersection of

borders, granting a degree of control

over international relations dispro-

portionate to its remoteness. Visible

at every turn of one’s view, the

borders around Tashkurgan multiply

and dissolve into meaninglessness.

Sarikol Kingdom Fortress ruins (looking West to Tajikistan)

the direction of trade.

of the distant southern horizon, in

the plateau allows for constant views

west is limited, and the openness of

cycles. Access from the east and

the seasons and international trade

transient, ebbing and flowing with

Tashkurgan’s population is mainly

Karakoram Highway in the Tashkurgan River Valley (looking South to Pakistan)

Here and Where

Tashkurgan, Xinjiang Province, China (looking Southwest to Afghanistan)


serving as a proxy for true freedom of movement.

dynamically. Exchanges of property routinely shift the border as each country recognizes the ownership claims of its ethnic majority. In many towns the border is invisible. Crossing the street might mean crossing into another country

into Uzbekistan on a mountain pass

after missing a border marker that

had been partially covered in snow.

Geography and weather have no

regard for lines drawn by humans.

ethnicity or residence.

and citizenship might not match

complex social connections and

border with Uzbekistan changes

Arslanbob, I accidentally crossed

meaning of borders, enabling

technologies have changed the

how much modern communication

to Osh, Kyrgyzstan, I realized

as we crossed from Uluqqat, China,

Watching this Kyrgyz woman texting

I soon learned that Kyrgyzstan’s

Walking the border from Osh to

Crossing Irkeshtam Pass by car, near Sary Tash, Kyrgyzstan

Uzbek woman gathering water, Arslanbob, Kyrgyzstan

Babashata Peak (Kyrgyzstan), viewed from Uzbekistan



Here and Where



about my travel and research

it turned out) prompted suspicions

photograph (of a military site, as

to central Russia. Shooting this

a number of former Soviet republics

From Kyrgyzstan I traveled across

borders are designed to control for.

pected, contested situations that

gathered it was these sort of unex-

different from my intentions? I

all add up to an interpretation so

actions, my drawings, and my IDs

of my own identity. How could my

hours, I reflected on the fuzziness

Detained and interrogated for six

Notes and sketches inspected by Russian Federal Security Service agents, Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia


many indices of historical territory

fall of the Soviet Bloc, are one of

militaries between WW I and the

occupied by German and Russian

The bunkers on Mangasala Island,

forever embedded in the landscape.

and military strategies seemed

and ideological agendas and political

In the Eastern Bloc competing social

Ruins of a WW I–era bunker, Mangasala Island, near Riga, Latvia

Here and Where

Restricted rail yard on the banks of the Volga, Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia


of this story—exposes the underlying global economic roots of these new borders.

globe. My thesis—represented by the image of a keyhole connection point on a standard steel shipping container at the start

me that the more fixed political borders disappear, the more fluid borders of identity and allegiance serve to divide up the

bets not on who would win but on which countries’ populations would give support to a “foreign” performer. And so it struck

Latvia, I watched the EuroVision talent competition with my couchsurfing host at his friend’s home. The other guests took

meaningful, borders are physically invisible, but national and ethnic borders live on in the consciousness of individuals. In

attractions and infrastructure. People and goods now flow freely throughout Europe. No longer economically or socially

Arriving in western Europe, I watched the remnants of borders and territory disputes of past generations morph into tourist


Amaranth Borsuk performing

Writing+ Mairéad Byrne


PROFESSOR of Poetry + Poetics

Writing+ was an adventure in thinking about the future of writing, without necessarily having a common foothold in the present or the past. Funded by RISD’s 2050 Grant, the Graduate Studies course had the twin goals of imagining writing mid-twenty-first century and magnifying current opportunities for writing in art and design. Hosting a low-budget/high-stimulation speaker series and opening the classroom to the larger community were also key commitments. The + is a hook, a cartwheel, a sputnik, a handshake. What we wanted most, when we launched Writing+, was to lob that little element out there—to 2050 at least—where it would gain purchase and we could reel ourselves, hand over hand, right after it. Instead we brushed the face of the future with the merest swipe of our fingertips. The + is a sign of overflow, a connector, an amplification. What writing does well is work with others. Collaboration is the very definition of writing, despite popular constructions of the solitary or manic dreamer. Writing becomes writing through reading. It is a thing. At RISD we celebrate and vaunt this thing, recognizing the cognitive responsibility and intelligence of every aspect of material form and decision. But writing also happens mid-air,

invisibly, in the transaction between two brains, requiring the participation of a writer and a reader, whether the arena is page, stage, screen, or lips whispering into cupped ear. What the class did really well was amplify the conversation. We kept the door open. The + sign functioned as a doorstop. Our first speaker was scholar, calligrapher, paleographer, and RISD professor Sandy Gourlay, whose office bookshelves in College Building are loaded with works William Blake and William Hogarth had in their libraries too—including some books with prints actually made by Blake. We spent the bulk of our time with Sandy looking at one detail of the first print in the set of eight engravings that comprise Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, published in 1735, after an earlier series of paintings. By the end of the class, we felt we knew something about the Rake’s father’s memorandum book, the lettering of which Hogarth himself engraved. There is so much information in A Rake’s Progress, and so much information even in the first plate, we felt a sense of relief and confidence in having read the memorandum page and appreciated the value and necessity of granular knowledge. We can’t access granular knowledge of the future. We need to consciously build it. Figure out how to build it. The present is much easier. Our RISD and Providence community is spectacularly rich in theorists and practitioners of new writing. We welcomed Mimi Cabell (RISD), John Cayley (Brown), Kenneth Goldsmith (RISD BFA Sculpture 1984), Nick Montfort (MIT), and Alan Sondheim (Providence) into our classroom. Amaranth Borsuk flew in from the University of Washington, Bothell—where she taught a class on Monday, caught a red-eye to spend Tuesday with us, dawn to dusk, then flew back to teach a class in Bothell on Wednesday. She was a magician and we were in awe. After Amaranth’s visit, references and reading recommendations arrived for individual students, and she continued her mentorship through correspondence. Generosity was the mark of all our visitors. We got great audiences, Kenneth Goldsmith reading Viviane Jalil and Prin Limphongpand’s reduction of his Uncreative Writing


with RISD students from Foundation Studies to Graduate Studies, Brown and URI grads, faculty from RISD and other colleges, and members of the community, young and old. We became curious about our brilliant audiences, wanting to access

their expertise. We decided to focus our final event on the audience: inviting


people to come to speak, providing food, a welcome, and multiple avenues for Students also had individual and collaborative projects to present: Viviane Jalil and Prin Limphongpand’s book of twenty-seven attempts to translate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 2 for future readers; Jennifer Shin Young Park’s musical composition derived—by transposing hand movements from the computer to the piano keyboard—from Vilém Flusser’s Does Writing Have a Future (our course text); Luther Young III’s experiments in leveling hierarchies in our teaching/learning/performance space; Rachel Harris’s analysis of how corporations script human speech; Yue Zhang’s celebration of contemporary writing as “shitposting”— an art of quoting, comments, reblogs, tags, and re-tags; and a reading/ performance by Lisa Maione. But it was the first week of December and for the first time we got quality but not quantity too, in terms of audience. Thankfully, true to Writing+ form, the present morphed into the future fast. In the spring, a group of faculty brought Kenneth Goldsmith back to RISD for a cross-divisional symposium on uncreative practices. This time the group Google doc exploded to the extent that presenters facing the audience and members of the audience facing the screen were essentially participating in two different events, speaking different languages, each marginalizing the other. It felt like a civilized party on a raft beneath which sharks were thrashing up a blood bath. We now need another event to haul to light what happened there. We are writing in a time when all the components of the writing economy as we have known it in print culture have been dismantled and reshaped. What was hierarchical is flattened. What was fixed is mutable. Identities that were distinct are blurred or erased. On the one hand, all roles are folded into one: a writer has the capacity to be author, designer, publisher, distributor, and a reader can intervene/participate in any step of that process. On the other, the components of the writing economy are estranged, alienated, re-presented, made unrecognizable. Writers hover over color pickers today, preoccupied with color and letter form to an extent unprecedented since medieval scribes mixed orpiment with indigo, gypsum with orcein, or vergaut with iron gall to make the unique black used only for the figure of the Devil. The question is not so much Can we afford color? but How do we work with 16 million free colors? Will we lose authority by not using color effectively? Materiality may seem to have disappeared into the light of the screen. At the same time it seems restored. The scene is at once eerie and banal.


participation, including a Google doc.


Yes, writing has become visual. Yes, writers need to understand design, especially on the screen. How to use color. Font. Light. Space. Time. Animation. Text/image relations. But collaboration doesn’t come close to describing what writing needs from art and design, and how it will pay back. As with the sharks and the Google doc—and the audience at Goldsmith’s widely debated Interrupt 3 presentation a few days later at Brown—words fail. The brain is temporarily stunned. Writing+ was like rain on a conversation already in progress—but in need of rain. Looking back, some of the very best moments were social. Tuesday nights at the Red Fez, the place empty enough to be ours, hovering over poutine and clinked glasses, a wild knot of students and visitors in Caravaggio light, uproarious talk usurping exhaustion. But there’s no need to look back. The conversation continues.

Writing+ posters designed by Rachel Harris, Viviane Jalil, Lisa Maione, and Prin Limphongpand

Shoada Huo, Keyboard Culture, 2015, laser print and ink transfer on paper


This Wintersession we co-taught a course on independent publication strategies in the context of contemporary media. We took the zine as a model for cooperative assembly, collective authorship, and distribupractices to various modes—from MFA Graphic Design  2015

MFA Graphic Design  2015

printed matter to the Web, video,

Minkyoung Kim and Christina Webb

Teaching Modes of Self-Publishing

tion strategies, and applied these

sound, event, and installation. The course was open to students from all departments, and the four project assignments fostered interdisciplinary exchange and spontaneity. In Project 1, “Object,” students chose an object, researched its personal, physical, historical, and cultural context, then articulated it using five different formal methods combined in a printed format. Shoada Huo, a graduate student in Landscape Architecture, chose the computer keyboard as his object. He researched design communication across cultures and represented multilingual keyboard variations using photocopies, photography, illustration, image transfer, and writing. The zine is structured as a double flipbook, so that the reader can recombine glyphs from two keyboards into one.

sought to give everyone “a platform to express their identity without

ing literal the truth that each idea

restrictions or categories,” according

is influenced by those of others.

to team member Elise Mortenson, a

Responding to a given keyword,

Brown-RISD Dual Degree Program

“circle,” one student initiated a

student. They held a party before

design. The next student selected an

publishing their zine so that audi-

attribute of that design as the primary

ence participation would generate its

source for their new design. And so

content. The physical zine is a box

on. Each new design included a

containing six clay objects made by

thumbnail of the preceding design,

participants along with a booklet

evidencing the chain’s history when

that includes the team’s reflective

all pieces came together as a set.

writing, event documentation, and a

With the process complete, we

catalogue of the clay objects. Online

integrated the parts into a whole

elements included a Facebook invite


with comment thread and a tumblr

For Project 3, “Modes,” small teams produced a zine on a complex


archive of the photographed objects. Project 4 asked everyone to

conceptual idea and delivered it in at

consider their previous projects and

least two media formats to explore

select some part to push further. This

how the mode of delivery can extend

time, they were to design and build

a concept. The project also revealed

distribution strategies concurrently

how working in a group fosters

and document the entire process,

shared authorship. One team work-

including their readers’ engagement.

ing on the theme of personal identity

Foundation student Helen Gao made

Modes of Self-Publishing class, Circle, 2015, laser print on paper, illustration board, and rubber band

Project 2, “Circle,” investigated multiplicity of voice by relay, mak-

a zine called Welcome to the Plant Fam about succulents, whose clippings are often shared and distribution. The zine contains instructions, creative writing, an interactive illustration with stickers, and plantable seed paper. At her launch party, the zine and plants were exchanged. Modes of Self-Publishing gave us all an opportunity to explore what self-publishing can

Helen Gao, Welcome to the Plant Fam, 2015, zine

replanted in a botanical form of

look like today. It gave us as teachers

moving concepts across media, and

an opportunity to design a strong

user encounter to the course. In 4th

curriculum and be flexible and

Wave I made a web-to-print weekly

responsive to the unanticipated

reader on the topic of feminism as it

momentum of the group. And it gave

had been trending in online news.

us as designers a chance to activate

Existing content is re-coded, then

our own interests in a larger context.

printed as a continuous sheet of

I (Minkyoung), for example, am

paper that is perforated to become

interested in how designers can

distributable. The form suggests the

build structures that illuminate the

perpetual and complex nature of

connections between iterations of

feminism, while offering multiple

cultural artifacts. One of my projects,

access points.

A Tree of Brushes, is a recursive

Many have observed that the

drawing program that allows users

best way to learn is to teach.

to save their drawings as brush-

Co-teaching this course taught us

strokes for future users, creating

another kind of cooperative

a chain reaction (a variation on

assembly, collective authorship, and

the “Circle� project). I (Christina)

distribution that will continue to

brought interests in criticality,

inspire and inform our future work. Rachel Tandon, Elise Mortenson, and Fran Brauning, #item15 (detail), 2015, clay objects, laser print on paper, and tumblr website


Minkyoung Kim, A Tree of Brushes, 2014, drawing program, dimensions variable

Teaching Modes of Self-Publising

Christina Webb, 4th Wave, 2014, web and laser print on paper, dimensions variable


Maggie Hazen, Sforzinda (detail), 2013, polyethylene, found hardware, recycled materials, string, 48 Ă— 84 in.

Certainly Speculative Amanda Pickens

MFA Graphic Design  2015

“Speculative design” was a foreign term to me until I was assigned a chapter from Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby’s Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming last spring in a Graphic Design seminar. While the images of plush atomic mushroom clouds and futuristic “micro kingdoms” immediately caught my attention, I was more inspired by their simple, straightforward manifesto, which contrasts conventional and speculative design objectives. For example, rather than focusing on problem solving for the present, speculative design emphasizes “problem finding” in a parallel, or very near future. I then took Chris Novello’s Speculative Internet course in the fall, which focused on creating fictional products and generating exposure and debate through self-constructed virality. While my work, overall, is not concerned with social or science fiction, the class provided me with a new research framework and eventually led to a pivotal piece in my thesis, WishLust. Combining elements of Amazon, OkCupid and Tinder, WishLust is a datingplatform app that matches potential partners based on overlaps in their aggregated wishlists. The goal is straightforward: Date people who buy the same things as you. The app not only plays with the existing worlds of online dating and shopping, but also suggests new ways in which we can utilize these spaces for personal entertainment, functional multitasking, and genuine love seeking. As I experimented with speculative design myself, I realized that students from other departments were doing the same—students like Megan Tamas and Maggie Hazen in Sculpture and Paul Rouphail in Painting. In


addition to Chris Novello’s Speculative Internet course in Graphic Design, Shona Kitchen recently taught Mutations from the Future in Digital + Media and Paolo Cardini taught Design for Utopias and Dystopias in Industrial Design. Together with Alexander Stewart, who led his own Wintersession course on William Gibson, I invited these professors to participate in a conversation about speculative and science fiction, a short excerpt of which appears here. The accompanying images feature student work from various majors working under the large umbrella of the speculative. Whether considered speculative design, critical design, speculative fiction, or science fiction, the approach is definitely working its way through RISD.

Paul Rouphail, Salvapantallas, 2014–15, oil on canvas, 77 × 45 in.


A Speculative Conversation . . .

speculative design, fictions design, science-fiction—it’s this thing . . . Paolo Cardini  “Experimenting” is probably a better term. We are experi-

menting with the present and with what could be next. By transferring from the dramatic and real present into another present — not the future, but a form of the present — the speculative method enables people to speak freely about politics or religion, to have a productive debate without hurting anyone. Chris Novello  I think of science-fiction in a couple of ways. One, it’s a genre

with aliens and spaceships—sort of what me at five years old would have said. And two, it’s an apparatus for making commentary about culture in the present. Shona  I was part of the Royal College of Art’s Research Department, which

is where critical or speculative design was supposed to have come from, and because of that connection, I was instantly labeled as a speculative designer or artist. But I don’t see myself that way. I love the present. Science fiction, to me, is an excuse to jump too far ahead and not deal with the psychological and social effects of technology today. Paolo Our stereotypes of the future are Blade Runner or white and sterile

environments. We should be able to produce more genuine ones. Chris Dystopia is a really easy and trendy idea right now. I’m bored by that to

be honest. I’m trying to call for a rescuing of utopias. Shona This is always a question: Are you talking about dystopia or utopia?

There’s a fine line. I once worked on a project that asked whether machines could thrive off of pollution positively. We asked, How can you live well with pollution? Why try to get rid of it rather than enjoy the grungy, manmade environment that we’ve constructed? Paolo Speculation like this is particular to the academic field. It doesn’t

mean that there’s no real value, but we do need to distinguish what is commercial and what is for research.


Shona Kitchen There are a lot of ideas floating around about critical design,



Shona We’re all starting to work with more research. We’re not churning out

products, we’re creating little conversations and prototypes that might never evolve into one big piece for the market. Chris It was all the intellectual abstractions at Xerox PARC that ultimately

made it possible for average people to interface with computers. I want to believe that you can take something to market that really is speculative, not to democratize but to more widely distribute the research coming from academia or other fertile places where free, radical ideas can happen.

Amanda Pickens, WishLust, 2014, website/app



Megan Tamas, The Synthesis of Man and Environment—Valance, Inc., 2012–present, digital print, 17 × 11 in.

Theo was here. Photo: Horatio Han

I j Theo A Secret Admirer There are very few people I admire more than Theo Jansen. A polymath uncommonly gifted in a broad range of subject areas, Theo studied physics at Delft University and fostered a passion for art and making. He’s best known for creating a series of giant “strandbeests” (in Dutch, strand = beach and beest = beast). To see videos of these kinetic creatures striding across the windy beaches of the Netherlands stands my hair on end. A miracle of engineering and art, the strandbeests are completely mechanical. Comprised only of PVC, rubber hoses, gaskets, and soda bottles, they breathe the wind, holding it in as compressed air and transferring that air into motion purely through simple valves and gaskets. They can also sense danger and survive autonomously throughout the summer. Theo, perhaps more than any other single person, has profoundly affected my development as a maker and designer. As the world has become smaller and more explainable, my dreams and ambitions have been burdened by realism, confined to the “practical” or “attainable.” These beach beasts counter that response, reminding me of glorious unknown possibility and our endless potential to create. To see complexity and intelligence harnessed by such a ubiquitous and unassuming medium as PVC reminds me to challenge assumptions, experiment, to build, and to dream. Theo may be the reason I am here at RISD today, rather than still sitting under the blue-white glow of my old, safe cubicle job. Naturally it was with a certain degree of enthusiasm that I heard Theo was coming to speak at RISD this past fall. My expectations were high but


uncertain. So often “great doers” fail to be “great speakers,” and even someone highly skilled in an interesting field could deliver the most boring and uninspired talk. Of course all I could do was wait. In the time leading up to Theo’s visit I shared my enthusiasm and gratitude several times with the speaker’s coordinator, Ryan Mather. A fellow industrial designer and former president of RISD STEAM, Ryan is a senior with a track record for rabble rousing and getting things done. He is a great example of how much our undergraduates contribute to the collective education here at RISD. A few days before Theo’s talk I was quite surprised to get a message from Ryan with an unexpected request: Would I serve as a backup driver to get Theo from the President’s House reception to his lecture, just as a contingency, in case the primary car encountered unforeseen trouble? Saying yes would get me access to a nice spread at the pre-lecture reception and, more importantly, a chance to hear Theo speak in a much more casual atmosphere. But the thought of the speaker I had seen on a TED stage riding in my dilapidated pickup truck made me laugh out loud. Each corner-panel holds its own dented reminders of hard use and a carefree attitude toward trees, rocks, and signposts, not to mention the slipping clutch, the squeaky belts, the cracked windshield, and the mandatory central heating. But still, it’s actually a pretty good little car. Of course I jumped at the opportunity. A colorful mix of people milled around the hors d’oeuvres that evening, as can only be expected at RISD. I found myself nervously tapping my cup when a friendly looking older man came through the door. He smiled as he passed and said, “Good evening.” Someone in my voice responded, “Hello and welcome.” After a short while I found a hole in the circle that had been following the man who was Theo. I was introduced and spent the rest of the cocktail hour listening to him talk about design, making trouble, practicing art, and enjoying life. In one breath he would speak eloquently on the whole process of creation—likening it to natural selection, which year after year results in the extinction of yet another species of strandbeest. But when pushed too deep into self-involved philosophy, he would laugh casually and remind us that the “beests” were in fact just plastic contraptions he built over the winter. He spent much of the evening inquiring about student’s projects or life at RISD. By my own silent estimation, he seemed to exhibit a quiet humility, which I admired greatly. If there were a line between the heady artist-poet and the unassuming, passion-driven maker, Theo would be walking it, alongside a creature driven by PVC and PET bottles. As the reception came to a close, you guessed it, Ryan informed me that the other car was stuck in traffic, and I would be driving Theo to the lecture. The three of us excused ourselves and headed for the door.

“I’m honored to be taking you to your talk, Theo, but I’m also a little


embarrassed . . . my car is pretty far from a Rolls Royce.” I winced as the engine rattled to life and held back a laugh at the whole situation. Theo gave out a long sigh as he looked over the dashboard, “I like this kind of car. I need something to carry my work around in without having to worry about dents or dirt.” “Yep, that’s the same thought that drew me to this one,” I said, as my embarrassment melted. We talked about trucks and work, the things we felt lucky to do for money. I wished him luck as I dropped him off. Jogging from my parking spot I arrived just in time to see Theo launch a paper projectile into the back row of the auditorium, which he apparently made while introducing himself and his launcher: a short length of PVC. I spooned up every word about Theo’s process and the stories he crafts around his work. He showed us a glimpse of what evolution means to him and the strandbeest, describing how computer algorithms can jump start natural selection to find the ideal dimensions for pivots and legs. The motif of nature is also consistent throughout his making ideology. He spoke of the nervous system of the beasts, an elegant system based on binary logic that makes use of capillary action and air pressure to detect and move away from rising tides or waves. Everything is analog. As a young professional who often bounces from place to place searching for creative freedom or even simple variety, I appreciated hearing Theo’s perspective on career paths. Seemingly circuitous or haphazard, very rarely leading neatly from one place to a next, it is our pursuit of the novel that curses us, not with dissatisfaction but with curiosity—curiosity about the unknown, the next job, or life in a different field or country. As a maker I was comforted by Theo’s stories of failures, of ideas that are brilliant at conception but somehow seem so silly once making and testing begins. I have learned to accept and appreciate failures, but it still helps to hear that even Theo has ideas that only work in his head. Apart from Theo’s brilliance, the lasting impression I was left with could be summed up in one word: playfulness. He exudes and evangelizes play, reminding us of the power that comes from dreaming, from kidding around, from trying new things, and from doing what you love. Theo, if you ever read this, thanks for coming to RISD.

Theo Jansen. Photos: Jo Sittenfeld


“Of course! Don’t worry, I don’t mind,” he responded warmly.

Front and back images: pp. 2–3: Grad Open Studios, Textiles, Spring 2015; work by (left to right): Philip Muller, Sarah Wedge, Vica Zhao, and Aakanksha Sirothia. Photo: Jo Sittenfeld p. 4 (and 7): Studio view of Jeffrey Allen’s The Molly Ringwald Club (in progress), 2014. Photo: Jo Sittenfeld p. 5: Christy Veronica, Lilit Shoes, 2014, moldable plastic, each 9 ½ × 3 ½ in. p. 6: Wudi Hong, Void, 2014, digital drawing with plotter printing, 30 × 22 in. p. 8 (and 11): Graphic Design studio view, 2014. Photo: Jo Sittenfeld p. 9: Sarah Kavanagh, Physical and Implied Linkages: Sequences (detail), 2015, watercolor, cotton, and found paper, 96 × 42 in. overall p. 10: Lauren Skelly, Two Old Conglomerates, 2014, stoneware, porcelain, earthenware, slips, oxides, and glaze, 24 × 12 × 12 in. p. 118 (and 121): Studio view of Chris Papa’s Untitled (in progress), 2014. Photo: Jo Sittenfeld p. 119: Hanhan Luo, Grid Boundary, 2015, ink and pencil on watercolor paper, 24 × 18 in. p. 120: Wei Lah Poh, Blue Cup Necklace, 2014, found enamelware, gold, and string, dimensions variable p. 122 (and 125): Kate Aitchison, Disturbance, 2014, monoprint, 22 × 30 in. p. 123: Alexandra Gadawski, Accumulation 1, 2015, digital photograph, 10 × 16 in. p. 124: Mengxuan Liu, Soil Composition Study—Unity of Clay, 2014, paper, 12 × 10 × 8 in. pp. 126–27: Jian Yu, Be Nice to Me, 2015, porcelain with underglaze, wood, Plexiglas, and springs, 40 × 13 ½ × 2 ½ in.

RISD Graduate Studies Annual 2015  
RISD Graduate Studies Annual 2015