A RISD GRAD JOURNAL
ÂŠ 2016 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. firstname.lastname@example.org www.instagram.com/v.1risd/
F I V E D A Y S A W E E K : A C A L L F O R STUDENT-CITIZENS 9
HOW DO YOU ASSERT AUTHORSHIP IN YOUR WORK?
Emily Grego 19 T H E
PA P E R T R A I L
edger of Likes: L Instagram and Art School Paul Rouphail
35 A R C H I V E S
A N D A L O O PA R A T H A S : THE PUNJABI DELI
Jagdeep Raina 43
NOISE IS ALWAYS SAFE Drew Litowitz and Edek Sher
ROI: Return on Investment
Nick Missel and Thalassa Raasch
EMBODIED IMAGINARY: FROM GENDERED
B O D I E S I N V I R T U A L S PA C E S T O P O W E R F U L BODIES IN A PHYSIC AL WORLD
T A L E S F R O M T H E C R I T K E E P E R : ALLEGORIES OF “CONSTRUCTIVE” CRITICISM
Rosalind Breen 90
ART COMEDY Chris Goodale
Three Days in Venice
Lisa J. Maione
A R E Y O U R E A D Y F O R A N INTERDISCIPLINARY PROGRAM?
Thoughts on Black Mountain College
Sakura Kelley and Daniel Morgan
ON SUPPORTS AND SURFACES, A Q&A WITH SAUL OSTROW Hannah Bigeleisen
H U G I N N & M U N I N N
Caleb Churchill 129 S C R A P S
FROM THE R ABBIT HOLE: INCOMPLETE REFLECTIONS ON THE PROBLEM OF THE CANON AND THE ROLE OF THE CRITIC AL DESIGNER Melissa Weiss
133 G S | G R A N T S
Over the Transom, Thalassa Raasch, Emily Winter, Amanda Pickens, and Henry F. Brown, Kenneth Fontaine, and Julia Samuels 151
C L A I M I N G T H E V I S U A L C U LT U R E OF GLOBAL COMMERCE
Extra Credit Maggie Hazen and Tristram Lansdowne
Notes: Carolee Schneemann in Real Time Anne West
Black Artists and Designers (BAAD), with student and faculty allies
Rending the Mythic Gate
v.1 emerges from the graduate course Public(ation)s, in which our class—this issue’s editorial board—surveyed historical and contemporary art and design publishing and set out to write about our individual and collective interests. Through this maiden publishing voyage, we have come to understand publications as an expanded site for artists’ and designers’ practices—one that provides other means to participate in cultural production and circumvents the increased professionalization of the studio. With submissions from a call for proposals sent to all graduate students and contributions from our editorial board, we assembled a series of texts addressing the complexities surrounding today’s institutions, pedagogies, technologies, and professional expectations. This issue was not themed intentionally; our common interests emerged organically, signaling the problems of higher education and the precarity of the students who occupy it. v.1 hopes to reassert the role of students as activists who can approach their own situations critically and constructively, reenvisioning the conditions and value of study. We would like to thank Jen Liese, Director of the Writing Center, and Patricia Phillips, Dean of Graduate Studies, for their invaluable support, critical insight and advice, and especially sharp eyes and minds. We would also like to thank our brilliant in-class design team, developmental editors, copy editors, image editors, photographers, and social media team: Feiyi Bie, Rosalind Breen, James Chae, Caleb Churchill, Chris Goodale, Emily Grego, Tristram Lansdowne, Diane Lee, Jagdeep Raina, Paul Rouphail, Jillian Suzanne, Ala Tannir, and Mary Yang. Special thanks, too, to Prin Limphongpand (MFA Graphic Design 2014) for his design and production support. Without you all, v.1 would not exist. We could not be more proud of our collective efforts. —Hannah Bigeleisen and Reya Sehgal
FIVE DAYS A WEEK: A CALL FOR STUDENT-CITIZENS Ala Tannir
The movement to transform our schools is just as vital to our twenty-first-century humanity as the civil rights movement was to our twentiethcentury humanity. —Grace Lee Boggs1 Tuesday: Complain! With the neo-liberalization of cultural institutions having become the new status quo (see: Guggenheim Abu Dhabi2), it is not surprising to see a concurrent trend in both institutional critique—a practice well established since the 1970s that has today become ever more introspective—and attempts to understand the very relationship between the institution and the critique (see: Hito Steyerl’s “The Institution of Critique”3). Educational institutions—art and design schools in particular—have been front-runners for such scrutiny as they have evolved to become more and more reserved for an exclusive elite able to afford sky-high tuition fees. This becomes even more problematic when factoring in the uncertainty that is attached to finding jobs in art and design after graduation. When tuition fees running as high as $50,000 or more per year make it impossible for students from certain socio-economic backgrounds to even think of pursuing a career in the arts, we create an institutionalized art world that is not representative of our societies, and where a college-level art education is out of reach for many. While many art collectives and schools have been formed to expose the realities of this prevailing corporate higher education model, to challenge it, and suggest alternative possibilities (see: BFAMFAPhD, Bruce High Quality Foundation University, and the newly revived Black Mountain College), educational institutions continue to build capital on an illusion of legitimization directly linked to the cachet of their names.
Let us then support and call for more independent, artist-run educational organizations. Let us protest those institutions that produce suffocating loans and do not align with our economic reality. Let us have a say in where our money goes on campus, and make sure it reaches those adjunct faculty, graduate student workers, and others who are systematically marginalized financially. What if we were to progress beyond institutional critique toward literally redesigning art and design education? Wednesday: Organize! A rising number of art and design school graduates kick start their professional adult life saddled with student debt and drowning in precarity. We enter an intern-centric culture that gives continuing advantage to those who can afford to work for free. Indeed, within and after art school, free labor is normalized, encouraged, celebrated, and even expected. The pressure to take on an unpaid internship as a student, or even as a recent art graduate, is however not to be resisted if we wish to pursue a career in our area of study, given that only 8 percent of all arts graduates in the U.S. make a living as artists (see: BFAMFAPhD report on “Art Grads & Working Artists”4). How many internships, in which we let ourselves be overworked and exploited for free, are too many? Hearing Caroline Woolard’s plea for “Solidarity Art Worlds,”5 which advocates for collaboration, acknowledgement of our common struggles, and a solidarity economy as the only way to build a better future, let us organize to resist the vicious cycle of the permanent intern underclass that is having us slave away until further notice, to challenge the oppressive economic system that is destroying our communities and futures, and let us collectively dream of a better world. What if paid labor, universal healthcare, and affordable housing were not alternatives? Thursday: Educate! While educators have an important responsibility for their students and who they become outside of academia (see: Paulo Freire and bell hooks), the prevailing relationship structure between faculty and students in most educational institutions nowadays prevents productive interaction. Indeed, we are confronted today with a quasi-contractual relationship between students and teachers, defined
Five Days a Week
by a hierarchical organization, which places educators at the top of the pyramid. This then makes students passive consumers of a package of skills transferred to them from above, and reduces education to a performance with a set of rarely questioned mechanical instructions. This model—which is as present in the studio culture of art and design schools as it is in lecture-type learning—prevents the fluid nature of knowledge building, where teaching and learning are often interchangeable (see: Allan Kaprow, CalArts, 1970s). Let us not underestimate education’s power in serving people’s liberation. Let us subvert the authority of faculty who subscribe to the neoliberal model (and embrace as comrades those who do not, and who often experience the same contingency and exploitation as we do), and let us instead practice living together as a community that does away with hierarchical boundaries amongst its participants and between its disciplines. Let us perpetuate a model of knowledge building that is based on inclusive mutual engagement, and on experimentation in learning as well as in teaching. What if there were no majors, no lectures, no classrooms, and no traditional applications, only proposals for projects instead? What if the work is neither the student’s nor the educator’s, but an original outcome of their collaborative efforts that wouldn’t otherwise exist? Friday: Agitate! Art and design schools in their current state are sites for professional grooming and the production of an industry-ready workforce. They are also great perpetuators of celebrity culture and the distinguished 1 percent, fostering high competition and unique individuality. We are all taught to chase the same prize, making everyone but those who “made it” feel like complete failures. The worlds of art and design appear to be places where a few win and everyone else is rendered insignificant (see the Guerilla Girls6). An important question then is: Why do we perceive of only one art world and one design world? Everyone has different capacities and interests that are often hindered by corporate pedagogical principles and art market structures that seek more and more standardized modes of evaluation. Setting our own standards for ourselves allows us to better understand our strengths, and therefore to better locate ourselves and our contributions within our disciplines. Let us imagine an education that is not defined by rampant individualism. Let us break away from market and societal expectations and discern the subjectivity of “success.” Let us advocate for
collaborations, cooperation, and dialogue that reject the modernist principles of individualistic self-expression still celebrated by our cultural institutions today. What if art and design schools were places of experimentation, questioning, and construction of the individual and society? Monday: Speculate! Cultural production today is largely a product of art and design education. It is therefore crucial precisely in art and design schools that students actively and critically think about their education situation, drawing links between their individual experiences and problems and the social contexts in which they live. Art and design are primarily activities of the mind, not only of the hand. Critical thinking gives us the ability to adapt to a reality that is in constant flux and that should consequently be constantly questioned. Critical thinking is also the primary, if not only, tool to effect social change, democratic equity, and radical freedom. To suggest that individuals and societies can be formed in a classroom is to believe that education is in itself a political act. Critical pedagogy then is a type of political activism—one that starts by rethinking the educational system and ends with producing students who are ethically minded and fully equipped to practice their democratic citizenship. Let us reject political neutrality, disrupt the status quo, and reclaim education as a human right, essential to the democratization of culture. Let us actively participate in the making of our societies and the progress of our humanity. What if art and design can change the world, but only if we, as student-citizens, commit to improve our collective experience? As Bertolt Brecht said, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” Ala Tannir is in the Industrial Design MID program, class of 2017. 1
Grace Lee Boggs and Scott Kurashige, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-first Century (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011). Chloe Wyma, “1% Museum: The Guggenheim Goes Global,” DISSENT (Summer 2014), dissentmagazine.org. Hito Steyerl, “The Institution of Critique,” eipcp (January 2006), eipcp.net.
BFAMFAPhD, “Art Grads and Working Artists,” Census Report, 2009–2011, bfa.mfa.phd.com.
Caroline Woolard, “Solidarity Art Worlds,” Brooklyn Rail (February 5, 2013), brooklynrail.org.
Guerilla Girls, “School of the Art Institute Chicago Commencement Address” (May 22, 2010), guerillagirls.com.
This and following page: Wooksang Kwon (MFA Graphic Design 2017), Providence, 2015, bound book, 576 pages I used to enjoy taking photographs of my books for my portfolio outside. However, the inconsistent brightness and direction of light made my images look different depending on the time of day they were shot, so I spent a lot of time retouching them. After a while, instead of suffering with the varied light, I decided to document how the light changes over time in a given location. For this piece, I filmed a blank book for twenty-four hours at Woods-Gerry Gallery, capturing the changing colors and shadows, then printed out stills from the film and bound them into a new book. The bluish gradients represent sunrise and sunset.
HOW DO YOU ASSERT AUTHORSHIP IN YOUR WORK? Emily Grego
Of the many discussions in the Jewelry + Metalsmithing Fall graduate seminar, the one with the least consensus grew from reading Roland Barthes’s The Death of the Author.1 Disagreements arose over how authorship manifests in work, whether or not the author should even be important, and ownership of ideas. Admittedly, authorship is particularly difficult to define in art jewelry, a new field coming from a craft where historically the maker is rarely recognized.
After hearing responses from within my own department, I began an investigation into the views of RISD graduate students as a whole by asking the question “How do you assert authorship in your work?”2 Seven possible answers were distilled from previous discussions: concept, organization of ideas, research behind work, the hand, aesthetics, control what is shown, and I don’t.3, 4 The survey was conducted in interdisciplinary seminars and workshops, but primarily at Graduate Open Studios, during which I traveled from studio to studio and surveyed students in all sixteen of RISD’s graduate departments.5 In total, 103 graduate students completed the survey.6 The results are shown in the accompanying pie chart.
I know many writers have responded to Barthes. We read those too, and it didn’t help.
In short, I tried to condense a fifty-year critical discourse into a one-question survey. See footnote 11.
I wrote “CIRCLE ONE” (see footnote 4) on the survey, yet seven people chose two answers or wrote something else. See footnote 10.
Some students felt the need to choose more than one answer despite instruction. Some chose to circle their principle choice twice and then their other choices once. Some numbered their choices; some drew arrows or diagrams on the survey indicating their choices. One drew a circle around their first choice with other circles slowly rippling out from around it to encompass one of the other options. See footnote 11.
Of the offered choices, most graduate students surveyed chose concept, claiming that the driving idea/inspiration in their work was the clearest place of their authorship. The second most popular choice was organization of ideas, followed by research behind the work.7 The hand8 and aesthetics9 (fourth and fifth) both refer to the actual physical object. The least popular choices were control what is shown and I don’t. The final section of the graph, indicating other, is included to account for students who completed the survey with objections.10, 11
I feared an emailed survey wouldn’t be responded to, so I printed out 150 copies of the survey and went at it as a street preacher would, approaching my fellow unsuspecting students with my survey, pens, and an overenthusiastic smile.
Misleading—only 93 completed it properly.
From the hurried discussions in crowded studios and hallways and over increasingly loud music, I gathered that these choices were popular as an acknowledgement that while you can’t claim authorship of any concept, how you interpret an idea can be your own.
Many surveyed asked for clarification of “the hand.” I meant that the physical act of making shows authorship. Because this is an idea common to craft, I assumed this answer would be popular among those in craft disciplines (glass, metals, ceramics, fibers) but was proven wrong.
Clarification was often requested; explained as style.
Three people argued insistently that your authorship should be in all seven. Five people chose two answers and one person chose three answers. Another person wrote “decision making” after asserting to me that authorship was in none of the provided options. (Footnote to footnote 10: decision making meaning that authorship is asserted in every tiny decision made throughout the creative process.) I have decided to include these responses as they show the flaws in my own survey and the character of the students and school. On reflection, I would not eagerly repeat this experiment. The complexity of the question, my over zealous approach toward groups of complete strangers, artists being artists, and libations all combined to leave my fellow graduate students vaguely confused or suspicious of my intentions. At the end of the night I returned to my fellow J+M grads to count the results and mutter about art school producing too many creative thinkers.
Organization of ideas
How Do You Assert Authorship in Your Work?
I donâ€™t (for reasons of collaboration, client, participation, etc.)
Control what is shown
Research behind work
Emily Grego is in the Jewelry + Metalsmithing MFA program, class of 2016.
Felicia LeRoy (MFA Glass 2017), Wave, 2015, performance, 30 minutes
T H E PA P E R T R A I L Jillian Suzanne
Lawsuits can be discouraging, to say the least. There are exorbitant costs, ongoing uncertainties, and emotional tolls. Opponents can be expected to cause court delays. Some may even resort to less than honorable and potentially illegal tactics, such as contacting you directly with threats and warnings. They will try everything to wear you down, mentally and financially. I learned all this quickly when I found myself, an American citizen, fighting a foreign copyright infringement in Vienna, Austria. This unexpected occurrence hurled me straight into the trenches, having never attended boot camp. Before I tell you my story, I’ll begin with an important piece of advice: Leave a paper trail! Leave it long, leave it detailed, and above all, delete NOTHING! I can’t express how well this paper trail will serve you (even if you never end up in a lawsuit). Organize the trail with detailed folders and categories, such as project, contact person(s), business papers, specs, artwork, etc. Whatever works for you, just organize it. Keeping such detailed records not only supported my case but also helped keep costs down over the course of a three-year lawsuit, when
explaining my position came with a price tag averaging $300 an hour. A paper trail also helps to keep facts in the forefront and emotion out of the way, a not insignificant factor when you’re being put through the wringer. My dispute began in spring 2013, when I discovered a client I had been illustrating children’s books for had given my artwork to a third party without my consent. My first action was to try to clarify the situation with a friendly but austere email to my client requesting information regarding how my design came to appear on a set of skis. My client in turn warned me that it was “the wrong moment” to discuss the product, promising we would “talk about everything” once work on the current book was complete. Not wanting to alienate my longtime client and believing my interests would eventually be honored, I agreed to wait for further discussion. The following fall, I again began inquiring. I expressed my belief that the ski design in which my artwork appeared was outside the scope of our contractual agreements and that their use without further compensation was inappropriate. I wrote in an email on October 7, 2013: “As stated to you before, the
Jillian Suzanne’s illustration as it appeared in a children’s book (top) and in an advertisement (below)
designs I have produced are only to be used for the books. … I need to know if my design has been used for items other than the books. If so, we must determine a reasonable compensation for my work.” My clients responded the same day that the art director on the project had created the artwork in question “from scratch” despite the fact that the images clearly came from the covers of three children’s books I had illustrated. I promptly hired an intellectual property attorney. My clients continued to deny my authorship, so with my hand forced, I took action against the third party responsible for producing the skis. After a year of negotiations that went nowhere, it was time to bring the case to the Austrian courts. I hired a litigator in Vienna known for the restitution of works by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt stolen from the Jewish people in Nazi Germany. I was in very good
hands for my next stage of the battle. In November 2015 I traveled to Vienna to attend the first hearing. I had waited so long to present my case that finally finding myself in Vienna moving forward was a great relief. It was unusual for an American artist to travel all the way to Vienna for a lawsuit, so the case drew some attention. Twenty Viennese law students came to witness the proceedings. As is standard, the judge asked for both parties to try to settle. After an hour it became clear this appeal wasn’t going to change either of our respective positions, so the hearing was called to order. I took the stand to testify. I was comfortable and well prepared, and two hours on the stand went quickly. Every piece of counterevidence presented by my opposition was easily dismissed and proven untrue. The position my opponents tried to argue was so ridiculous that a few
The Paper Trail
well-placed one-liners on my part had the judge laughing right along. I stepped off the stand and court adjourned for a short break. When we returned my opposition was much more willing to talk. My (ex-)clients were present at the hearing and acted as “advisors” for the third party. A settlement was proposed, with a “revoking clause” agreement conditioned on the third party being reimbursed by my clients. They had a month to comply. One week before the “revoking” deadline, I received a letter demanding my written agreement that I would not “come after” my ex-clients in the future. This demand was not a part of the agreement reached in court and came with no additional incentive, so I refused. In turn, they refused to comply, and the settlement offer was revoked. Follow-up attempts of a lowered settlement offer were made via the third party, to which I did not agree. This spring, with my ex-clients now trying to avoid contact with the third party they put in this compromising position of infringement, a new trial has been scheduled for June 13, 2016. All parties appear to believe the judge will rule in my favor, so our attorneys are still attempting to negotiate a settlement, but I’m ready for the trial and the judge’s ruling. It’s been a long road that could continue for a while, but for now I am grateful for having had this opportunity to stand up for my rights as a professional artist.
John R. Darakjian, the intellectual property attorney who prepared my case with impeccable detail and fortitude, offered the following guidelines on registration and contracts:
While it’s true that all artistic works are automatically granted copyright protection upon completion, formally registering visual works with the Copyright Office is relatively cheap and easy—and can be very helpful if your work is ever unlawfully copied. The digital nature of the Internet means it’s easier than ever to locate, copy, and re-use—without permission—someone else’s artwork. A certificate of registration will prove the work was created by you and when. Should your work ever be used without your permission, registration will allow you to look past the infringer’s profits—which may be non-existent or at the very least difficult to prove—and instead seek statutory damages as high as $150,000 per infringement. It’s generally not financially viable to register everything you create, but work with broad appeal and obvious commercial value should absolutely be registered.
No matter how friendly or casual a business relationship begins, if your work will be used in any way that might be commercial, a contract should exist between you and the party seeking to use your art. All contracts should be reviewed by a competent attorney, however if you just can’t afford one there are certain things to ask yourself before signing on the dotted line. First, does the agreement represent a full sale of your work or is it simply a license for use? When language is broad (“all right, title, and interest”) or specific terms are used (“transfer,”
“assignment”) we likely have a full sale of your work. Alternatively, when the contract language places limits on the other party—e.g., where and how they can use the work, for how long—we likely have a license where some rights may remain with the author during the period of the agreement and where, at the contracted term’s end, all rights will be returned. Whenever entering into a formal agreement with another party, particularly a non-local entity, check a contract’s choice-of-law clause. These clauses, often found near the end of the contract, determine what state’s or nation’s law will apply should the parties enter into a legal dispute and often limit where such suits can be brought. Failing to negotiate an agreeable choice-of-law clause could find you arguing your case in a court thousands of miles from where you live and work—or prohibiting you from arguing one at all due to the expense of travel or the complexity of dealing with a foreign copyright regime.
Steven J. McDonald, RISD's General Counsel, generously shared the following online resources for artists: So What … About Copyright? What Artists Need to Know About Copyright & Trademark www.publicknowledge.org/pdf/so-whatabout-copyright.pdf
Art Law, a detailed treatise on the law of art; available at URI and other libraries www.pli.edu/Content/Treatise/Art_ Law_/_/N-4lZ1z12nuz Will Fair Use Survive? Free Expression in the Age of Copyright Control www.fepproject.org/policyreports/ WillFairUseSurvive.pdf Bound by Law: Tales from the Public Domain www.web.law.duke.edu/cspd/comics/ digital.php When Works Pass into the Public Domain www.copyright.cornell.edu/resources/ publicdomain.cfm The United States Copyright Office www.copyright.gov The United States Patent and Trademark Office www.uspto.gov A Guide to Filing a Design Patent Application www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/iip/pdf/ brochure_05.pdf Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts www.vlany.org Clancco: The Source for Art and Law Since 2005 www.clancco.com/wp The Art Law Report www.artlawreport.com
Jillian Suzanne is in the Teaching + Learning in Art + Design MA program, class of 2016.
This and following page: Zach See (MFA Sculpture 2016), Proposition (detail), 2015, wood, window tint, silk flower, Gatorade cups, painter’s tape, epoxy, drywall screw, acrylic, resin, spray paint, ink, bubble gum, parachute chord, wood filler, poly acrylic, 46 × 30 × 30 in.
Ledger of Likes: Instagram and Art School Paul Rouphail
This and following pages: Sarah Jean Recht (MFA Graphic Design 2016), screenshots from Copycat, 2015 (www.instagram.com/_copycat__)
It would be wise for a graduate student entrenched in the mania of art school production to seamlessly diversify and manage the multiple lives of their work. An object constructed in studio, for the duration of a degree program, will inevitably shift from one academic situation to another and adapt to each discrete critical review. The critique room, the studio visit, the university gallery show, the online portfolio, and the artist lecture are just some of the school scenarios that engender specific social responses from artists and their respective audiences. But the synapse between artist and audience has become infinitely more rapid with the advent of the pervasive image-scrolling feed Instagram. Much as my peers—only a few years ago—cited their colleagues for neglecting to maintain a personal website, an artist nowadays sans social media is often perceived as out of touch, haughty, or “professionally negligent.” In the exclusive social echelons of higher education this presents a problem, as Instagram
has transformed not only into a repository for self-promotion but also into a lubricator for greater peer-to-peer exaltation. Instagram distributes social connectivity as prospective professional currency. It doubly functions as a bridge that holds in suspension the networks internal and external to art school social structures: this includes the art market as well as the fear of anonymity inherent to the art world’s well-acknowledged caprice. So, is this new image application yet another professionalization trap set before artists have even exited school? Admittedly, there are strategies by which an art student might employ Instagram as a viable studio tool. Some use the application as a medium for social practice, engaging an audience outside conventional art spaces; some use it as an auxiliary space to test and examine the social expectations of the medium. But for most students in the arts, like myself, Instagram is used merely as a synthesis of a personal blog and image portfolio. Certainly there are hybrid examples as well. Yet for the purposes of this argument, Instagram is largely a fast, public counterpoint to the slow, private labor of graduate school art production, painting in particular, which is done mostly in the solitude of the artist’s studio. What is it about Instagram that so appeals to artists? Some artists cite the ease with which the app connects the dots between the studio and prospective “unique” viewers, due in part to its minimalist aesthetic and the assumption that the artist can post whatever they deem socially appropriate or urgent. Both qualities give Instagram a feeling of neutrality, where politics, paintings,
Ledger of Likes
slow pace of the practice dissipates in translation to the excesses and rapidity of Instagram’s scroll. What is left to fill the gaps then is content that depicts the culture and mode of studio production rather than showing the result of such labor. Artist feeds are flooded with images exemplifying something between the romantic peripatetic and the exquisitely distasteful, a market-savvy lifestyle placing works-in-progress beside ad-hoc studio cocktails. Instagram becomes both a showroom and kind of adjacent PR zone for the artist to cultivate, and exploit. As more and more curators and cultural producers scan Instagram looking for new content, the onus is on artists to register images that entice prospective viewers. As a user’s audience ledger increases in scale (followers), so too does the demand for increased content (images). This content on a user’s homepage is distinguished by which images the user has recently “hearted.” Thus the more images one posts and hearts, the more likely his or her content will appear in their followers’ feeds. This simple algorithm entices users to consistently post new content to keep their profile relevant among their fickle followers. Unlike a website, Instagram requires high-volume studio production to arouse and sustain online demand for images. This amped-up image propagation is not unlike the mode of art production in school, which in my experience is interminably high. But it’s even more accelerated: in an academic setting, an art student might have his or her work critiqued every few weeks or months. On Instagram one’s work is best shared every few days.
Ledger of Likes
Speed of image production aside, the application serves individuals who mimic, often anonymously, the power plays and relationships latent in the art world social sphere. Many high profile artists who use Instagram often do so under false names and aliases. Part of the pleasure of rummaging through the application is in discovering the secret (and not so secret) profiles of established figures of culture production. One such artist with fourteen-thousand followers, my peers recently noticed, has their images consistently reposted by another individual with thirty-eight thousand followers. The latter user’s name is not disclosed on the application. We later figured out that this individual is an assistant curator at a major American art museum. Graduate students at RISD take part in another kind of gaming of the Instagram system when they location-tag the graduate studios in posts. The CIT-Fletcher building is an exclusive piece of real estate, accessible only to those who have the privilege of participating in the graduate program. To tag one’s work in this location is to claim one’s membership in its social sphere. (This practice might sound provincial, especially to artists working in New York, but it is a form of authority by association.) Certainly we shouldn’t be surprised when nepotism and exclusivity exist in digital platforms as they do in real life. Another way in which Instagram mirrors real life is in its adaptation to the kind of improvisational rhetoric trafficked in art-school crit rooms and studios. As RISD Painting critic Roger White observes, where the written word might flow in “crisp, gnomic propositions, laden with reference to theory and art history,” the spoken word of the crit is much “looser and rougher.”3 The language of Instagram might be said to amalgamate the two under an aesthetic of lifestyle magazine-cum-reportage that conflates the quaint verisimilitude of the everyday beside the earnestness of one’s work. If the artist is especially adept, he or she will make these two polarities indistinguishable. At its most divisive, however, Instagram’s rhetoric avoids both the “crisp and gnomic” written word and the “rougher” spoken word altogether. Instagram presents a get-out-of-jail-free card for those too insecure to elicit real criticism from their peers and for those, like myself, who depend so much on their phones for content, and so little on confronting the actual work of people around them. The app essentially truncates conversation, limiting
it to sleek jpegs and risibly indifferent comments. Instagram is the clean, critic-free antipode to the messiness of art school conversation, which is inherently subjective, and at times divisive and contradictory. Is this not why we congregate in such programs—to occupy the same space with each other? To test our intellectual and critical boundaries together with our peers? Instagram, ultimately, has become the site that relaxes—if only temporarily—our fears as young artists. As thousands of painters, printmakers, new-media artists, sculptors, etc. graduate each year with tens of thousands of dollars in debt into a viciously competitive professional world with little-to-no state support for the arts, many of these young artists fear the real possibility of professional anonymity and financial helplessness. In the professional sphere, the artist must become the ultimate social creature and occupy every multimodal function of art production. These multifarious roles are assumed in and outside the studio: the producer, the accountant, the PR representative, the promoter, the entrepreneur. Instagram, today, is the tool that evinces this process. It collects all of these roles and compresses them with ease, just as it compresses the object into a jpeg. But this compression comes at a cost, because Instagram is the not the democratic alternative some assume it to be. It is simply not capable of encompassing all the complexities of academic or professional social dynamics, the messiness of collaboration and rigorous discourse. Instagram is simply too clean, too removed, and too myopic to entertain our mutual engagement. Paul Rouphail is in the MFA Painting program, class of 2016.
Howard Hurst, “Who Has the Cure for ‘Zombie Formalism’?,” Hyperallergic (December 17, 2014); http://hyperallergic. com/169198/who-has-the-curefor-zombie-formalism/.
Sarah Cascone, “Artist Rupi Kaur Criticizes Instagram for Censoring Photo Showing Period Blood,” ArtNet News (March 31, 2015); https://news.artnet.com/ art-world/instagram-slammedfor-censoring-period-283123.
Roger White, The Contemporaries (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), 22.
Luci Jockel (MFA Jewelry + Metalsmithing 2016), studies for Bee Mourning, 2014, plants that bees pollinate, honeybee specimens, animal skulls, honey comb, mouse and bird bones, beetle wings, allium seed pods, beeswax, steel, and gold These pieces draw from Victorian hair mourning jewelry to mourn the death of honeybees amid their current disappearance and collapse.
This and following page: Lukas Birk, Myanmar Photo Archive, 2014– (www.myanmarphotoarchive.org.) Though most ethnographic museums in Myanmar (Burma) display photographs of colonial Burma from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, photographic history after independence in 1948 is largely unrecorded. Since Myanmar has been under strict military rule for the past sixty years, limited information has flowed in and out of the country, especially about the lives of its people. Most visual representations circulating globally have been limited to golden temples and images of political leader and human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi.
In 2014, I created the Myanmar Photo Archive to collect personal photographic records from these lost decades. To date I have gathered some 10,000 images, photo albums, and paraphernalia, mainly from secondhand dealers who have amassed them from uprooted families or defunct studios. Collaborating with Nathalie Johnston, founder of the Myanmar Art Resource Center & Archive (MARCA) in Yangon, I have researched the historical contexts of the images with the hope of establishing how and when Burmese photography became independent from the colonial hand and its implemented aesthetics. There are no written documents on the subject.
A R C H I V E S A N D A L O O PA R A T H A S : THE PUNJABI DELI Jagdeep Raina
On Journey The train’s brief deception jolted its riders. The bulge of humans hanging out of the doorway distended perilously, like a soap bubble at its limit. —Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance It’s the F train that takes me there. I get on whenever I desire, be it at 4 PM, midnight, or 3 in the morning. Sitting down, standing up, I ride the subway deep into Manhattan’s downtown. At 2nd Avenue the train comes to a screeching halt, the doors slide open, and I wander into the damp, sticky underground tunnels. Rats scurry around, eyes glistening and mouths perked open, swallowing whatever discarded food they can. The stairs appear, and I take them two at a time, racing to the top, and suddenly I’m outside. Sometimes the air is scorching hot, sometimes the sky spits rain at me, and sometimes the wind is mercilessly icy. No matter the time or weather, I exit right toward 114 E. 1st Street, where the leafy green awning on the worn-out tenement building beckons me closer. PUNJABI GROCERY & DELI 24/7 100% VEGETARIAN, it calls. Faster and faster I run until I am at the threshold. Opening the door, I am immersed in the strong, familiar waft of curries, hot chai, and Punjabi snacks. The brown-skinned faces, their eyes twinkling, kindly welcome me in. I know I am home. On Arrival and Settlement Every achievement requires sacrifice. —Jenny Holzer, “Truisms” Kulwinder Singh was born in a newly independent postPartition India. Long gone were the days of Sikh kingdoms and the land of five rivers, replaced by British colonialism and its aftermath. Kulwinder’s family was poor and couldn’t afford to keep him at
Kulwinder Singh at the Punjabi Deli, 1995
home, so he was sent to his uncle’s hut in the village of Jagraon in Punjab, where he worked to put food on the table. At the age of 15 he found work on cargo ships on the southern coast of India. In the late 1970s, one of those ships took him to New York City. Kulwinder found himself sleeping under a bridge for a few days while looking for a job. He became a cook, making $60 per week. He rented a room with five other men and took on a series of labor-intensive jobs, developing family-like relationships with his co-workers. Soon, the nickname Jani, “known by everyone,” attached itself to Kulwinder’s skin. The years flew by, and Kulwinder Jani began to drive a cab in the city, where he eventually saved enough money to buy his first property in Queens. He brought his younger brothers and parents to New York, wanting them, too, to taste their dreams and the opportunity for a better life. Jani discovered 114 E. 1st Street in the early 1990s. The ground floor was a grocery shop, run by local residents of the East Village. Out front, fourteen cab drivers could fit on the wide street at once. They would park there to rest and use the bathroom. It was a haven. The potential of the location began to grow on Jani; he saw it could serve as a place of community not only for the cab drivers and neighborhood residents but for the Punjabi diaspora in New York City. That potential inspired Jani to work tirelessly to save his money, and in 1993 he made an offer to take over the existing lease, marking the Punjabi Deli’s birth.
Archives and Aloo Parathas
This is the story I heard from Jashon Singh—the 24-year-old Wall Street banker and son of Kulwinder Jani—who introduced me to what this place has meant to so many South Asians living in the West. The Punjabi Deli has become an iconic site in the South Asian American community. It is a symbol for hunger—a hunger that extends beyond the consumption of foods into the desire to create a sense of home in a place so unsettlingly foreign. And Kulwinder’s story echoes so many others that line the ears and hearts of firstgeneration children of immigrants—of a single person’s will to accomplish a dream. On a Space for Everyone The fancier the place the poorer the food. —Har Dev Singh, Folk Tales and Proverbs of Punjabi People Every time I go to the Punjabi Deli, it is crammed full of bustling New Yorkers. The colorfully lit space, filled with the aroma of food and sounds of conversation and music, is a quintessential, cosmopolitan New York space. A man with a turban and beard is pressed up against a twenty-something, white trust-fund baby, who is beside a taxi driver, who is beside the drunk guy from outside, who is beside an old woman who lives in the apartment across the street. Hierarchies vanish here, replaced by cuisine, culture, and community. The Deli holds a special place in individual histories. Jashon’s most vivid memories of the Deli revolve around music; his love of music began here. In the 1990s, the era of the Walkman, the Deli sold cassettes of music ranging from Indian classical performers such as Ustad Zakir Hussain and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to Punjabi folksingers like Malkit Singh and Kudeep Manak. Today, rows of CDs accompany the food on the shelves. My own memories of this place include sitting on the steps next door at 2 AM with my friends, raging about topics I no longer remember, and arriving fresh off the morning Peter Pan bus, desperate for a breakfast of chai and pakoras. My brother, the Canadian comedian Jus Reign, remembers the feeling of visiting the site for the first time, searching for a homecooked meal and something authentic. A photograph marks his visit; he stands proudly in front of the Deli in a long white T-shirt, charcoal jeans, black sunglasses, and a leather jacket. The photograph has over twenty thousand likes on Instagram.
On Beginnings and Endings Real estate speculation, the outsourcing of industrial production, and the financial and tech-sector monopolies have, in various combinations, produced swaths of ruin and neglect, gleaming centers of culture, and gentrified post-industrial hangouts for screen workers and creative types. —Martha Rosler, Culture Class The East Houston Reconstruction Project (which has blocked cab-driver parking) and gentrification on the Lower East Side (which has led to sharply increased rent) have taken a toll on the Punjabi Deli, as documented in the New York Times, the documentary Cabbies and Chai Unite Lower East Siders, and #SAVEPUNJABIDELI social media activism. Today South Asians from across the world flock to the Deli to pose out front, elevating the space to a tourist destination on par with the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and Central Park, but with none of their permanence. A day will come when the Deli will disappear, like so many mom and pop shops in New York that have been bought out by developers and become chain stores and overpriced boutiques and restaurants. The consequences of these disappearances are vile, for they mercilessly strip a city of history, culture, and community. As an artist who studies archival material to uncover and revive Punjabi diasporic history, I have been deeply drawn to the Deli, examined the countless photographs taken at the space, and conducted a steady stream of oral history interviews. My work forces me to be sincere about the present—about presence—in the face of disappearance, to pay tribute to those who have sustained and nurtured this place, from the Punjabi women cooking heaps of food daily in the kitchen in Queens to the tired workers who gather here from dawn till dusk to the first-generation children of immigrants like myself who seek to understand the importance of such a site, honoring it in the ways they can: a photo, a story, a film, a sound bite, a text. To acknowledge the physical disappearance of this site is also to acknowledge the possibility of its resurrection in such records. But there is no avoiding the hole that the Deli’s likely closure will leave for the community and for the Punjabi diaspora. No archive lasts forever.
Archives and Aloo Parathas
Canadian comedian Jus Reign in front of the Punjabi Deli in a 2015 Instagram post; photo: Raj Singh
Jagdeep Raina is in the Painting MFA program, class of 2016.
Ping Zheng (MFA Painting 2016), A Luminous Night, oil on canvas, 60 Ã— 52 in.
Ping Zheng (MFA Painting 2016), Valley Mountains, oil on canvas, 52 Ă— 60 in. These paintings were inspired by my summer trip to the American west. I was in awe of the landscapes of Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, which are so different from where I was born in China.
Reverberations Diane Lee
My deskmate and I, sitting mere inches apart, occupy two different sonic landscapes. We work with our headphones on to obscure the conversations, laughter, typing, and message notifications of the thirty others we share our studio with. Bon hae is playing Sufjan Stevens, while I’ve simply turned on the noise-cancelling function of my headphones. A similar phenomenon happens on the bus ride to RISD in the morning. This time my headphones are off, and I’m alone with the driver in enjoying the headphone leakage from fellow passengers, which underscores the wails and percussion of the bus as it hurtles over potholes and echoes through the Thayer tunnel. As we are increasingly tethered to our computers and mobile devices, so too are we becoming disconnected from a shared sonic landscape. Over the last few years, I’ve noticed some of my peers taking this subject on in their work. Undermining our current listening conditions of distraction and dislocation from our physical environment, they activate sound to engage a perpetually preoccupied audience. After a long night of work last spring, bleary-eyed from too much time spent looking at a computer
screen, my cohort gathered in a darkened conference room for critique. Church bell tolls filled the room and colorful visualizations played across a lowered projection screen as my colleague Scarlett Xin Meng presented Bell Andante. Composed of recordings from the online archive Freesound, which is populated by anonymous users, Bell Andante brings together recordings of church bells from all over the world, sequenced according to the color of the first and last notes of the bell’s toll. (Colors are assigned to the recordings as they are uploaded to the Freesound archive.) Viewer-listeners of Bell Andante are thus immersed in color and invited to imagine the far-flung environments where the sounds originated. You come away with a curiously confused sense of time and place. Church bells sound to mark the turn of the hour and serve as a call to prayer. Bell Andante seemed to call into question the politics of time: once, the church managed timekeeping; now, time is measured through our phones. Tolls I ascribe to Lisbon blend with sounds—perhaps—of Lima. Though Scarlett orchestrated a contemplative experience, the acid spectrum of green– yellow–orange keeps me aware of
the computer’s role in this feeling of dislocation. I met with Scarlett recently to discuss our shared interest in sound. The combined whistles of an espresso machine, whir of a coffee grinder, and din of an indie-folk-pop-rock playlist provided the soundtrack to our conversation. Exploring sound, time, and space, Scarlett said, was the starting point for Bell Andante. She described the profound impact of experiencing Janet Cardiff’s Forty-Part Motet at MoMA PS1. Forty speakers mounted on stands were arranged in an otherwise spare gallery in PS1’s repurposed red-bricked Romanesque Revival public school. Each speaker plays one singer’s voice, the array of speakers embodying a virtual choir singing a piece of music from the 1500s. “When I was in that space, surrounded by the speakers,” Scarlett said, “I forgot where I was. The sound transports you somewhere else.” In the broadest sense, sound art refers to a work of art that foregrounds sound. It emerged as a term in 1984, after a group exhibition titled Sound/Art appeared at the Sculpture Center in New York, organized by the avant-garde composer and sculptor William Hellerman. Since then sound art has had a tacit relationship with other fine art and design disciplines, while enjoying a steady increase in attention, with several major exhibitions featuring this medium in the last few years. A few notable examples are MoMA’s 2013 exhibit Soundings: A Contemporary Score, Word. Sound. Power,
presented at the Tate Modern in 2013, and the traveling exhibition in 2013 and 2014 Revolutions Per Minute, which was the first survey of sound art in China. Despite the increase in major exhibitions of sound art, this medium remains decidedly difficult to pin down. This was reflected in the diversity of the work represented in Soundings at MoMA. Sound art is rarely purely sound; it often includes visual components, and it touches many disciplines across art and design. Performance artists, multimedia artists, graphic designers, architects, filmmakers, and animators must all consider sound in their work, which can manifest in many different expressions: noise, live performances by musicians, recorded ambient sounds, spoken words, field recordings, sound effects, and more. Stephen Vitiello, a sound artist whose work was featured in Soundings, has suggested that the crossover would ideally go both ways: “I guess maybe this moment will give us more opportunities, but I hope it will give us more than just sound-art shows alone. I’d prefer that, if someone was creating a show on architecture, they might think of me, rather than mount just another show in which ten people are making sound.”1 Shawn Greenlee, RISD alum and Associate Professor in Foundation and Experimental Studies, whose art practice merges electronic music, performance, and programming, has introduced new interdisciplinary courses
that challenge students to produce multimedia experiences with salient connections between sound and image. One class explores sound as it relates to space, and another focuses on developing instruments and software for generating sound for a performance. The emergence of these classes encourages students to extend their work into a complementary, boundary-blurring practice. Perhaps this will help to actualize Vitiello’s desire—that sound be an active consideration in other disciplines, like architecture. As we are spending more time looking at brightly lit displays, ears plugged with headphones, the times when we come together for a shared sensory experience become more memorable, and more important. Eight slow beats emanate from the Episcopal church around the corner from CIT, registering the end of the day. As I make my way back to studio for the evening’s work, Bell Andante reverberates anew. Today I’m grounded in Providence, but soon I’ll be elsewhere. Then I’ll long for the studio’s white noise, so tonight I’ll work with my headphones off.
Ella Delany, “The Power of Sound as an Art Form,” New York Times, October 4, 2013.
Diane Lee is in the Graphic Design MFA program, class of 2016.
Rebecca Leffell Koren
Rebecca Leffell Koren (MFA Graphic Design 2016), Cavity, 2015, photographic composites In the urban environment, lapses orient us as much as built structures, defining the visual texture of a city. Cavity surfaces the active nature of the lapse, drawing the gaze toward the dominance of parking lots in downtown Providence.
NOISE IS ALWAYS SAFE Drew Litowitz in Conversation with Edek Sher
Historically, music has been an integral part of RISD’s culture. The Talking Heads, Marisa Nadler, and Lightning Bolt are just a few of the influential musical artists RISD has nurtured. These days, however, music’s presence on RISD’s campus seems to be elusive. It occasionally rears its head in sound performances at Digital + Media openings, via a small and informal musical-collaboration club called RISD Jams, a new radio station called RISDio, and when a few student bands play the rare outdoor event. But overall music’s existence at RISD is nothing like it used to be and nothing like you’d expect from a college of art and design. RISD rarely hosts concerts, and you would be hard pressed to find original music in student work. My own background as a music journalist and musician and an interest in capturing music’s effects on collective consciousness push me to incorporate music and its ephemera into my graphic design work whenever possible. That inclination has also led me to several collaborations with Edek Sher—both public performances and music recording projects. Edek is one of the few graduate students known to peers as a musician. A member of several rock and pop-punk bands, including Food Court and Boring, Edek has created his own makeshift recording studio in CIT, where he combines his music and art, writing pop-punk songs celebrating the mundane, creating disorienting electronic compositions, and orchestrating overwhelming audio-visual installations. We took to Edek’s CIT lair—a cavernous walk-in closet with fifteen-foot ceilings and a sawhorse desk covered in audio gear, giant speakers, a cinder block, and about eighteen computer screens—not to talk about the lack of music at RISD, but to see if we could get to the bottom of the deeper, wider tensions between music and art. —Drew Litowitz
Drew Litowitz & Edek Sher
I saw your performance at the Digital + Media Biennial. It was refreshing to both see and hear such a commanding piece. Can you talk about it?
It’s called Two Distinct Moving Parts. There are four samples that play and loop idiosyncratically through an instrument I made using Max/ MSP. As they play, I control their volume, their effects, and the length of the loops. The piece can be very chaotic when it starts. It’s my job to sculpt the sounds into something more digestible or accessible. Once I do that, I press a button and cede power to the computer, which selects new parameters, and the sound becomes chaotic again.
And what are the sounds?
Th e sounds are the least conceptual part of the piece. I made these bell-like tones in Ableton Live because I liked the way they sounded, but they are distorted and made unrecognizable. I think the intuitive, pleasurable part of making the sounds is something that I’m trying to be true to.
What are the conceptual parts?
Th e piece is about challenging the audience to be present in a moment, to have patience, to be committed to one thing—even though that one thing is the noise of many simultaneous sounds. It’s about asking people to be part of something that can’t just be bookmarked or saved for later. This is what makes the piece appropriate for a gallery. I’m trying to find a balance between the pleasurable music stuff and the heady art stuff, and also between my creative control and the control of the computer.
Y ou’ve mentioned to me before that there are notions of risk at play in your work.
I think in this piece I’m balancing risk and safety. On one hand failure is a given because of the chaotic elements. The audience watches me listen and respond to the piece as I sculpt it. Since I need to be present in the moment to respond to the sounds, and because I’ve
Noise Is Always Safe
Edek Sher (MFA Digital + Media 2016), Two Distinct Moving Parts, 2016, improvised performance with 2-channel sound and 2-channel video, 11:42
deliberately made the instrument difficult to control, there is a risk that the performance could sound bad. But that tension is part of it. Because failure is very possible, it then becomes totally okay if I mess up, because that maybe was the goal all along. Does risk play a role in your work? How does music, or the risk of making work relating to music, play out in your projects at RISD? DREW
I find it difficult to incorporate musical references—the journalistic side of what I used to do—into my work without it coming across as cheesy or forced. I’m not sure why. But I’m definitely trying.
Last year I prototyped an app called Critical Mass that was a commentary on music criticism’s effect on how we approach music. It conflated the music-listening experience via streaming services with the influence of music reviews on our listening trends. In the app, the records’ covers were replaced by graphics generated by the critical reception to the album. So, if you were to search for Radiohead’s new album, and it
Drew Litowitz & Edek Sher
had bad reviews, it would show up all red with jagged lines. If it were good, it would be green with smooth lines. So in my system, all the albums are flattened into these review-informed record covers that all look homogenous. So you’re immediately confronted with whether or not it’s a “good” album and you’re deterred from picking a bad one. Also, when you listen to something it affects the color of your entire App interface, so if your taste is good versus bad you have a reputation on the service to uphold, and it’s shoved in your face. EDEK
I really like that. What were you trying to communicate?
One of my points was that the way that we listen to music today is graphic design. It’s programming and graphic design. For most people, records don’t exist materially like they used to. They are a simulacrum. Vinyl records had album covers in the first place, but then they became obsolete. So the album itself is now just a collection of files on the computer on some server somewhere with a thumbnail image. So I was interested in engaging with that by mimicking the vernacular of the apps we use. I wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel of how those things looked and felt.
Did you think the project was successful?
I think my perspective on music’s relationship to design is unique precisely because so few graphic designers are working with music in a critical or theoretical sense. I also think this project raised interesting points and interrogated many contemporary media issues, so yes, I think it was successful. The problem I run into, however, is that music is such a well-trodden area of interest for so many people. It can be hard to develop an original voice within a popular context, no matter how strange your position or subtle your critique. Like many, I also fear that my work may not have formal originality. Oftentimes work about the music industry, or taste in general, purposefully speaks the language of the context in question. In my case, that context is
Noise Is Always Safe
Drew Litowitz (MFA Graphic Design 2017), Critical Mass, 2015, motion graphics/user experience prototype
music, and that can be tricky because music’s aesthetic has a commercial sheen to it, and even though my work is critical of that aesthetic, it exemplifies it, too. The friction between trying to earnestly improve a popular visual context like Spotify and also playing up that vernacular to comedic effect is high. Clearly, I’m still working out that dynamic. EDEK
You’ve mentioned before that graphic design can often be seen as a more service-oriented discipline. Is there a tension between being service-oriented and creating speculative work?
T hat tension is a huge issue. I think at RISD, especially in the Graphic Design department, we’re expected to create something original and conceptual, which can mean ignoring functionality. In Critical Mass I was being speculative, but the piece looks functional. In fact, most people I’ve shown it to outside of RISD think it’s a great and viable idea. The confusion is part of what interests me, but that balancing act can also get pretty complicated.
I feel it’s similar in D+M. The concept and the experience of the concept are far more important than a polished, final piece. We’re really working on finding our original voices.
R ight, and “originality” can be hard when you want to bring music into the work, because it’s such a mainstream art form. A lot of the rock music I’ve heard from you has elements
Drew Litowitz & Edek Sher
of pop, punk, surf-rock, and slacker rock. It’s content is deliberately apathetic and mundane, but I don’t think you would consider it avant-garde. So, say you were to play these songs for a crit, what would happen? Could you validate doing that? EDEK
W ell, the fact that I need to validate it is problematic, but I guess all fine art needs to be validated, or explained. No, I can’t really just sit down and write a pop song for art-school critique. But that’s actually exactly why I want to do it. It’s like, “Oh, I can’t do it? Well that’s messed up. I’m going to do it!” But I’m also asking why I feel pop music needs to exist in an art context. I guess I feel a need to spark discussions surrounding the art world’s often-narrow perspective of what is worth discussion. In this way, music can stand in for other ideas, cultures, and ways of thinking that are neglected in the art context.
Is there a certain kind of music that’s appropriate for RISD or an art context?
Well, noise is always safe.
[ Laugher] That’s great! So abstract is key.
R ight, being abstract is safe. And that probably means no lyrics.
I’ve found that music in the art context tends to be more alienating. If the audience feels alienated and they stick around then they “appreciate art,” but if they feel alienated and leave then they’re not the intended audience. Sometimes it seems like dry, austere, imperfect, unpolished, and inaccessible equates to art, at least to an outsider. Also self-awareness— music being aware of itself—that may be the key to unlocking the whole conversation.
A lso, as with any art, with abstract or “inaccessible” music you have to listen to a lot of it to really understand its language. Pop music seems to have an easier point of entry. I think that’s why my pop music
Noise Is Always Safe
isn’t quite art appropriate. Like, when I pick up a guitar and for some reason feel really emotional and write the best song I’ve ever written—that is not enough of a concept for the art world. Maybe raw feelings alone aren’t appropriate for an art context, even if there are elements that make it seem self-aware. DREW
T he context is also interesting. A little while ago the art-pop musician Grimes played at the Guggenheim, just in the middle of the Guggenheim rotunda. She’s somebody who really pushes, in a critical way, against the constraints of pop music. But it was definitely still treated as a musical performance, and not an exhibit. Then you have Animal Collective, who took over the Guggenheim one night and turned it into an art experience that was informed by their music, but nothing that anyone would recognize as their music. They took over the whole place and filled it with weird shit. They had all these people dressed up in costumes running around. It was a way to experience the band in the context of an art museum, as fine art, not music.
It was about the world they brought you into.
Y eah, and that world was art apparently. [Laughter]
It wasn’t music and it wasn’t sound art, either.
W hat do you think separates sound art from popular music?
I’ve always had a problem with sound art because I think it’s kind of boring.
W hen you talk about sound art what are you thinking of? Like Holly Herndon?
W ell, I love listening to her speak on YouTube—watching interviews and stuff, I love it. She’s asking interesting questions: What is the music of today? Why are we all trying to sound vintage when
Drew Litowitz & Edek Sher
we have real shit to deal with? But I can’t really get into her music itself … DREW
… on an entertainment level. But if you were to listen to her from an analytical standpoint …
R ight, I like it.
S o what separates the two?
I guess the big difference is that the art world claims to be about an exploration of ideas on an intellectual level, whereas music is more visceral and immediate. And perhaps art is even critical of that immediacy.
A rt is also critical of pop music’s transparent consumerism— that it sells. Of course so does art, but in a different way, and to a different, more exclusive audience.
R ight, art, even if it is sellable, is allowed to be critical of consumerism, which is confusing and maybe hypocritical.
I guess music doesn’t always need to be critical or probing in the way that fine art does, but I do really most enjoy music that does both, and I really want music to be taken seriously by the art world. I once interviewed Stephen Malkmus from the band Pavement, who made very art-informed slacker rock, which has always been an exciting contradiction to me. I have to paraphrase, but I remember he told me that he wouldn’t mind being a mix between Stephen Hawking and Jeff Spicoli, between the smart and the dumb, the mind and the body.
M aybe that’s the ideal place for music and for art.
Drew Litowitz is in the Graphic Design MFA program, class of 2017.
Edek Sher is in the Digital + Media MFA program, class of 2016.
This and following page: Cem Eskinazi (MFA Graphic Design 2017), Test (details), 2016, 18 posters and 6 books
This project investigates the value of form and aesthetics by creating a sharp contrast between function and joy.
ROI: Return on Investment Mary Yang
ROI installation views; photos: Mary Yang
GD Commons in the Design Center December 8, 2015–January 7, 2016 As art and design students, we generally enter school knowingly investing our time and resources into an unknown outcome. Whether the investment culminates in a job or a specific practice or not, creativity is present in every step of the process. ROI: Return on Investment explored creativity as a product, process, and idea marketed and sold within the institution. It brought up questions such as: “How is creativity commodified?” and “How do students and artists contribute to and participate in the market?”
The exhibition was created in the context of Design
and the Gallery, a Graphic Design class taught by Jiminie Ha in collaboration with artist Cyril Duval (item idem). The course explored the boundaries of traditional graphic design and its role in the gallery. Rather than resorting to conventional 2D or 3D solutions such as the signage and wall captions typical of shows in gallery spaces, students (myself included) were encouraged to understand and design the gallery in a way that speaks to the work in a more dynamic and spatial context. A group of thirteen undergraduate and graduate students from the Architecture, Digital + Media, and Graphic Design departments participated in this iteration of the course. Each brought his or her unique understanding of visual language, technology, space, and materials, and together we selected the show’s theme.
The gallery space was organized into three sections,
each focusing on a theme: invest, buy, and work. The entrance displayed a series of hanging banners that primed the viewer with hyper-branding, as in a version of the RISD seal that replaced the school’s name with the exhibition title. A wall filled with lottery tickets and checks spoke to the idea that entering an educational institution is a form of both investment and risk. In the “buy” section of the room, an avatar promoted the show, telling the viewer to “buy” and “invest.” A wall of process work included everything from coffee cups to rejected ideas—raising the value of each
ROI: Return on Investment
step of the creative process in relation to the final product. “Work” was represented by a stationary bike that moved in response to animated graphics triggered by a motion sensor. Thus the viewer was invited to participate and physically interact by “working” the show. ROI presented a playful, bold challenge—inviting students and faculty to explore and critique what it means to learn, practice, and perform art and design in the cycle of creative capital.
Mary Yang is in the Graphic Design MFA program, class of 2017.
Katie Bullock (MFA Glass 2016), Untitled, 2015, digital image I stumbled on this moment through my out-of-focus camera lens, as I was attempting to document the evening light from my apartment window. In one instance, on one particular day of the year, the variables lined up to yield a point of light, visible only from the very spot in which I stood. Just as soon as I realized what was happening, the light faded and the sun set; a glimpse of cosmic motion and time folded seamlessly into the specificity of experience.
Henry’s Feed Tristram Lansdowne
Henry woke to his alarm with an abrupt inhalation, emerging from one of those vivid early morning dreams like a diver surfacing from deep in a murky pond. The soccer game turned family dinner had transformed into a nightmare in which he had returned a socket wrench incomplete to his uncle, then evaporated in the cold brightness of the room, although a residue of anxiety lingered. He looked over the edge of the bed for his slippers before exiting the covers. Making his way stiffly down the tightly twisting wooden staircase, he squeezed his phone on and hit the news feed. It instantly came to life, projecting its bright beam of light, which he aimed at the dirty cream-colored cabinets across from him, before setting a pot of porridge on the stove. Scroll. Photos of today’s battles drifted into view, interspersed with a local political scandal, last night’s selfies from insomniac friends, and the interminable cats. Henry hated cats, mostly because of the time their photos took up in his daily routine—relentless displays of total, idiotic adoration toward a completely indifferent subject. The goal seemed to be to photograph the cat so it would appear un-sociopathic, which was definitely a challenge. He had stooped to tormenting those well-fed specimens belonging to his friends now and again, when no one was looking. Although they elicited far less revulsion than the cats, which, admittedly, was a problem, the gruesome images of bomb blasts and starving children in his feed were important. They were
important not because of their intrinsic horror, but because they served as a foil to the camp narcissism of his acquaintances—a foil that seemed absolutely necessary as he poured syrup and creamer onto the bland glue of his breakfast before spooning it into his mouth. Scroll. Baby pictures, a map of the Caucasus, a chart showing the correlation between happiness and fiber intake, a landscape of some arctic region, more baby pictures. He stopped at his ex-girlfriend’s most recent vacation post and blankly flipped through her images—four women with unwavering smiles in front of various tropical backdrops—pausing on the last one and letting the cream and sugar fully dissolve into the soft oat mass in his mouth. Scroll. Several images of the sunrise currently unfolding outside his apartment glided past, almost in real time, and their ascension on the kitchen cabinets seemed to Henry like time sped up, nature in tracking mode, sort of a low-level art moment. Pleased with his metaphor, he scooped up the last rubbery chunks from the bowl and washed them down with coffee. He could finish scanning the feed on the toilet. After a cold lunch of leftover Kung Pao chicken and battered fried tofu, when he thought nobody was looking, Henry signed up for Bloom, the slightly less trashy of the two dating platforms everyone was using now. $20 a month—just another invisible drain installed in the digital floor of his bank account. He filled out a short survey, and then was asked for a fifteen-word blurb and up to five profile pictures. Trying hard not to think too hard about it, and failing, he mulled over the photos of himself aggregated by his feed’s face-recognition software, and eventually settled on a picture of himself at a park in summer taken by his ex, a selfie he took wearing his grandmother’s horn-rimmed glasses, and a deadpan shot against a brick-wallpapered kitchen wall. He felt intensely shy. On the bus home from work, the algorithms had delivered 122 matches based on Henry’s age, job, physical location, sexual orientation, and taste in film and television. Convenience was paramount. There were no instructions. The first step of engagement seemed to be to like someone’s picture, opening the door to reciprocation and possible direct messages. He scrolled through a series of women’s profile pictures, flicked through a few of their albums. Hundreds of ecstatic smiles met his gaze. He wondered if they’d felt as anxious uploading their images as he
Tristram Lansdowne, Untitled 10, 2014, watercolor on paper, 18 × 14 in.
had. Do people ever smile that way, aside from photo-ops? He would think a person was deranged if they smiled at him like that in the grocery store. He wondered if they used the credit card info to run criminal checks on these people. It was a relief whenever he stumbled across one that seemed out of the ordinary. One woman wore a loose black T-shirt, black leggings, a neon headband, and heavy eye shadow. She wasn’t smiling. In fact, she looked confused, or maybe annoyed. Another woman was dressed as a fridge. He should’ve used a Halloween pic too; humor clearly went a long way. He realized he’d like to go out with someone who had a dog. One person in particular caught his attention, her face smushed up against a brindle mutt apparently named Rodger, who was smiling at the camera much like the women in other profiles. That night, while watching TV, he liked thirty-five profile pics. He figured he should play the odds, as he was afraid of getting no responses. This was a mistake. By breakfast, twenty-one had reciprocated his likes and fourteen had messaged him. By the time he was on the bus, it was up to eighteen. A momentary feeling of affirmation quickly gave way to anxiety. He diligently replied to each message at work, and by evening he was frantically juggling a blur of conversations, wondering what he had gotten himself into. The images he had posted of himself were now appearing all over town on little screens, carried around by strangers in order to be judged. Really this was not new. Pictures of Henry had been posted thousands of times, by him and by all those who knew him, a lifetime of purported happiness documented and archived, ready to be submitted as evidence against some hypothetical future failure of character. This was a fresh kind of exposure, though; it had a specific purpose. It had flattened him into a tiny version of the dating site’s cheesy billboard ads, which had flared up all over the city in recent months, the faces leering out, threatening loneliness and failure. Over the next week, Henry went on two dates, and the week after that he upped it to three. They were often just an hour or two over a drink, but he was out of practice and that was about all his social skills could handle. Also he had to be careful with money that month. The women he met were all very nice, but he couldn’t seem to get past the feeling that they were interviewing each other for a job. Do you like cooking, what kind of music do
you listen to, where did you go to college … do you have empathy, are you interesting enough to look after me when I’m old and sick … There was a detachment, a coldness to it that neutered his ability to flirt. He was trained as an artist, whatever that meant, and had the sarcastic demeanor and sense of entitlement to prove it. In reality, though, he was also a bit of a deadbeat—insecure, out of shape, lazy. He needed the woman he was meeting to exhibit at least a hint of ironic awareness toward the situation, to take the edge off his embarrassment, but also to offer warmth and frankness, so that he could feel she was being real with him. These qualities weren’t what he was looking for; they were merely the minimum prerequisites. As such, he had a pretty narrow range of compatibility. The following week, Henry gathered up his self-esteem and went on three more dates. A meal might be more intimate, he thought, so he spent longer on the pre-rendezvous messaging, building up a sustained text dialogue before inviting them to dinner. It was a commitment but it was worth it. What he found himself anticipating most during this elongated process was hearing their voices, watching their mouths form the first few words. As soon as someone speaks to you, he thought, she stops being an abstraction and starts being a person. He became fascinated by the ways these women spoke, by their accents and intonations, and, once the food came, by the way they ate. Sitting across from a social worker named Christina, he felt a queasiness as he alternately soaked up the sounds of her voice as they tumbled out of her mouth and then watched bites of food disappear into the same darkness. It was true Henry had always been particularly attracted to a woman’s mouth, to a beautiful smile, and who wasn’t? But this was different. The feeling produced by watching Christina, and Claudia, and Rachel, and Tracy, was sensual, erotic, but also unsettling. The collision of sensory input and output, within their own bodies but also between theirs and his, did something strange. The food went in, the words mixed with them, left the lips, and drifted across the table into his ears. Tina was a slight, furtive woman who worked in the city archives and ate so discreetly that Henry was initially fascinated by her, and then quite impatient. He ordered another round of tapas, those most awkward to eat in his estimation, to see how she would
handle them, but she was unwavering in her care. Bite, wipe lips with napkin, chew, swallow, sip wine, speak. It was a way of eating that seemed strangely methodical, almost robotic. When he asked if she had not had the oral-optic alteration she looked at him with what he took to be scorn. “No,” she said, “I’m not into that.” “Why not?” he asked. “It’s like a home theater inside your head.” “Right,” she replied, “it’s like being inside your phone, except that your phone is inside of you.” Henry wondered at the moral implications of that statement, then let it go. Lying in bed that night he mulled it over. He’d spent half of last November’s paycheck on the alteration. Placing the screen on his tongue, he felt the warm optic ray hit the roof of his mouth, adjusting it so that it struck right behind his hard palate. As soon as it connected his vision gave way to a kind of foyer, decorated in an 80’s art deco theme with black-and-white checkered tile floor, potted ferns, a small sunken pool, and knock-off Memphis wallpaper. Since the surgery had healed, Henry had dedicated considerable thought to these aesthetic choices, and he felt the smug satisfaction of good taste every time it flickered to life behind his eyeballs. What was intrinsically wrong with putting your phone in your mouth? He wasn’t forcing it into someone else’s. It was certainly better for your eyes than staring at the screen and his commutes to work had all but disappeared from his daily horizon, spent as they were inside this soothing space, gliding through images with the flex of his tongue. As the weeks went on Henry continued to date new women, and the overlaps between sight and sound, food and the voice, solidified into a full-blown fetish. There was something about the way the sounds of the words were shaped by the mouth—they seemed to Henry to be fusing with the textures and viscosity of the food. The number of dates increased. He started watching food-oriented porn and cooking shows with attractive chefs. He was putting on weight. Certain cuisines were favorable for their physical logistics. Soups and stews were totally uninteresting, dishes with long noodles also not very appealing. The food needed to be placed in the mouth, or bitten off, not slurped in. Sashimi was excellent, gnocchi, burgers, grilled fish … foods with textures that could be savored. Hot pots, dumplings, and croquetas were good, too, because they were usually hotter than expected, forcing the mouth open again to cool the palate with breath. Unfortunately,
when it came to his romantic forays, watching his date’s mouth was often the climax of the evening because he became so engrossed that he would forget to keep up the social charade, to play the coy game of question and answer, once the food came. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, just as spring was beginning to show its warmth, he met Amy. Amy was a beautiful woman with big eyes and a nice smile who worked just around the corner from his office. They met at an Irish pub downtown and took a window booth. It had been two months of unsuccessful dates, and although Henry had become a better conversationalist, he was a frustrated man. On top of that, his credit card debt was racking up. Still, sitting across from Amy, disarmed by her smile, he felt the nervous thrill of flirtation kick in. They had more in common than he expected—she had a dog, he wanted one; she ran a design blog, he was a designer, sort of; he was becoming obsessed with seafood, she served part time at Leroy’s Lobster House down by the wharf. It was a good start. Then the food arrived. Amy ate her lamb burger with a pleasure and intensity that Henry had never witnessed before. The word immersive came to mind. It was like watching a demolition derby. Morsels came flying at him like sparks. He kept asking her questions to keep her going, and she didn’t slow down. She was totally uninhibited. She licked her fingers. He couldn’t decide if he was turned on or disgusted. It was spectacular. Not only that, but she didn’t seem to mind him watching, she was too busy chewing, gesticulating, telling jokes, enjoying herself, completely engrossed. “Oh my god this is so good,” she said around a mouthful, “you should have the last bite.” And before he could formulate a response, she just reached across and deposited what remained of the sandwich, greasy and squished, into his mouth. Henry felt his gag reflex kick in, but forced it back and swallowed; he was suddenly, violently, in love. Amy giggled, and was warm. She was also a great kisser, more gentle than he had imagined, her lips and tongue melting softly against his. He basked in her warmth, consumed it, was grateful for it. They stayed up most of the night, and the next day he felt restored, even young. She stayed for breakfast. He made eggs and sausage and toast, and then watched her eat them, infatuated. It was Sunday, and the day stretched out before him. And yet, and yet … soon after she left he felt the need to fill the void she had left in her wake. He impulsively put his phone
in his mouth and then took it out again. What was he going to do today? Would she want to see him again? Had she felt what he had? Had he? What if his feelings weren’t even real, but merely induced by the long period of unfulfilling mediocre dates? He didn’t know anything about her, not really, and although it was exciting it also made him incredibly nervous. What if she had one-night stands every weekend? He got up from the kitchen table and cleared the dishes into the sink, filled his coffee cup and then transferred himself to the couch. He lay back, held his phone in front of him, and opened Bloom. He wanted to see Amy on-screen again, to assess her from a distance, to see if he had missed anything, to look for signs of her life as yet hidden to him, but she looked the same as before—happy, fashionable, impervious to his gaze. It was no good. He was vulnerable. What if everyone she met fell in love with her? She must have a legion of men trailing after her. Maybe he should keep dating around, he thought to himself, you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. Take the pressure off this situation. Be casual. One day it occurred to Henry that he could ask the robotic female voice of his phone to read the Bloom messages out loud, while he looked at the images oral-optically. He put the phone in his mouth, sliding it into place with his tongue. The phone’s optic ray activated, beaming up into the back of his mouth, and he maneuvered the small ovoid back a bit more with his tongue, pushing it up into place against the roof. The scene flared up, vividly displaying the profile onscreen, and the sound of her uneven cadence reverberated through his jaw into his eardrums. The earnestness and sameness of her voice both exacerbated and voided the monotony of the photos, making any peculiarity absurd; this in turn made the expressions on the women’s faces suddenly witless, unsuspecting victims of this collision of conformity and carefully calibrated self-presentation. It was hysterical. By the fifth message his abdominals were in spasms, his tongue straining to keep the phone in place and tears welling up in his eyes. He was in a fit, could hardly breathe; a high-pitched moan emitted from his throat, dwindling to a scraping sound. Realizing he was choking on his own spit, he managed to take his phone out with a cough. Sitting there, recovering his breath, he felt crazy and alone, as everyone does after a solitary laughing fit, but he had also felt a wave of male arrogance. He was relieved to feel above the system
for a moment, to laugh at these image-people, and to recoup at least the smallest degree of idiosyncrasy from them. On the bus the next morning, Henry looked out at the streets and listened, bewildered and acutely embarrassed, to a weedy teenage boy with a large grinning face and wet hair telling the two girls beside him about his current relationship. Apparently this new girlfriend had fucked a friend of his prior to dating him, and now that he knew this she was nothing to him but convenient sex. Furthermore, if the girl facing him on the bus hadn’t let him sleep with her, they could be friends; but since she let him put his dick in her, she now annoys the shit out of him and they can’t be friends. Amazingly, the girls didn’t object to either of the above statements; they seemed glad for the early morning entertainment. Appalled, Henry put his phone in his mouth and closed his eyes.
Tristram Lansdowne, Ranger, 2014, watercolor on paper, 16 × 14 in.
The ray made a connection with his optic nerve and his vision opened onto the warmly lit foyer. He’d recently adjusted the light source of the room and added a touch of breeze to activate the ferns and make the pool ripple ever so slightly. He opened the feed and the room was filled with bright images, sliding across his vision with the flex of his tongue, soothing him: aerial shots of
Tristram Lansdowne, Eyelet, 2013, watercolor on paper, 15 Ă— 13 in.
acquaintances’ breakfasts, more early morning landscapes, more cats, all reflecting beautifully in the water below. The warmth of the ray beaming through his soft tissue made him salivate, the hot spit trickling down his throat in a synesthetic fuzziness that was very pleasant. A worthwhile investment, despite the minor surgery. He flicked over to his ex’s page almost involuntarily and began scanning her pictures for the third time this morning. She looked happy, but that’s what the photos were for, he reminded himself. He had no idea if she actually was, couldn’t penetrate that smile, held out like a shield, and in fact had no more information about her life than had he not looked at the photos. He realized he was searching for clues, a crack in the façade maybe, some residual link to him or their break up. Also at her tanned body from her vacation. Her bikini was new, and he felt the soft ache of lost possession. If this was not healthy, neither was it a proper obsession. It was compulsive but detached. The more he looked at her smiling out at him, the number he felt. He told himself he was trying to desensitize, reduce her to an utterly meaningless image. Empty her out. In a way, it was working, but it also made him feel hollow, a Band-Aid of voyeurism and regret, like continuing to watch porn after he came. He closed the newsfeed and stared at the art deco pool, listening for his bus stop to be announced. At work, the boss had brought in doughnuts to announce the acquisition of a new client file. Henry ate a chocolate glazed and then a cream-filled chocolate dip with rainbow sprinkles and used the sugar buzz to design a set of preliminary gifs. The new client’s logo flew across a vaporous void this way and that, spinning and pivoting into view, its etymologically meaningless word shining like a silver-blue anodized weapon. Henry wondered whether it was an acronym. Then he wondered if it were made into a belt buckle whether or not it would make it through airport security. The doughy residue was beginning to ferment in his mouth, turning the sugars into a sour paste.
Tristram Lansdowne is in the Painting MFA program, class of 2016.
Nick Missel & Thalassa Raasch
Philip Muller (MFA Textiles 2016), Mach 10, 2014, silk satin print, 36 Ă— 36 in.
Prisoner’s Cinema Nick Missel and Thalassa Raasch, curators
Gelman Gallery, RISD Museum January 22–March 20, 2016 Prisoner’s Cinema drew inspiration from a perceptual phenomenon of the same name that is caused by prolonged solitary exposure to darkness. The experience is most often reported by astronauts, truck drivers, pilots, meditators, and prisoners confined to dark cells. They describe seeing colorful patterns of flashing light that refract, vibrate, glitch, form into figures, and dematerialize in an intense and overwhelming way.
We took the prisoner’s cinema as an entry point to connect
with artists who are exploring themes of isolation, containment, synesthesia, simulation, and fragmentation. By blacking out the windows and doors and spotlighting the work only as needed, we immediately immersed the viewer in an adjusted and intimate visual space. Works such as Space for Continuous Eye Contact, by Bobby Anspach, and Peach Blossom Shangri-la 2.0, by Tim Wang and Amelia Zhang, produced their own luminosities. Constant Surround, a multi-channel sound performance by Edek Sher, shifted sound throughout the gallery, responding directly to the space, artworks, audience, and concept of the prisoner’s cinema.
The artists’ works became apparitions within the darkened
gallery, reinforcing moments of transportation, immersion, and intimacy that pulled viewers through their own, sometimes sinister, sometimes thrilling, prisoner’s cinema. Nick Missel is in the Sculpture MFA program, class of 2016. Thalassa Raasch is in the Photography MFA program, class of 2016.
Nick Missel & Thalassa Raasch
Prisoner’s Cinema, installation view. Works on floor, clockwise from foreground: Jared Akerstrom (MFA Sculpture 2017), XXXX, 2015, linoleum tile, dimensions variable; Calvin Xingpei Shen (BFA Film/Animation/Video, 2017), Joy Ride, 2015, video projection, dimensions variable; Jeff Allen (MFA Sculpture 2016), Pull My Daisy, 2015, urethane plastic, polystyrene, polyurethane foam, joint compound, synthetic resin, water putty, paper, and pigment, 43 × 15 × 12 and 31 × 20 × 16 in.; Nick Missel (MFA Sculpture 2016), Untitled, 2016, Plexiglas and urethane, 60 × 40 × 24 in.
Nick Missel & Thalassa Raasch
Bobby Anspach (MFA Sculpture 2017), Space for Continuous Eye Contact #2, 2015, foam, wood mirror, Polo Ralph Lauren hoodie (partial), LED lights, tape, c-clamps, c-stands, fiber glass, mirror, eye patch, Dr. Dre Beats headphones, warm and fuzzier, person’s right eye, “place for continuous eye contact” playlist on Spotify, 92 × 60 × 54 in.
Tim Wang (MFA Digital + Media 2016) and Amelia Zhang (BFA Painting 2017), Peach Blossom Shangri-la 2.0, 2015, installation with virtual reality viewer (see page 84â€“85 for virtual reality view)
Boyang Xia (MFA Graphic Design 2017), Captcha Fabric, 2016, digitally printed chiffon, iron wire Captcha is the acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.” It is the muddled letter/number code you’re asked to retype, demonstrating your human consciousness, to activate a program. It is a perfect microcosm of mass surveillance. For this project, instead of making a Captchalike pattern, I created twenty-six geometric shapes to replace twenty-six roman letters. The pattern is composed of these geometric shapes, referencing the text on the Wikipedia page defining Captcha. The pattern is printed on translucent chiffon and hung in front of a wearer’s face, thus functioning as a filter between wearer and observer and referencing the Internet environment and network of communication we all live in, both online and offline.
EMBODIED IMAGINARY: FROM GENDERED B O D I E S I N V I R T U A L S PA C E S T O P O W E R F U L BODIES IN A PHYSIC AL WORLD Maggie Hazen
The ways in which we imagine the technologies of the future can speak volumes about our concerns in the present. More specifically, we might say that prospective techno-scientific advances illuminate the perceived horizons of political possibility. How might we intervene within these developments in order to articulate a more emancipatory future, free from perceived gender and sexuality norms? We are always in the act of becoming something else, and technological mediation makes this even more so. Virtual bodies, cyborg bodies, and queer bodies promise unfixed identities. But who is in control of these bodies? Are they controlled by a fiction we author via action cinema, video games, war narratives? The future we speculate about is uncertain and open for change. We must be careful of the mythologies and narratives we construct through technology as they will inevitably schematize our designs for a posthuman future. In massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) a
person can create an avatar completely distinct from one’s self. These interactive virtual environments enable real-time interaction with fictional, visual landscapes. Such uncertain spaces propose a fiction that originates in the imagination—constructing a hybrid space where the virtual self becomes the real self. Here, people play out their desires to become different versions of themselves. Very often, it is the masculine, militant superhero and warrior characters performed in virtual spaces that serve as placeholders until other versions of selves can be developed. It is these often violent characters that are constructed and integrated into the physical body. Literary critic Katherine Hayles defines “virtuality” as “the cultural perception that material objects are interpenetrated by information patterns.”1 Virtuality is associated with computer simulations that put the body into a feedback loop with a computer-generated image. However, in full-immersion VR, one perceives being physically present in a nonphysical world. The degree to which
Maggie Hazen, Hulk, 2015, still from a single-channel video, 3:23
the virtual or artistic environment consistently reproduces reality determines the degree of suspension of disbelief. The greater the suspension of disbelief, the greater the degree of immersive presence achieved. Recent developments in virtual technology and software have accelerated the fluidity between control and response movements in video games to such an extent that the distinction between the real and the virtual has begun to collapse. In video game environments, gamers’ physical bodies are not fully immersed in an environment but can be connected to the virtual by fingertips, arm movements, eye movements, voice, and other sensory organs to the extent that the mind embodies a virtual organism. Game-like simulators used by the U.S. Army root the virtual in reality. In 2014, Army News Service announced that the future of the U.S. Army’s training environments will feature live holistic synthetic combat
training, which integrates various simulations into a single, remotely accessible system.2 Enemy jets will be piloted from a thousand miles away by soldiers, some in aircraft simulators and others on computer gaming stations. Gaming is not yet officially part of the Army’s simulation syllabus but is expected to be soon. The sensory distinction between the virtual and the real is certainly becoming thinner, which has obvious consequences for “players” mistaking the real for the virtual and vice-versa. According to Ernest W. Adams, an author and consultant on game design, immersion can be separated into three main categories: tactical immersion, strategic immersion, and narrative immersion.3 Players feel tactically “in the zone” while perfecting actions that result in success. Strategic immersion is more cerebral, and is associated with mental challenge such as in playing chess. Narrative immersion occurs when
players become invested in a story, and is similar to the experience of reading a book or watching a movie. Staffan Björk and Jussi Holopainen, in Patterns in Game Design, divide immersion into similar categories and add a fourth—spatial immersion— which occurs when a player experiences a simulated world that is perceptually convincing.4 The player feels that they are truly “there” and that a simulated world looks and feels “real.” Grand Theft Auto (GTA) promises “special immersion” in that the game’s simulation of human activity is rendered in the highest possible detail. In GTA, the player can switch from standard third-person to first-person role-playing. This mode provides an entirely new perspective in this notoriously violent game, as killing other characters becomes a personal, visceral experience. Firstperson killing in games such as Call of Duty, Halo, or Full Spectrum Warrior pales in comparison to the gruesome verisimilitude of GTA. With practice one can gain complete tactical authority over the carnage. Gaining that authority can be tremendously fulfilling, but to conflate mastery of a system’s rules with mastery of the real world is problematic to say the least when it comes to killing people. Mentalization is the ability to reflect on the emotional states of oneself and others. We “mentalize intuitively when we interact with other people, on a gut level, in the give and take of a reciprocal social
exchange.” Mentalization “regulates affect” and further, “gives us the ability to distinguish between inner and outer realities.”5 This basic human capacity, essential to our ability to distinguish internal thoughts and feelings from external worlds, evolves from the more primitive mental state of “psychic equivalence,” in which the distinction between internal and external realities is confused or conflated.6 When a person loses mentalizing capacity and retreats to psychic equivalence, feelings of shame and humiliation can be experienced as real, as an actual threat to individual identity. Violence can ensue as a mentally justified form of self-defense.7 Clearly losing the distinction between inner and outer realities is endemic to the virtual world. I call this effect— where depictions of fantasy on screen bleed into our depictions of reality— “hyperbleed.” A non-violent example of hyperbleed would be those who go to great lengths through plastic surgery to become a real-life version of a simulation. Herbert Chavez, 37, underwent nineteen surgeries over sixteen years to look like Superman. In an interview with the Daily Mail, he suggested his ultimate ambition: “If you talk about super heroes, the expectation of people is that they are flawless, they do not get hurt, they do not die.”8 Or Pixee Fox, 25, who had fifteen surgeries and six ribs removed to look like Jessica Rabbitt. These hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine
extremes point to a psychological state in which one identifies entirely with a fictionalized depiction of an ideal human. What is the motivation to achieve such a state? Is there a universal fictionalized desire to manifest a power greater than what can be achieved in reality? Hyper-masculinity typifies the physical models for humanoid robotics as much as virtual personas. Iron Man has in fact arrived in the form of a super suit being invented in Japan. HAL, or Hybrid Assisted Limb, a powered exoskeleton suit developed by Japan’s Tsukuba University and the robotics company Cyberdyne, is designed to support and expand the physical capabilities of its users, particularly people with physical disabilities. When a person attempts to move their body, nerve signals are sent from the brain to the muscles through the motor neurons, moving the musculoskeletal system. This type of exoskeleton is defining a new class of warrior, a real Iron Man. In a 1995 interview, the scientist Manfred E. Clynes—the man who coined the word “cyborg”— discussed the ways in which various everyday technologies contribute to a “human enlargement of function.”9 He argued that when we do something as commonplace as putting on a pair of spectacles, or learning to ride a bike, we in fact become a “simple cyborg.” Today, we have come much further of course. Cultural theorist Scott Bukatman has argued that we are at
a time in which “the obsessive restaging of the refiguration of the body posits a constant redefinition of the subject through the multiple superimposition of bio-technological apparatuses. We’re at the time now where we have to start redesigning the human body to match the technology we’ve created.”10 What kind of body will this be? Clynes has suggested that cyborgs do not disrupt the binary gender system, and insists that cyborgian adaptations have no impact upon a person’s “essential” sexual identity.11 But how can we deny that masculine interfaces are shaping the narratives and identities built into our machines? It is essential to consider how we are gendering technology and aim to actively shift the conversation we are currently imagining around speculative fictions and other narrative worlds. The virtual environment must not construct its critical edifices upon an un-interrogated mythologization of gender and sexuality as they stand, but rather remake the world as we wish to see it. Such reimagining could reshape our technopolitical future.
Maggie Hazen is in the Sculpture MFA program, class of 2016.
Maggie Hazen, Hulk, 2015, still from a single-channel video, 3:23
Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1999), 13–14. David Vergun, “Live Synthetic: Army’s next Generation of Simulation,” ARMY.MIL, The Official Homepage of the United States Army, n.p., March 19, 2014.
Ernest Adams, “Postmodernism and the Three Types of Immersion,” July 9, 2004, Gamasutra.com.
Staffan Björk and Jussi Holopainen, Patterns in Game Design (Boston: Charles River Media, 2004), 206.
Molly S. Castelloe, “How Holding a Gun Inhibits Mentalization,” Psychology Today, January 20, 2014.
Imogen Calderwood, “Superman Wannabe,” Daily Mail Online, June 29, 2015.
Manfred E. Clynes, “An Interview with Manfred E. Clynes,” conducted by Chris Hable Gray, in Gray, Chris Hables, ed., The Cyborg Handbook (New York: Routledge, 1995), 45.
Scott Bukatman, “Postcards from the Posthuman Solar System,” Science-Fiction Studies 18 (1991), n.p.
Timothy Wang & Amelia Zhang
87 Tim Wang (MFA Digital + Media 2016) and Amelia Zhang (BFA Painting 2017), Peach Blossom Shangri-la 2.0, 2015, installation with virtual reality viewer (see page 77 for installation view) Riffing on tropes of techno-Orientalism to create an updated, eroticized space of cultural fluidity, this piece takes its title from the ancient Chinese political text Peach Blossom Shangri-La. Sections of verse from Ezra Pound’s translation of Chinese classical poetry, Cathay, are appropriated/ decolonized. Oliver Laric’s Yuanmingyuan 3D Scan plinths are themselves 3D printed, in miniature, to become the controllers that navigate the installation space. These plinths have an interesting backstory. Originally looted from the Yuan Ming Yuan
gardens in China, they were donated to the Norwegian KODE Museum. Recently, a Chinese tycoon donated a large sum of money in exchange for the plinths to be “gifted” back to China, causing much controversy since under international law China technically owns the plinths. Laric’s making the plinth designs available for free download is thus a symbolic gesture of protest. Our reappropriation adds another layer to the cultural ownership discourse.
TALES FROM THE CRITKEEPER: ALLEGORIES OF “CONSTRUCTIVE” CRITICISM Rosalind Breen Hello my dewy, blind, innocent, newborn kittens. ’Tis I, the Critkeeper. Let’s have a lil' chit-chat about critique. I’ve put on my Nancy Drew detective’s cap and done some investigating along the haunted hallways of the CIT and Fletcher. I’ve amassed a treasure trove of rumors, opinions, allegories, analysis, and most importantly, the most bizarre, absurd, and downright mean excerpts from our own crits here at RISD. Under the veil of constructive criticism in the arenas of art and design (especially art school) people tend to get a little out of hand … While the prof was looking and pointing at my work, he said, “If I didn’t know you, I’d think you were an asshole.” —Timothy Lai (MFA Painting 2017) Everything here you bought from Home Depot … it’s Home Depot art. —Jeff Allen (MFA Sculpture 2016) We all know that crits can be difficult—helpful no doubt, but difficult. It can be extraordinarily challenging to present your work and hear people point out the flaws and failures in such a public way. That said, if the comment leaves you licking your wounds with your tail between your legs, it’s probably because the criticism was bang on. In a recent article in Mousse magazine, Critic Jan Verwoert captures the complex pain of it all: Criticism hurts. I mean the kind of criticism that spells out the one thing that you really don’t want to hear, not now, not in this situation, not at this moment in your life (on the night of the opening, right after the performance which you know didn’t go too well, right before you need to hand in the paper which you had serious doubts about, just when you step back from the mirror wondering whether you put on weight again, exactly on the weekend when peace and rest is all you were craving …). This is the kind of criticism that leaves you gasping for air, puts your body in fight or flight mode and makes you want to
hurl equally harmful things (words, dishes …) back at the one who criticized you. It may also all only come out afterwards, on the way home, over breakfast on the next day, in a letter to the editor, or maybe even in an elaborate plot of revenge that may take months, years, or an entire lifetime to fulfill. I’ve never gotten to the point of wanting to microwave somebody’s pet in revenge for a critique, but you know the salty feeling Verwoert is talking about. This just looks like shitty mountain art, like there are a thousand other versions of it above every fireplace in a lodge in Aspen or something. —Devra Freelander (MFA Sculpture 2016) When horrible critical comments are taken out of the critique context, they can be hilarious. They represent an uncanny symmetry between cruelty and comedy. If something can make a viewer either laugh or cry, it’s because it comes from the truth. Comedian Mary Hirsch once wrote, “Humor is a rubber sword—it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.” That’s something to think about, but sometimes critical comments can be as prickly as an arrow to your proverbial Achilles heel. As for visuals … I wrote down here, “too much crap.” —James Chae (MFA Graphic Design 2016) I recently attended a panel discussion at RISD regarding pedagogy. The topic of critique reared its head. Someone noted that since the advent of political correctness more careful consideration has been applied to criticism. Professors no longer extinguish cigars into canvasses; critics no longer tell students that they’re “just too Japanese” (an actual quote from the panel … Wait, what?). Someone noted that the brash theatrics of criticism were being phased out to accommodate sensitive, introverted students—so that not only the academic “art-hams” would flourish. Opinions varied on this theory or practice. One panelist said that the old-fashioned brutality of critique was a motivator and boundary breaker, that PC censorship prevents students from being slapped in the face with honesty. No kid gloves with her.
Tales from the Critkeeper
This looks like a shower curtain from IKEA. —Kate Aitchison (MFA Printmaking 2016) If there is a silver lining to the cruelty of critique, here it is. Verwoert reminds us of “the golden rule of criticism”—that critics reveal as much, if not more, about themselves as they do about the object of their judgment: “Psychoanalysis says this is how it works: Someone projects something onto you, which they don’t like about themselves, and then chides you for it.” So what’s positive about that? According to Vervoert: In the act of passing a judgment, a bond is forged between the judge and the judged, a bond which is deeply intimate (regardless of whether the judgment is favorable or not) and from which it is hence hard to extricate oneself. The hurting proves that a connection has been established. Insults are forays into your psyche. Hence the eerie feeling of intimacy created by criticisms voiced even by a complete stranger (in a review in a magazine, for instance). It takes one to know one. This is the bottom line, scary as it is. Maybe this explains the bizarre familiarities I feel towards most of our guest critics and the creepy crushes I have on profs. I’m just going to pretend that doesn’t even exist. —Piper Maloy (MArch Architecture 2016) So, if you get a nasty crit, know you’re not alone, remember that whatever crit you’re getting now is far gentler than the one you would have been dished out in the ’90s, and take comfort in having been emotionally manipulated. Persevere, find the truth in their statement, and prove your critic wrong … then send me what they said so I can share it.
With all the love in the world,
talesfromthecritkeeper.wordpress.com Rosalind Breen is in the Painting MFA program, class of 2016.
ART COMEDY Chris Goodale
As a TA for a sophomore Painting course this year, I have had the chance to witness the awkward, emotional space of the crit from a safe distance. Here’s what I’ve noticed: humor— both verbal and non-verbal, emerging in both the objects and conversations around them. This is strange, because in art class, students usually work so hard to be serious, to display their abilities to conceptualize and analyze an image or object. In the Painting department, I’ve observed, humor takes form in paintings that adopt infantile or amateur characteristics as a way to undo, deskill, or unlearn, or, further, to express discontent, reinvent oneself, or simply fail. Portraiture slips into caricature, object becomes cartoon replica, video performance becomes a deadpan display of physical athleticism. Some students I know resort to cardboard, paper, crayons, and sawdust to make clunky, offkilter pictures with straightforward narratives. In one case, a student painted the words “critique area” as signage above her workspace to mark the zone of discourse. The verbal critique is certainly valuable to students’ development
as creative thinkers, however some students undergo a period of resistance, rebellion, or opposition, or develop a meta-commentary on criticism itself. One student would tuck in his T-shirt, pull his hair back in a ponytail, hike up his jeans, and stand with hands behind his back in front of his paintings during his critique. His goofy presentational approach turned a conversation about color, form, paint application, etc. toward one about content. This reminds me of how once, during a brutal three-hour critique, a professor of mine regressed into impersonating Bobcat Goldthwait. It was his way of breaking up the unspokenness of the critique, of bringing scoffing, snickering, silence, breathing, etc. to the surface. To weave between formal diction, gags, asides, prescriptive language, non sequitur, storytelling, impersonation, etc. is to deploy numerous forms of discourse. During the art student’s fickle stages of development, humor can serve as an indispensable remedy or an authentic act of defense. A professor with a dull class can enlist humor to combat boredom. Criticism can become
theatrical, just as a model drawingâ€™s features can be exaggerated or a sculpture can become a scatological joke in an otherwise church-like setting. In the end, art comedy is my recommended antidote for the austerity of a critique; it gives the maker and the viewer permission to lighten up.
Chris Goodale, Critique Area, 2016, ink on paper, 3 Ă— 4 in.
Chris Goodale is in the Painting MFA program, class of 2017.
Peter Nicholson (MFA Photography 2016), Untitled color photographs, from the series “Peter Nicholson’s Providence,” 2016
Lisa J. Maione
This and page 96: Chto Delat, banners highlighting the main themes of the 2015 Creative Time Summit; photos: Lisa J. Maione
Three Days in Venice Lisa J. Maione
When I sat on the modest folding chair at the seventh annual Creative Time Summit (All the World’s Futures; August 11–13, 2015) in the historic Teatro Alle Teso at the Venice Biennale Arsenale, I imagined that the next three days would be an informative convening to explore ideas on art and design education. The Summit’s theme was “Curriculum,” after all, and I was here at the encouragement and invitation of Patricia Phillips, RISD’s Dean of Graduate Studies. Little did I know that Patti would know and introduce me to everyone in the room, nor did I realize that my mind and heart would be opened up and pulled through a profoundly generous array of insights regarding the many ways we encounter learning and produce, transform, and share knowledge, often across conflicted global sites in the world today. Nearly sixty speakers from more than twenty countries, including radical teachers, institutional provocateurs, policy makers, and individual forces of activist passion animated each session. These are people whose current practices insist on and persist in pushing and pulling diverse publics into politically challenging territories. Each presenter drew from and built on one another’s energy.
“Because artists’ voices matter in society, we engage
them in dialogue with the most important issues of our day. And that is what the Summit is all about,” announced Anne Pasternak, president and artistic director of Creative Time (1994–2015) and current president of the Brooklyn Museum, in her opening statement. Indeed, these Summits have fostered collaborations, supplied forums and forces to deepen understanding of the role of artists beyond the marketplace,
Lisa J. Maione
and modeled positions within varied communities and social justice movements. Artists are telling hard truths, confronting power head on.
In his presentation, Okwui Enwezor, Artistic Director of the Venice
Biennale, who had invited Creative Time to join the Biennale, asked the audience to consider the role and responsibility of the contemporary art exhibition as a public forum. An exhibition like All the World’s Futures is not simply an elegantly organized series of artworks. The current state of the world demands a critical response and analytical lens through which the exhibition becomes a kind of “thinking machine”: a productive site for discussion, debate, and dispute. Art has the capacity to challenge us to see much further than the newspapers and media have us believe.
“A riot is the language of the unheard,” Amy Goodman, founder
of Democracy Now!, proclaimed in her moving keynote talk. She urged the audience to critically consider the violence toward young people in the United States and the refugee crisis beginning to spill over that very
Three Days in Venice
summer, adding further political urgency and complexity to our positions here—many of us Americans and Europeans, summering at the Venice Biennale. Goodman went on to further express the nature of language and listening, and the incredible power of media and communication. Whether or not we agree with one another, she advocated a practice of listening closely to other voices, as it is only then that we can begin to understand different and difficult perspectives, and arrive at the beginning of peace.
The range of voices here at the Summit was unparalleled—
Antonio Negri, Simone Leigh, Teju Cole, and Kunlé Adeyemi were among them. Marinella Senatore, of the School of Narrative Dance, took us out into the Venetian streets in a massive parade of dancing formations and joyous performative vignettes. Maria Galindo of Bolivia stepped onto the stage trapped in a mobile cage, from which she belted out at the top of her lungs on the pain of silenced women. Her dramatic entrance and energetic presence emphasized her message on the nature of power.
Another presentation quoted this passage from Hélène Cixous:
“If you follow me, perhaps you will lose yourself. To find, one has to lose. … One finds only by losing.” Artist Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts described this passage as an invitation, one that is “crucial to [her] own personal curriculum.” She revisits these words at the beginning of every new project.
Venice embodies this invitation of “finding by losing.” Each morn-
ing and evening, I walked the meandering footpaths between the narrow waterways; and at some point, I would very much lose my way. However, I always felt compelled to trust my senses and the streets. A map would confuse the path. Allowing myself to lose my way to find a way, the path travelled felt much more my own. And indeed, the notion of developing my own personal curriculum through “finding by losing” has become a way of framing my research inquiries and artistic practice. These speakers modeled courage in voice, strength in position, and boldness in action, becoming a collective “thinking machine” that generously offered me, and all of us there, an opportunity to challenge the futures of education.
Lisa J. Maione is in the Graphic Design MFA program, class of 2016.
Composer and critic Michael Harrison conducting students in the RISD Museum for Outside the Guidelines; photo: Jo Sittenfeld
ARE YOU READY FOR AN INTERDISCIPLINARY PROGRAM? Feiyi Bie
Opportunities for interdisciplinary study are increasing—and increasingly desired—at RISD. Barbara Schaal, Dean of Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, suggests one clear benefit to interdisciplinary approaches: “It is often more difficult to find the answers we seek if we only examine an issue through one lens, if we only employ one set of principles or theories.” Interdisciplinary approaches offer not only answers but more broadly the possibility to discover something novel. Different disciplines are like different languages. It’s possible to communicate in one language, but when you have another language to draw from, although sometimes ideas may not be fully conveyed in translation, some ideas may be better conveyed in translation. And further, new words might accidentally be created between languages and later become popular expressions. Over Fall and Wintersession, I reached out to several people who were involved in interdisciplinary contexts and courses to ask about their experiences and thoughts: David Kim, studio manager of Co-Works, a collaborative fabrication lab that supports interdisciplinary studios at RISD; BArch candidate Marco Aguirre and MArch candidate Hua Gaowho, who participated in an interdisciplinary course in architecture and music; and Mengcen Shen and Sunny Zhang, both current Architecture graduate students, who co-taught an interdisciplinary course. My individual conversations stirred up common themes, and I decided to edit them into an imaginary round table discussion. (All of the participants were consulted about this little experiment.) The discussion is loosely organized to flow from the student to the faculty experience, and then on to the institutional context. I hope this conversation is a useful reference for anyone who is currently taking, teaching, or planning interdisciplinary approaches in the future.
ou took Outside the Guidelines, Architecture’s recurring elective Y in which students work in a completely new discipline this past fall. What was your expectation before you took the course?
I didn’t really have a preconception, mostly because in the course description it says that the course will be taught by faculty from a rotating team of architects, visual artists, dancers, scientists, etc., who have invested their life’s work in the medium of space. So I had no idea who would be teaching when I registered.
When we met our teacher, a composer and musician, on the first day, I was very excited. I wanted to learn about the composition system—the modules in music pieces and the logic of their combination. I thought that would inspire my architectural design because we also work with modules and systems. People compare architecture with music all the time. I thought it would be really cool to take design inspiration from composition.
Often undergraduates don’t have a strongly defined conception of what interdisciplinary work means. They are excited about it, they want to understand it better, but they don’t necessarily have specific expectations coming into a class. Graduate students often have a much more defined understanding of interdisciplinarity because they may have already worked in that way or expected to in graduate school. Meanwhile, most faculty are open and experimental enough to work interdisciplinarily. They want students to experience it and to reinterpret course materials in their own ways. This is how it is in Co-Works at least, though it’s not always the case in more traditional or technically focused courses. So, it’s nice to see that here at RISD.
Tell me more about Outside the Guidelines.
Are You Ready for an Interdisciplinary Program?
Well, it was first and foremost a music class. We were taught to sing a famous contemporary composition, Terry Riley’s “In C.” We practiced warming up our vocal chords to ancient Indian hymns. On one hand these had nothing to do with architecture; on the other hand they are absolutely relevant if one understands that architecture is about experiencing and reacting to forces. I could imagine many abstract comparisons and eccentric analogies to architectural practice.
We learned some basic knowledge about musical notes, the structure of songs, and phonation techniques in the first few weeks. After that, we practiced the song for the final performance at the RISD Museum. At first I found singing relaxing alongside all the studio work. But to be honest I missed having a studio design element to the course and this made me lose interest and passion.
ere you able to connect music with architecture outside the W course, on your own?
I didn’t feel obligated to merge the two. It might be different if I were a thesis-year student taking the seminar, but for now the knowledge I’m gaining is being stored in my arsenal, and I am sure it will eventually emerge. Everything you do, especially in academics, has a way of manifesting itself in your work. And even if music doesn’t become a part of my work, the course was significant. Music is a completely new world to me. As far as I was concerned before taking this course, it was nonexistent. I never felt much moved by it or inspired by it, but now I see it with big, open, watery eyes. Music has this infinite, aspirational quality to it that I am very attracted to. I never noticed it until the professor taught me about the calculated aspects of music and theories of temperament, time, and composition. Also, the course included lectures that covered The Beatles and Wagner, perspective and
Views of Co-Works; photos: Jo Sittenfeld
tempo, silence and echo—all taught to a classroom full of architects. FEIYI
David, do you have any suggestions for students to help them understand the potentials and possible limitations of an interdisciplinary class? I don’t know if this is specific to interdisciplinary classes, but often the course description is all we have to understand the class content before taking it. I’m sure professors make strong efforts to explain as clearly as they can what the class will be about and what students can expect, but there’s only so much you can communicate in one paragraph. It’s important, therefore, to also set expectations in the first class meeting.
es, it seems especially important when taking alternative Y approaches to design and creative practice to establish clear understandings of goals and ultimately to have sheer persistence to accomplish something new and unknown. Sunny and Mengcen,
Are You Ready for an Interdisciplinary Program?
tell me about Filming Architecture, the course you co-taught last Wintersession. SUNNYâ€ƒ
It explored the relationship between space and film through a transposed process of reconstructing space with film and resurrecting film with space.
We wanted to challenge the means of reading and representing architecture through interdisciplinary interactions, providing students an opportunity to address architecture and space in relationship with time, to transform experience to physical space, to expand the definition of architecture and to reveal unexpected qualities of space. We also wanted students to gain basic knowledge of film-making. We hoped the exploration between film and architecture might trigger realizations and reflection about the making of space, the varied visualization of unique art forms, and encourage them to critique the conventional.
That sounds so cool. How was this course constructed?
Students were required to work on two projects. The first was a sixty-second film presented along with sketches, a storyboard, and a six-second trailer, and the second was to construct a closet-size space filled with drawings and diagrams that emerged from the film.
We started with a field trip to Brown University. We visited the Rockefeller Library at Brown University. Based on the type of space they experienced during the field trip, each student was asked to create the sixty-second film, which was later transformed to the closet-size space. On the final review day, they set up installations, drawings, and possibly a performance presenting this space. Although both of us are from the Architecture department, we understood that this course was about film and space. We gave a couple of lectures on filmmaking and film theory, and we invited guest critics from Architecture as well as other departments in RISD to the critiques.
In fact, only one student, Samantha, was an Architecture sophomore. Other students were from many different backgrounds, including one Brown student. It’s interesting that academic backgrounds were clearly reflected in the process of students’ work. For that Brown student, film was her thing because her major is Theater Design. She was very good at writing, so narratives became the needle that threaded her project. Samantha used architectural modeling software to help make the animation and construct the space.
ere you inspired by anything that derived from teaching W Filming Architecture?
Are You Ready for an Interdisciplinary Program?
Like I mentioned before, all the student works reflected their backgrounds. So reviewing their projects was like learning about twelve different ways of approaching the same topic. Besides, from an instructor’s perspective, it’s critical to understand that students also brought with them different critique cultures from different departments. It would have been more productive if we had communicated more on review criteria.
avid, do you think co-teaching is a productive model for D interdisciplinary courses? What are the pros and cons?
In Co-Works at least half the classes are co-taught, so there’s one instructor from one department, one instructor from the other department; or one instructor from RISD and one from the outside coming in to collaborate. Co-teaching is challenging from a logistic perspective because there are more details to juggle. But overall it’s almost necessary in interdisciplinary courses because it’s very hard to find a single person who is an expert in more than one field, and even if you did, it’s better to have multiple voices in the conversation.
nd what are some of the issues or discussions around interA disciplinarity at an institutional level?
The challenge at RISD is that we have historically been a more traditional, discipline-specific institution. Now it’s becoming clear that students, in order to be successful in the real world, have to be able to understand interdisciplinary practices. The school is responding, but it’s still a progression, a cultural evolution. Interdisciplinary courses are often seen as extra; they are often electives rather than part of the core curriculum. That’s just a step in a cultural shift. And changes are happening.
o you see the “rules” and constraints of registering for courses as D an issue?
Yes. I was a graduate student at RISD a while back, and it was frustrating that the reality was that it was hard to get access to courses outside my own department, while I came to this school thinking that I would have access to all the departments, to all the classes, and I could even take classes at Brown. I think faculty and the administration understand this problem better now than they ever have, so they are actively working on it.
ould you like to share any problems you’ve had at Co-Works and W maybe how you’ve solved them? Sure. I’ve been in this role for a year and a half now. For the first couple of semesters, one of the challenges was that some people were apprehensive about access. Some felt that Co-Works was getting all this amazing equipment and resources that would not be accessible to the students. In some ways, that was true, because we are just one workshop that cannot support the entire RISD community at the same time. Despite that, I worked very hard to open up as much as possible and there’s an application process to be able to use Co-Works. To me as an alumni, access was a top priority. I’ve also worked very hard to talk with every department. I think there’s a better understanding now. But there’s still a lot more work to do.
ne last question: Does Co-Works already have a platform O showcasing interdisciplinary works made there?
I would love to have that. And in fact, right now we’re working on developing a website for just that purpose.
Are You Ready for an Interdisciplinary Program?
reat, weâ€™ll look forward to it. Thank you all for joining this G conversation and working hard to develop an interdisciplinaryfriendly study environment. Thanks to you and a range of committed faculty, administration, staff, and students, we can expect some broad, positive changes in the future.
Feiyi Bie is in the Architecture MArch program, class of 2017.
The Drawback Lab
The Drawback Lab, Could Have Been a Fountain (detail), 2015, two engraved markers, one installed at RISD, the other at Roger Williams Park; photo: Diane Lee
In 1877, a group of Providence women who made up the RI Women’s Centennial Commission gathered to decide what to do with $1,500 that remained in their treasury after the 1876 World’s Fair. They had several ideas, the two frontrunners being to build a drinking fountain in Roger Williams Park or to seed the founding of a school of design. The latter won by twice as many votes, and thus RISD was born. This story is told time and again as a celebration of RISD’s origins. In a class called COLAB, taught by Anthony Graves, we decided to question the assumption that the Commission made the right decision. The fountain would have served Rhode Island’s growing immigrant population, providing
clean water and a common space for those otherwise underserved. The marker we installed on Benefit Street at RISD displays the coordinates of where the fountain would have been at Roger Williams Park; the marker at Roger Williams Park is placed where the imagined fountain would have been. Roger Williams Park still serves a large immigrant population today. The Drawback Lab included: Zihao Chen (MFA Printmaking 2017), Aakansha Sirothia (MFA Textiles 2016), Chris Cohoon (MA Teaching + Learning in Art + Design 2016), Hool Eye Johnson (MA Teaching + Learning in Art + Design 2016), Phillip Muller (MFA Textiles 2016), Anthony Graves (faculty)
Thoughts on Black Mountain College Sakura Kelley and Daniel Morgan
Graduate students in RISD’s Wintersession 2016 Critical Pedagogy Colloquium, facilitated by Dean of Graduate Studies Patricia Phillips, were asked to visit and write a review of the exhibition Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933–1957 at the ICA, Boston (October 10, 2015–January 24, 2016). Curated by Helen Molesworth with Ruth Erickson, the exhibition was a vivid exploration of the legendary yet short-lived experimental school where students and faculty engaged in avant-garde forms of art, music, dance, poetry, and pedagogy. The following are two selections from a rich and diverse range of student reviews that presented many perspectives on Black Mountain, while connecting the historic school’s mission to our own experiences as students and developing teachers.
While teaching can be a subversive tool, it is equally
an act of conservation. If not critically inspected, teaching is more likely to uphold the status quo and norms created by the dominant culture. For instance, many teachers now recognize that the canon, whether in literature or fine arts, reflects a problematic Euro/male-centric history, yet they still continue to teach it without critique or qualification. Without relaying its problematic nature to students, they perpetuate these works as standards. Education theorist Neil Postman’s inquiry-based method is a crucial starting point to activate students from idle listeners to active participants and agents.1 To encourage the agency of students through questions pushes past the limits of knowledge we all have as instructors. It draws on collective knowledge over that of the individual. It is not teacher-centric. This validation of students as equals can disrupt hierarchical
pedagogical structures that mirror workplace hierarchy, where the boss is supreme.
The experimental teaching at Black Mountain College
feels especially relevant to me as someone who attended University of California, Santa Cruz, where the spirit of experimental learning is still evident (even though it started giving letter grades in 2000). At UCSC I worked closely with two professors through independent studies, one of whom organized several weekend-long field trips to nature reserves. These trips, which had neither assignments nor schedules, were some of the most influential experiences for me as an art maker. The confidence I gained through being active with other photographers was immeasurable. John Rice’s point in Helen Molesworth’s catalogue essay “Imaginary Landscape” really resonated with these experiences. She quotes: “There are things to be learned through observation [that] cannot be learned any other way. Whatever cannot be expressed in words cannot be learned through words.”2 Some of the most valuable knowledge I gained during my time at UCSC was observational and experiential—not from technical tutorials or Powerpoint presentations. I learned how to think and make at a higher capacity by working around my teachers. For example, I would volunteer myself to assist them in tasks like organizing their studio or installing a show. This gave me access to how they made decisions on formal, conceptual, and practical levels, which is a kind of simultaneous thinking that comes out of years of practice that may not be translatable to a lesson plan. I learned through making alongside them and cultivated nuanced conceptual thinking by proximity.
The experiences I had as an undergraduate and
the years following have deeply informed my practice and how I teach photography, particularly in the field of digital photography, where there is so much room to experiment with minimal technical instructions from the beginner level. I encourage students to start from what they know,
Black Mountain College
including shooting on camera phones, and utilize what is already around them—clamp lights, home printers, or other students as models, for example. I take a similar approach with discussions in class. For the first day of my Wintersession class, Queering Photography: A Lens to Practice, I had students break into two groups and asked them to unpack the terms “queer” and “photography,” then present their responses to the class. From the beginning I establish the value of their own approach and emphasize that conceptual and abstract thinking is already all around and in them. I have been so impressed with the projects students have made, supported largely through discussion and encouragement of their ideas.
The student-faculty relationship was crucial to the
success of Black Mountain College. Their communal living and working was radically different from today’s mainstream professor-student relationships. In that kind of environment there are far more opportunities for contagious learning, that is to say, learning that spreads from person to person naturally and quickly. Instead of formalized lessons, in this kind of educational and living space, inspiration, motivation, and influence saturate the students’ environment and make a fertile ground to respond organically, unconstrained by strict assignment requirements. One-to-one relationships mean that students receive individualized attention created through rapport instead of systematic rubrics of knowledge. Sharing space and time also makes both students and teachers accountable to each other because there is less separation from the consequences of how you treat each other in conventional classroom settings. Of course, just as teaching is not inherently subversive, this utopian sounding form of teaching and learning can have its drawbacks. Even with the best of intentions, potentially problematic dynamics may arise. It is necessary to consider how a communal situation could be manipulated to dangerous outcomes precisely because it can be so completely consuming.
I describe the pedagogical mission and environment
of Black Mountain as “human.” What I mean by this is that the logic that fueled the college was infused with empathy, individual connection, learning through doing, and learning as integrated into life. It reflects an egalitarian ethos; it is not without structure or forms of hierarchy, but the emphasis is on treating both students and teachers with respect. This mission is extremely relevant in our current educational system, which increasingly moves in an opposite direction. For instance, UCSC has had to respond to the challenge of larger class sizes and pressure to produce students with marketable skills. It has cut majors, including Community Studies (where I double majored), which focused on social justice movements and required a six-month full-time internship as its core curriculum. I believe the teaching and learning processes of Black Mountain are richer and more conducive for “real world” problem solving, but I also think they are challenging to quantify or standardize, which is why it will be incredibly difficult to promote this kind of learning in a national environment that is focused on quantifiable and marketable skills. As education (or obtaining a college degree), becomes increasingly central (and accountable) to upward mobility, it is crucial to consider ways that teaching can reinforce—or hopefully subvert—current conditions of power.
Sakura Kelley is in the Photography MFA program, class of 2016.
In 1969, Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner published Teaching as a Subversive Activity (New York: Delacorte Press, 1969). Ten years later, Postman wrote Teaching as a Conserving Activity (New York: Delacorte Press, 1979).
Helen Molesworth, “Imaginary Landscape,” in Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933–1957 (New Haven: Yale University Press, and Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art, 2015), 31.
Black Mountain College
Black Mountain College’s learning environment was
both practical and experimental. The college’s ideals were built on philosopher John Dewey’s influential idea of “learning by doing.” The curriculum was strikingly hands-on, focused on making, experimenting with materials, and exploring new methodologies. Many of the foundational courses were introduced by Josef Albers (who emigrated from Germany and the Bauhaus with his wife, artist Anni Albers), including classes in drawing, color, and material studies. Fundamentally, teachers sought to impart independence and abilities in students to solve problems. Albers would often assign students the same problem and then as a group discuss how each student solved it. This was his method for teaching creative problem solving, as well as involving his students in the role of teaching.
Teaching at Black Mountain College was not limited
to the classroom. The administration took great care to cultivate an energetic and joyous atmosphere, in and outside of lectures. There were parties, dances, and impromptu jam sessions—much of what we still see in the after hours of academia today, with the key difference being that the faculty and administration did not set themselves apart from these social activities. Their participation helped break down psychological barriers between student and professor. The fun-loving culture and outside-of-class interactions helped chip away at the power dynamic often found between teacher and pupil. Further, many professors would attend and participate (as students) in other classes.
The aspect that I appreciate most about Black Moun-
tain’s culture was a frugality born from necessity. From the day it opened through its final semester, the school was plagued with financial problems. It suffered the woes of any small, art-focused school, including a small endowment, few grants, and limited other forms of support. In addition, the College opened during the Depression and operated through
the drastic rationing measures of World War II. These conditions forced the school to offset costs of upkeep, construction, lodging, and food through work programs with the students.
The shared work resulting from austerity was cru-
cial to the studentsâ€™ development in several ways. First, it created new opportunities to learn things to which students generally might not have been exposed. When the brain is learning, neurons are firing, and connections are being made; perhaps students found links between the blending of colors in a painting and the way vegetables are harvested in autumn. Secondly, it forced the students to get outside of their own heads and their own academic problems. The pragmatic concerns of daily chores in contrast with the freedom of academia nurtured empathy and maturity within the students. This was demonstrated through the workâ€™s ability to effectively cross boundaries, departing from the safety of academia to successfully and dramatically impact the outside world. Being physically responsible for oneâ€™s basic needs also boosts self-efficacy and empowerment, mental conditions that are crucial for experimentation, as trying new things requires failure, courage, and resilience. Lastly, frugality provides constraints. Compelling research has shown that limitations often create more fertile atmospheres for creativity. Perhaps limitations provide focus, keeping students from wandering too much mentally before committing to a direction; it makes some decisions for them. Or perhaps it forces students into a corner, which can create tension in any creative type, yet as this tension builds the brain fires faster and faster until we explode out of our constraints from the sheer terror of being withheld. This facet of education resonates with me personally, as I am often guided by frugality in my life and my process, whether choosing a material that I can find for free behind Walmart or considering the feasibility of manufacturing from the beginning of the design process. As a visitor to the Black Mountain College exhibition,
Black Mountain College
I enjoyed seeing the tangible outcomes of these monetary limitations through Anni Albers bobby-pin necklace, which elevated a ubiquitous, rational object, through repetition and appropriation, to a higher form of adornment.
The students at Black Mountain College were exposed
to an immensely diverse array of ideas. This wasn’t only attributed to the extra-curricular work programs or Bauhaus pedagogies, but to the impressive diversity of students and faculty (impressive especially in a small town in North Carolina). Due to the political landscape around WW II, there was a large migration of free-thinking artists and designers fleeing Europe and looking for creative communities. Black Mountain College became home to some who, in turn, created a microcosm of diverse, worldly ideas. As the school’s reputation for diversity increased, it attracted guest lecturers like Buckminster Fuller who, having recently invented the geodesic dome, taught summer courses on experimental modern architecture. I loved reading that frugality led him to attempt a structure with Venetian blinds. And I loved even more that it was a huge flop, and that he waited until the following year to construct a successful self-supporting pavilion.
This was perhaps my favorite aspect of the school—
abandonment of the fear of failure—and the most compelling evidence for me that this school was a success, despite only existing for twenty-four years. At Black Mountain College, musicians began for the first time experimenting with atonal melodies; dancers explored and invented an entirely new category of dance; and painters pushed the bounds of aesthetics, laying the groundwork for a new movement in art. The wildness of all this—the shocking work that was being created by the students—truly astounded me. But it also left me wanting more from the exhibition. I wanted to see into the professors’ minds and hear what their feedback was toward this radical work. I wanted to know if the “newness” of this art was truly planned for (or anticipated) by the professors. I was also curious to know if the ramifications of
this work could be seen as it was happening; what was the worldâ€™s response to this work?
The program and story of Black Mountain remains rel-
evant today. Our tools and our culture and the geopolitical landscape have changed; new global problems have presented themselves, but the human mind still works as it always has. As teachers our mission remains the sameâ€”to foster creativity and impart the tools necessary to execute that creativity. I enjoyed examining the exhibition and imagining how my class would measure up to Black Mountain pedagogy (poorly, I expect, leaving lots of room to grow!), but I found this to be a really excellent case study to examine in my current position as a new faculty member, teaching a Wintersession course here at RISD.
Daniel Morgan is in the Industrial Design MID program, class of 2016.
This and following page: Maia Chao (Glass MFA 2017), Evidence of Art, digital photographs Upon receiving my assigned studio I inspected its signs of previous use: a few paint cans, a mini fridge containing a jar of salsa, newspapers, Styrofoam, and a scattering of small holes in the wall. I promptly discarded the abandoned objects, but I became intrigued by the holes, which struck me as archaeological artifactsâ€”products of human activity, material removal, and art making. Each hole is unique, its form evincing the force with which it was made and the possible tools used. Clusters of similar holes suggest repeated attempts of mounting, suspending, or pinning. Denser constellations indicate preferred spaces in the room, and their common horizon indexes the former artistâ€™s height and reach. These minute markings have oriented me within the legacy of an inherited space. By enlarging photographs of these holes, I both insist on their significance as evidence and explore the convergence of the microscopic and macroscopic, as the forms invoke cosmic vocabulary reminiscent of lunar photographs.
ON SUPPORTS AND SURFACES, A Q&A WITH SAUL OSTROW Hannah Bigeleisen
What is a surface?
A surface is that which receives a mark or that which receives other material—a mark being the simplest deposit of material.
What is the work a surface does?
The work of a surface is that which, in a manner,
seemingly promotes perception and cognition, and in doing so, carries out or communicates sensorial or cognitive information as to what the thing is, gives form to, houses, or conceals.
What is surfaced?
All that is perceptible. Does a structure have a surface? If it is a perceptible structure, yes. If it is conceptual, then one could argue it takes on certain representations of surface qualities and can become fluid, or dense, or slick—i.e., to take on surface qualities but as analogy and metaphor.
What is a support?
Any substructure, anything in a matter that defines or
can define the support. Wittgenstein’s ladder is a support, for example.
What is supported?
To be flippant, any superstructure, or inversely, substructure, in this case the support always being an assumption or hypothetical.
What is the relationship between the two?
There is none, or let’s say, it’s arbitrary. What is a structure?
Actually, a structure is a form—in that it orders sets of
relationships and imposes itself on them as form. In that sense, painting is both structure and form—it is organized and ordered by the conventions which identify it as a form.
What constructs a structure?
Human beings. What is the relationship between all three?
Their integration—each being a quality of the other. How many supports does a structure need to stand?
At least three, but no more than three. Actually, only two in
the case of the monolith—its base and that which it rests on.
How many supports does a structure need to be stable?
No more than three, but at least one, i.e., a monolith or a tripod.
On Supports and Surfaces
How few supports does a structure need to be considered as such?
Zero to be considered a structure. A structure needs not be
supported to be considered a structure. For a structure to be supported it needs at least one, no, at least two supports, with the wall or floor/ground comprising the other surfaces/ supports.
What makes up a tool box?
All the apparatuses necessary for a specific task, and all of the apparatuses necessary for an imagined task.
What fills a tool box?
Basically, standardized devices, and the materials necessary for improvised devices.
Saul Ostrow, first-wave Conceptual artist, critic, and curator, lives and works in New York City. His most recent project is Critical Practices Inc. (criticalpractices.org), which hosts 21ST.PROJECTS, LaTableRonde (LTR), LEF(t) Publications, and CPInPrint to create a dynamic network of cultural producers that are engaged in the shaping of critical discourse. Hannah Bigeleisen is in the Printmaking MFA program, class of 2016. She first started asking Saul Ostrow questions in 2006 during her first year at the Cleveland Institute of Art. She has continued to ask him questions ever since, and he has continued to answer them.
HUGINN & MUNINN* Caleb Churchill
I let my birds out to fly
I do this every day, although I’m always afraid
they will never come back
In the evenings they return
to tell me what they’ve seen
I know that thought is loyal
but what if memory doesn’t come back
*an adaptation of the 13th-century Norse poem of the same name
Caleb Churchill is in the Photography MFA program, class of 2016.
Devra Freelander (MFA Sculpture 2016), cast plaster and fluorescent acrylic models for Glacial Dawn, 2016
SCR APS FROM THE R ABBIT HOLE: INCOMPLETE REFLECTIONS ON THE PROBLEM OF THE CANON AND THE ROLE OF THE CRITIC AL DESIGNER Melissa Weiss
But after the dust clears, the knees un-jerk, and pointed fingers are put away, the question remains: How can the actions of a group of broad-minded, well-intentioned professionals, judging under a “blind,” merit-based process, frequently fail to deliver results that reflect the rich race/class/ gender/cultural distribution of our creative community? —Jim Datz1 In October of 2015, the Art Directors Club announced the winners of Young Guns 12, an international competition for young, creative professionals. The fact that the winners were predominately white men living in New York might have gone unnoticed by many, had it not been for designer Jennifer Daniel, who tweeted: “Congrats to all the white people who won an @adcyounggun award!” Daniel’s tweet provoked a conversation not just about the judging process for the competition but about the lack of diversity and representation within creative industries.2 How is the lack of diversity among the winners of Young Guns 12 related to the lack of diversity in the canon of graphic design history?
How does a canon narrow our way of thinking and looking? How might these questions shape a critical design practice? A canon, at its worst, is an authoritative list that reinforces traditional hierarchies and limits the imagination, a method of deciding who belongs and who doesn’t belong, who matters and who doesn’t matter. Examining the canon of graphic design illuminates a gross lack of diversity in the body of work that we champion. Recognizing the narrow scope of the current canon provides us with an impetus to develop a more critical, self-conscious design practice. In response to designer and historian Martha Scotford’s essay “Is There a Canon of Graphic Design
History?” I was initially interested in identifying methods for diversifying the canon of graphic design history by treating the methods developed by other, more established disciplines as case studies.3 That proved ambitious. I entered a rabbit hole and dug myself out with few conclusions but some interesting questions and connections. In search of successful models for diversifying a canon, I turned my attention to English literature. I studied English in college, so it was a natural starting place. I didn’t remember the canon being a particularly contentious issue when I was an undergraduate, but in my initial research for this essay, I discovered that early attempts to diversify the canon of English literature were incredibly fraught and continue to be debated within the field. In a New York Times article entitled “Revisiting the Canon Wars,” Rachel Donadio writes, “Today it’s generally agreed that the multiculturalists won the canon wars. Reading lists were broadened to include more works by women and minority writers, and most scholars consider that a positive development. Yet twenty years later, there’s a more complicated sense of the costs and benefits of those transformations.” Donadio goes on to explain that “the lines aren’t drawn between right and left in the traditional political sense, but between those who defend the idea of a distinct body of knowledge and texts that students should master and those who focus more on modes of inquiry and interpretation.”4
Reflecting on the lines that divide scholars of English literature, I wondered: What would it mean to shift the focus away from a canon of graphic design history and toward “modes of inquiry and interpretation?” Scotford suggests that in addition to being a collection of work, the word canon can refer to “a basis for judgment.” This sense of the word canon reads similarly to a “mode of inquiry.” It also offers another way of thinking of a critical design practice: as the development of a self-conscious and intellectually driven way of looking and making. “Revisiting the Canon Wars” made it clear that English literature was not going to provide a clean and easy case study for diversifying the canon of graphic design history but I wasn’t ready to abandon my research. I wanted to know: What’s at stake? Why is diversifying the canon so contentious? Why is it so important? Scotford’s essay doesn’t spend much time with these questions. But literary scholars do. Nearly every essay I read about the English literature “canon wars” referenced one book, written in 1989: The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literature.5 In the book’s preface, Terence Hawkes, a literary critic and Shakespearean scholar, speaks to the value of examining the canon critically: The effect is to make us ponder the culture we have inherited; to see it, perhaps for the first time, as an intricate, continuing construction.
Scraps from the Rabbit Hole
And that means that we can also begin to see, and to question, those arrangements of foregrounding and backgrounding, of stressing and repressing, of placing at the center and of restricting to the periphery, that give our own small way of life its distinctive character. … If the project of closely scrutinizing the new remains nonetheless a disconcerting one, there are still overwhelming reasons for giving it all the consideration we can muster. The unthinkable, after all, is that which covertly shapes our thoughts.6 In the same way that a soil profile tells us a layered ecological and geological history of a landscape, the canon, according to Hawkes, reveals a long and layered history of power and hierarchy within our culture. What we choose not to include tells us just as much about the discipline and its history as what we choose to include. The canon acts as a mirror for a culturally constructed mode of thinking. The longer we look into it, the more blemishes we find. The Empire Writes Back links the narrowness of the Western canon of English literature to the history of colonialism: “A ‘privileging norm’ was enthroned at the heart of the formation of English Studies as a template for the denial of the value of the ‘peripheral,’ the ‘marginal,’ the ‘uncanonized.’ Literature was made as central to the cultural enterprise of Empire as the monarchy was to its political
formation.”7 The link between a canon and colonialism is an important one for graphic designers to consider. We should be asking ourselves how the canon of graphic design history is reinforcing power hierarchies. Our discipline relies on language just as much as English literature, and as the authors of The Empire Writes Back go on to explain, language has a long history of being used to oppress, marginalize, and control: “One of the main features of imperial oppression is control over language. The imperial education system installs a standard version of the metropolitan language as the norm, and marginalizes all ‘variants’ as impurities.”8 At this point in my reading, I couldn’t help but think of Gary Hustwit’s 2007 documentary film Helvetica, which examines the proliferation of one typeface and the way that designers define their practice in relation to it. Debates over the typeface are fraught. The film features an interview with designer Massimo Vignelli, a champion of Helvetica, who states that the role of the graphic designer is to cure “visual disease.” The idea of design as the ultimate cleansing or sterilizing agent was disturbing to me. Reflecting on the Vignelli interview for a Typography assignment, I wrote: “So much of the language that we use to describe letterforms refers to the human body: eye, foot, arm, shoulder. At what point do graphic designers become mere cosmetic surgeons, reinforcing cultural norms and narrow conceptions of
beauty within the art world? What role can imperfection or ugliness play in ‘good’ design?” I’m interested in the discomfort that I felt and the potential connection between Vignelli’s “visual disease” and the “impurities” described in The Empire Writes Back. Type designer Jonathan Hoefler is also interviewed in Helvetica; he describes the typeface as “the conclusion of one line of reasoning.” I appreciated Hoefler’s way of thinking about Helvetica because it forces us to consider what other lines of reasoning are out there. What would it mean to treat the canon of graphic design history itself as just one line of reasoning? Surfacing from the rabbit hole, I returned to the question that designer Jim Datz asked in response to the Young Guns 12 controversy, which appears as this essay’s epigraph. The answer to his question seems fairly clear to me: We have inherited a culture that protects what Terence Hawkes calls our “own small way of life.” Everything else is “unthinkable.” The responsibility of critical designers, then, could be to “ponder the culture we have inherited”—examine the ways in which design reinforces dominant lines of reasoning—and build a practice that allows for other lines of reasoning to inform our thinking and making.
Melissa Weiss is in the Graphic Design MFA program, class of 2018.
See Brett McKenzie, “The Whitest Winners You Know,” ADC Blog (October 6, 2014).
Martha Scotford, “Is There a Canon of Graphic Design History?” AIGA Journal of Graphic Design, vol. 9, no. 2 (1991).
Rachel Donadio, “Revisiting the Canon Wars,” New York Times (September 16, 2007).
Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures (London: Routledge, 1989).
GS|GRANTS RESEARCH 2015 Over the Transom
Graduate Studies Grants (GS|Grants) is a signature research program here at RISD. Developed in fall 2009 by Patricia Phillips in her first year as Dean of Graduate Studies, together with Graduate Program Directors, the initiative was launched with guest lectures, grant writing workshops, and other programs to encourage and support graduate students’ research, creative work, and capacity to seek external funding. Since 2010, it has funded 169 individual and collaborative graduate-student projects. Last year GS|Grants awarded $90,000 to support twenty-five graduate research projects that unfurled across the globe. The funded projects constitute a living cross-section of graduate research through Fine Arts, Architecture, and Design at RISD. The GS|Grants-funded research projects from the past year presented here exemplify artists’ autonomy in dictating process and product. Each represents diverse modes, methods, and substance. Thalassa Raasch triangulates the act of grave digging, its wider spiritual implications, and experiential consequences in living with Everard, a 71-year-old gravedigger in Bangor, Maine. Emily Winter contextualizes relationships between labor and
community by surveying twenty-three working textile mills across the United States to inform the creation of her own. Amanda Pickens immerses herself in the culture of the copy by traveling to Shanghai to document shanzhai (counterfeit) markets. Three Printmaking graduates launch a printmaking shop at a local artists’ collaborative, creating a matrix of community engagement, innovation, and academic research. As a whole, GS|Grants propose a broad set of questions including: What are RISD’s modes of research production? How does graduate-student research navigate between studio-based pedagogy and the field? What is empirical evidence in the arts and what is its impact? Though these questions are not new, they are persistently relevant. Most importantly, as these projects demonstrate, GS|Grants underwrite work that problematizes any single definition of research. Indeed, the program is structured as a student-led, bottom-up organizational model that fosters heterogeneity. Over the Transom is an informal group of alumni and current graduate students committed to gaining wider exposure for graduate research at RISD.
T H E G R AV E DI G G E R Thalassa Raasch
In the fall of 2012, I walked into a diner in the small town of Cherryfield, Maine, and met Everard Hall. He was seated at a central table and had several conversations going with his fellow diners and the waitress. We met. I said, “My name is Thalassa,” and he said, “Can I call you Charlie?” We’ve been talking ever since. At 11 years old Everard dropped out of school to help provide for his seven siblings and bedridden mother. There were years of chopping firewood, delivering papers, and dishwashing at restaurants. At 19 he got a part time job with the local stone cutter, moving headstones and memorials to where they needed to be. One weekend the gravedigger in town asked him for an extra hand digging a particularly hard grave. Soon the gravedigger retired and passed his business on to Everard. Now 71, Everard calls gravedigging his reason for being on this earth.
This past summer and fall, with support from a RISD GS|Grant, I lived with Everard and his wife, Pat, in Downeast Maine. We worked alongside each other digging graves, mowing lawns while we waited for graves, photographing, shooting the shit, attending his granddaughter’s eighth birthday party, and more. I collected photographs, audio, video, archival materials, and dirt. I also kept an intermittent journal. Following are fragments from my writings.
Thalassa Raasch, Everard, Receding, 2016, two layered archival inkjet prints, 60 × 40 in.
They are so sweet to me, welcoming me in as family and saying several times, “It’s good to have you home.” Pat says that only me and Aunt Carol are allowed to stay over in the guest bedroom. After I ran around in the rain trying to make a photograph, we spent the evening chatting, burping, watching some terrifyingly dramatic fishing show, and shining lights into the yard to see if we could catch a bear and her two cubs that we were trying to lure back with carrot/parsnip/ potato peels strewn in the grass. I heard about sex-crazed Avaline, Amy giving birth without a peep, other relatives who were a “pain in the pooch,” and the mysteries of carving the perfect ax handle out of ash. My room here is magic—a blanket printed with a pattern of lifesize kittens in baskets, rifles hanging over my bed, and glow-in-the-dark stars appearing across this heaving ceiling when the lights go out. Flashes of lightning in the quiet outside, then the shape of rain moving across the roof in bands or arcs or sine curves. NOVEMBER 2015
Sitting in bed at the Hall’s. It is cold— Everard shut the heat off until they can afford to fill the tank with oil again. In the meantime the oven, set to 300 degrees, keeps the kitchen area warm. Now, everyone is asleep but me. I can hear a cat walking across the roof. A strange and lovely thing I have never heard before—like walking
GS | Grants
over a frozen lake. Each pawed pace shoots soft metal sounds overhead. Pat hates cats. In the summer the evicted neighbors’ abandoned cats would hide in the peonies near the feeders watching the birds. They were hungry ever since their owners left them behind. Pat would grab the rifle and stand in the doorway, metal and wood against her ear. By then the cats would be gone. Maybe the gun’s all for show. But I’d bet against that any day. I’ve heard those shots. And Pat is fierce. Everard would never shoot any living thing. It’d break his heart to take a life like that. This summer he skinned his first deer—the game warden knew they were hurting for food and let him come pick up a doe killed on the road. He’s okay accepting the animal—he just doesn’t want to kill it. Everard says he hung her up, slit her top to bottom, and just knew what to do. That was my first venison. Summer was a more comfortable time. The light was longer—we mowed a lot of lawns, went dancing every Wednesday night, and ate a lot of sweets. Now the sun sets by 4 PM. But when I drive up at night, Everard’s small wood shop is all lit up and it’s one of the coziest sights to drive up to. Even the white cross on the shop roof becomes washed in the warm light and a sort of romance of cold winter nights sets in. Top: July's Longest Grave, Addison, 2015, archival inkjet print, 40 × 50 in. Left: Frozen Styx, 2016, archival inkjet print, 40 × 50 in. Right: Nocturnal Corner, Bedroom, 2015, archival inkjet print, 50 × 40 in.
Last Grave of the Summer, Everard and Charlie, 2015, archival inkjet print, 40 × 50 in.
When I’m at school, and Everard is almost 400 miles away, it hits me that in the three years I’ve known him, his changing age and physical health are becoming more and more present. The labor that has defined his life since the age of 19, which has marked his happiness, his feeling of purpose, is no longer physically sustainable. At the same time, gravedigging as a whole has become mechanized, and the manual tradition of gravedigging is about to disappear. Everard’s own swan song parallels the contemporary shift toward displaced experiences of death, grieving, and labor. As I begin to sequence the hundreds of images I have gathered, I think a lot about suspension. I think of time and the action of gravity. I
think of the weight of our bodies, and our impermanence. And I think of how long time feels but how quickly it passes through a landscape. In the body of work I am shaping, I work to build a terrain where these thoughts of suspension and threshold are taught, a space where a viewer can consider what it means to sit with death as a quotidian event. I am realizing more and more that my time with Everard is as if in the last hours of a day. When I dig with him, I train to better learn and understand his craft, his labor, his grieving by association. Now, I know too that I train to dig one grave above all others—I train to dig his. Thalassa Raasch is in the Photography MFA program, class of 2016.
OVER/UNDER: NEW MODEL S OF PRODUCTION Emily Winter
The Weaving Mill, Chicago; photo: Lucas Vasilko
The textile mill is an incredibly potent site to reimagine what an industry can look like. At every moment, we have the opportunity to re-enact, disassemble, or reorder the forms and practices of industrial production. Textiles drove much of the Industrial Revolution, and when Marx writes of the development of industrial capitalism, it is often in terms of the textile factory. Textiles and the spaces that produce them are powerful forms through which we can understand the processes and implications of industrial capitalism. The Weaving Mill, a small industrial mill in Chicago, is a materialization of this proposition.
Jacquard loom, North Carolina; photo: Emily Winter
GS | Grants
The Weaving Mill has grown out of the remains of the Chicago Weaving Corporation, a production mill started in the 1940s. By 2005, they had ceased production and were selling off their equipment. In the process of closing down, Chicago Weaving partnered with Envision Unlimited, a social services agency that works with adults with developmental disabilities. CWC donated a skeleton weaving setup to the agency: warping equipment, two power looms, and a handful of industrial sewing machines. The partnership would allow CWC to continue some production, lower their costs, and provide employment for Envision’s clients. They set up shop at one of Envision’s day programs, Westtown Center. Envision hired three of CWC’s employees to run the equipment and train Envision clients. By 2008 those employees had retired and the machines were rarely running. I started working as a teaching artist at Westtown in 2011, which is when I first saw the inactive mill. After finishing at RISD, I moved back to Chicago with my collaborator Matti Sloman (MFA Textiles 2014) and funded by a Maharam Fellowship, we began cleaning up the mill and learning how to use the equipment. In October, with support from the GS|Grant, we took a three-week research trip, visiting mills, artists’ studios, arts organizations, and friends. These visits included Rowland Ricketts (Indiana), South Union Shaker Village (Kentucky), Brit Hessler and Arrowmont School of Arts and
Crafts (Tennessee), Alabama Chanin and Auburn University’s Rural Studio (Alabama), Echoview Fiber Mill, Oriole Mill, Valdese Weavers, Black Mountain College Museum, Center for Craft Creativity and Design, Penland School of Crafts, White Oak Denim Mills (North Carolina), Cestari Fiber Farm (Virginia), J. G. Littlewood and Sons Stock Dyers, Fabric Workshop and Museum, Langhorne Carpet Company, Churchville Fabrics, MTL (Pennsylvania), and Thistle Hill Weavers (New York). I’ve heard many times that the knowledge of the textile industry is close to dead and nobody wants to do the few jobs that do remain. I’ve been hearing this for some time but until I visited these mills, I hadn’t fully internalized it or understood what it looks like to make a living making fabric. It looks viable and fulfilling in some places and incredibly dark in others. In contrast to my perception of the textile industry as opaque and guarded, we were welcomed into every mill we visited. These relationships are proving essential to TWM’s continuation— we couldn’t run the mill without the moral and technical support of what remains of this industry. The Weaving Mill is not about resuscitating domestic manufacturing—that is far beyond our scope. It is an experiment, on a semi-industrial scale, in using the production of fabric as a means of contesting some of the forms that led to the industry’s demise. There are many ways to explain our decisions to make things. When you
100 Blankets #48; photo: Nathan Keay
move to the industrial scale, these explanations become all the more important. The decision to make fabric is no longer only personal or creative. It becomes a political and economic decision that has the potential to deal head-on with some very real questions about power, capital, and the nature of work. 100 Blankets was our first material response to some of these questions. How do we understand the transformation of raw material into object? How do we value our time and labor in the mill? How do we acknowledge the complex ethics of industrial production while embracing the particularities of our workshop? Woven in a numbered edition of 100, these blankets approach industrial production from the perspective of an artistâ€™s studio. We are continuing to work within this model, producing small
runs of editioned fabrics. We are developing curricula for Envisionâ€™s clients, shifting the job-training program into a textile educational program. We are hosting a residency program, designed to integrate the Envision artists with a wider Chicago arts community. We imagine The Weaving Mill as a place where people of diverse interests can come together around a fundamental technology. We want it to be a place where conversations about the relationship of a person to a machine, the transformation of material into commodity and individual into worker, can happen in the physical context of production.
Emily Winter is a graduate of the Textiles MFA program, class of 2015.
SHANZHAI IN SHANGHAI Amanda Pickens
山 寨 在 上 海
Screenshot from shanzhaiinshanghai.com
With the support of a GS|Grant, I traveled to Shanghai in summer 2015 to develop my thesis research and document the often overlooked individual stories of on-the-ground shanzhai (counterfeit product) sellers. The Chinese term shanzhai literally equates to “mountain” (山 shan) “fortress” (寨 zhai), referencing the rural stockades of regional warlords housed far from government control.
Product photo shoot for shanzhaiinshanghai.com
GS | Grants
Whereas English words like “counterfeit,” “fake,” and “bootleg,” imbue negative associations, shanzhai connotes a sense of democratic distribution—a taking/borrowing from the rich and giving to the masses, as in the tale of Robin Hood. By speaking with sellers and bargaining for knock-off goods, I aimed to investigate the shifting conditions of Shanghai’s shanzhai markets as well as the daily lives of the sellers with whom I spoke. More broadly, I sought to share a positive perspective on China’s copycat culture and bootleg economy, which has been generally condemned in the West. Among the many markets I visited, Qipu Lu was by the far the largest, loudest, and most hectic. Qipu Lu sells discount clothing—hence the name Qipu, pronounced like “cheap.” Many products here are so inexpensive and obviously fake that shop owners refuse to bargain altogether. Hongqiao Pearl Market sells authentic jewelry on one floor and various knock-off goods and Chinese-themed trinkets for tourists on another. It was much quieter than Qipu Lu. Shopping late in the afternoon, we were the first customers of the day in many shops. Multiple shop owners spoke about a decreased amount of business over recent years. In addition to increased police enforcement, which affects markets across the city, business at Hongqiao Pearl Market suffers due to its peripheral location outside the city center and its odd mix of real and fake goods. Fine jewelry and fake purses don’t quite go together.
The Shanzhai in Shanghai online store (shanzhaiinshanghai.com) is the latest phase of my research. It houses a curated selection of goods from my trip as well as documentation, notes, and audio recordings from my interviews. The store utilizes the language of the industry itself, mingling high-end luxury and lowbrow design and blurring the lines between real and fake. By framing my collection and research through the vernacular of a high-end fashion site, I aim to elevate the perceived value of the objects and camouflage their shanzhai-ness. At first I want viewers to buy into the fiction, the gloss, and the projected lifestyle, and only after close inspection notice the quirky shanzhai brand mash-ups, misspellings, and unusual product and brand pairings (such as the Chanel selfie stick and Maserati suede tennis shoes I purchased) signaling that the site might be more than just a store. I draw from my documentation to mimic the “behind the scenes” storytelling campaigns that brands create to drive customer loyalty. Short stories are embedded within product descriptions, recalling details such as the seller’s quirks, the store décor, and the shanzhai knowledge gained through the bargain (for instance, I cannot look at the red “Calvin Klain” underwear without thinking about the witty banter I exchanged with the seller for a half hour. My stomach actually hurt from laughing so hard!). Restoring the human element that is so often lost in
the world of big brands and massproduced products, my research reveals the productsâ€™ un-pedigreed origins, while legitimizing their authenticity at the same time. If there was any ambiguity before, one now knows the collection consists of real, tangible products. However, are they actually for sale? Yes, viewers will be able to get in on the deal, but not without bargaining!
Screenshots from shanzhaiinshanghai.com
Amanda Pickens is a graduate of the Graphic Design MFA program, class of 2015.
O V E R PA S S P R O J E C T S Henry F. Brown, Kenneth Fontaine, and Julia Samuels
Providence’s The Wurks, founded by RISD alumni Colin Bliss and Will Reeves, is a new artists’ workspace in the city’s historic mill district. Brown, Fontaine, and Samuels applied for a collaborative GS|Grant to build a print shop in the space. Here they describe their progress since summer 2015:
The process of applying for the GS|Grant and implementing our plan has taught us about managerial and financial collaboration. We built a framework for the physical facility while clarifying our roles in a site that will evolve over time. We continue to learn how to assign responsibilities and ownership while establishing consensus on everything from ink rags to a vision for the future.
Following six months of setting studs, hanging drywall, and purchasing equipment, we have built a print studio that enables us (and others) to make artwork. We have started Demonstrating its mission to printing and our primary objective promote artists from Providence and has been realized. The GS|Grant beyond, The Wurks hosted A Sponge & enabled us to build facilities tailored a Sigh (March 18–April 8, 2016). The to our needs, but we have even more exhibition included the work of MFA ambitious goals: to establish ourSculpture students from RISD and the selves as promoters and purveyors University of Texas-Austin MFA proof the art scene in Providence and gram to foster inter-institutional and beyond. With this objective in mind two-city collaborations and conversawe have started Overpass Projects tions. The first of paired exhibitions on (www.overpassprojects.com), a the idea of “containment” opened at fine-art publishing house and project the Museum of Human Achievement space, to promote our own work, in Austin in February. The second part pursue commissions, create and of this exchange opened at The Wurks house an archive of prints and other with a group exhibition on themes of art work, promote Providence artists “release.” The inter-institutional initiawith exhibitions in The Wurks tive is striking evidence of The Wurks’s gallery space, and ultimately host a exciting and ambitious goals to supmultidisciplinary residency program. port artists and the arts in Providence.
Henry F. Brown, Kenneth Fontaine, and Julia Samuels
Julia Samuels and Henry F. Brown at Overpass Projects during construction; photo: Caleb Churchill
GS | Grants
A Sponge & a Sigh opening, The Wurks; photo: Paul Rouphail
Brian Ulrich, Cole Haan, Chicago, IL, 2013, inkjet print, 40 × 50 in.
Paul Rouphail, No Problemo, 2015, oil on canvas, 77 × 96 in.
C L A I M I N G T H E V I S U A L C U LT U R E OF GLOBAL COMMERCE James Chae
Two beige mannequins stand in a dramatically lit window display. The store interior is dark. A single light shines from above. Faint reflections of shops across the street are caught in the glass. The mannequin in the rear clasps its arms around the other’s neck, whether in a choke or an embrace is unclear. Surrounding this dramatic scene are colorful shoes. They sit at different heights, as if suspended in air, pointing arrow-like at the mannequins. An ambiguous sense of romance and violence swirls about the scene. Cole Haan, Chicago, IL, 2013, was one photograph in Brian Ulrich’s solo show “Centurion,” on view at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York, last year. Ulrich, a faculty member in the Photography department, explains in his Pawtucket, RI, studio how his interest in commercial spaces is rooted in exploring the ways that Americans “purge and absolve guilt,” declare and distinguish class identities, and safeguard themselves against change and disasters.1 Alongside the storefront image are portraits of shoppers and extravagant luxury stores, many in Los Angeles. The show takes its name from the American Express Centurion card.
Ulrich recounted how a rumor circulated in the late 1980s about an exclusive credit line that could purchase anything, from sports cars to private jets. American Express made this legend a reality in 1999. For Ulrich, “the card really cemented [the idea of luxury] because it’s about a certain kind of mythology or an illusion … It becomes really clear that if one is able to conjure this illusion into something real, luxury [can] sometimes actually deliver.” Calling attention to our tenuous relationship with luxury and commodities, Ulrich’s examination of American consumption builds on iconic American series like Robert Adams’s “What We Bought” and Stephen Shore’s “American Surfaces.” Blending documentary and cinematic style, he captures the layers of socioeconomic and cultural life in America. Paul Rouphail, an MFA candidate in Painting, works in the tradition of landscape painting, yet features not idyllic natural scenes but commercial architecture and advertisements. Each painting is composed of carefully selected language, objects, and buildings, describing a landscape both specific and generic. Rouphail’s painting technique is almost trompe l’oeil. Subtly capturing the flat and smooth
surfaces of glossy commercial images ture of a reclining female figure—a found all over the world in print, on deliberate reference to Giorgio de screen, and in our environment, it Chirico’s 1913 painting The Soothsayer’s reflects the homogenizing horizon of Recompense, in which the figure also a globalized world. shares space with architecture, but with As an American living in Peru in out being quite so swallowed up by it. 2011, Rouphail witnessed the country “For me ... homes are often a undergo sweeping political and ecoway of advertising,” says Svetlana nomic changes as it tried to open itself Bailey, an MFA candidate in Photogup to foreign investment. No Problemo, raphy. “Before you have guests, [you] 2015, is a large-scale oil painting clean up, or you show your collection depicting what looks like a generic of things that you’ve bought from far scene of urban development. The away places; it’s like your own personal central subject is a high-rise skyscrapmuseum and you want it to look as er modeled off of the Westin Hotel good as possible.”3 Bailey’s photoin Lima, Peru. Several versions of the graphic practice expresses this urge hotel are embedded in the painting: one toward personal promotional display is under construction in the distance, by capturing the large-format prints another is caught in the reflection of of aspirational images on condo dethe central hotel’s windows, one blue velopments and tourist sites. Similar silhouette is tucked in the hoarding to how a painter constructs a still life, surrounding the hotel, and the main Bailey pays close attention to the combuilding stands at the center of the position and placement of the objects composition. “No Problemo is a depicin her images. Her process follows a tion of the real estate space of everystrong sense of intuition and memory, where that I’ve lived,” says Rouphail. and yields a balance of nostalgia and “It is the ultimate synthetic zone; it’s universal longing for connection. like a perverse version of Sim City.2 Bailey was born in St. Peters It is also a symbol—of both burg, Russia, in 1984 and moved to Peru’s ability to compete in an internaUnna-Massen, Germany, in 1992 after tional market economy and the obliter- the Soviet Union was dissolved. This ation of the city’s rich cultural history. geographical—and geopolitical—shift The artist explains that the hotel “was informs how she approaches and utilike this archetype of power in the city. lizes advertising imagery in her work. It was symbolic of what the city de“As an Eastern immigrant in a Western sired—to be a more ‘global’ city—and country, commercial imagery and the how that power becomes depicted in basic emotive desires become a sort of architecture that is so dissimilar from navigation,” Bailey explains. “During what was made in that city for so long.” the Soviet Union in Russia you didn’t At the center of the painting is a sculphave many images, and the images you
Claiming the Visual Culture of Global Commerce
Svetlana Bailey, Hammock, 2016, digital inkjet print
had were propaganda images in hospitals and [state-produced] images.” To sell a product, an ad must provoke desire through fiction. Inevitably, disappointment follows the failure of the fiction. Bailey relates such disappointment about her first McDonald’s meal: “I must’ve been around ten. … I had a chance to go there because another family wanted to go. The fries were really sloppy, and the burgers didn’t look like the images but … I really liked that you could create a fake of it” in the advertising images. This last description informs how Bailey composes and sources her images, placing her own prints back in the environment to compose a new narrative about home, family, and memory. The visual culture of global commerce is all around us, and these three artists take it on in various ways. Ulrich’s work exposes the internal structures behind images and the real implications of economic inequality in America. Rouphail’s paintings multiply the blueprint of luxury that is plotted onto not only Lima but Dubai, Mexico City, and Ulaanbaatar. And Bailey’s work connects emotion and thought by reframing images and objects of leisure and desire. All three artists help us see past the projected mythology of advertising, asking the viewer to reconsider the spaces encapsulated by images of desire. At an institution like RISD and in a city like Providence, it is tempting to divorce art from commerce. In my own design practice, I choose not to.
I sample and recontextualize branding, sales and product photos, marketing language, and storefront architecture into a simultaneously alluring and repulsive mix presented together in one accessible plane: the image. If we accept that the visual world of commerce is inescapable and that advertising behaves like a global mythology, then one way to move forward as artists is to utilize the unifying pieces embedded within commercial imagery. In this way we might create a transformative dimension from commercial sources, so that the images and messages of advertising play in our minds like collective dreams. NOTES 1
All Ulrich quotes from an interview with the author on January 16, 2016.
All Rouphail quotes from an interview with the author on February 11, 2016.
All Bailey quotes from an interview with the author on January 24, 2016.
James Chae is in the Graphic Design MFA program, class of 2016.
Matthew Funk Barley (MDes Interior Architecture 2016), Quitter, 2014, pine, mahogany, paint, 46 Ă— 36 Ă— 46 in.
Matthew Funk Barley (MDes Interior Architecture 2016), Fabric Royale, 2015, oak, brass, and walnut, 72 Ă— 18 Ă— 28 in.
Extra Credit Maggie Hazen and Tristram Lansdowne
Extra Credit is a small, windowless room, taller than it is wide. It’s really more of a closet than a room. Tucked away halfway down the hall on the third floor of Fletcher building, which houses RISD’s MFA studios, it is also the school’s newest exhibition space. Patricia Phillips, Dean of Graduate Studies, offered us the chance to transform it into something that might belie its physical properties.
Maggie Hazen & Tristram Lansdowne
Adam Mickey Porter (MFA Printmaking 2016), Flare, 2015, paper, wood, Plexiglas, inkjet prints, and transparency with 8-minute looped projected video
For us Extra Credit has been a way of working
with graduate students from other departments in a more informal way than other exhibition spaces on campus typically allow. We decided to create an environment in the spirit of the two Ugly Shows curated by Tony Bragg and Irmak Canevi last school year, which only showed students’ ugliest work. While we didn’t necessarily strive for ugliness, we did try to harness something of Tony and Irmak’s off-kilter and improvisatory attitude. In graduate school there is a lot of pressure that one puts on oneself, whether it is to perform, to succeed, or to make work quickly under strict deadlines.
We believe that this pressure is immensely helpful for intellectual and artistic growth but is not necessarily conducive to the playful, risk-taking, or contemplative aspects of art making. With that in mind, we encouraged the exhibition of collaborative, experimental, ambitious, freaky, awkward, and embarrassing works from all disciplines.
Rocio Delaloye (MFA Digital + Media 2016) and Edek Sher (MFA Digital + Media 2016), Still Life, 2016, six-channel video installation with two-channel audio
Maggie Hazen & Tristram Lansdowne
Extra Creditâ€™s size is a strength. It allows for fast
installations, impromptu programming, informal events, and intimacy. Changing every two weeks, the exhibitions this year encompassed works ranging from performances, screenings, installations, paintings, sculpture, prints, and photos to an exposure unit, digital media, and design. Weâ€™ve had tremendous support from Graduate Studies and wonderful enthusiasm from our fellow students. It has been an honor to be a part of this new space and we hope Extra Credit will live on in whatever form its future inhabitants deem worthy.
Stuart Lantry (MFA Painting 2016), Continuous Loop, 2016, 8-hour performance; wood, plywood, found objects, plastic, v-belt, 24v scooter motor, electrical wire, car battery, acrylic concrete, dye, inkjet transfers
Tristram Lansdowne is in the Painting MFA program, class of 2016.
Maggie Hazen is in the Sculpture MFA program, class of 2016.
Stephanie Hanes (MFA Ceramics 2017), The Woman That Never Was, 2015, porcelain, wire mesh, glaze, enamel, decal, 24 Ă— 17 Ă— 9 in.
Stephanie Hanes (MFA Ceramics 2017), Will It Ever Be Enough, 2015, stoneware, oil paint, plaster, epoxy, 64 Ă— 19 Ă— 12 in.
Notes: Carolee Schneemann in Real Time Anne West Carolee Schneemann, a pioneer of 1960s feminist art, began her talk "How Things Go Wrong” (RISD Auditorium, March 22, 2016), lying concealed under a layer of blankets, waving two small American flags. Then she struggled to her feet—with assistance—taking her place on the stage like a resurrected version of Liberty Leading the People. It seemed apparent at this moment that she used this struggle to freedom to rewind our memory to ideals now covered over by noise. Even in her late seventies, she is still willing to challenge the limits of her body, as well as our expectations. Age and physical frailty are no impediment to being a sensitive receptor as she carves space for more complex embodiments of human, and especially female, display.
Schneemann is an independent artist and intellectual
fueled by care and affection. Her extemporaneous talk (and Q & A) was full of vitality, matter-of-fact humor, and an organic generosity that continually brought awareness down to that part of ourselves that is bigger than ourselves. The stage became an active space—a place where she and the audience could meet. It was a platform to experiment, raise questions, unsettle, and realign attention.
Living with dark shadows benefits her she says. With
honest confrontation (doubt and conviction) she looks directly into the face of horror, suffering, destruction, and fragility. She is also a huntress of beauty. These opposites beat in tension in her split-screen installations, each provoking an angle on our humanity.
At one moment with straightforward affirmation, she
reminded us of what balance looks like, striking the pose of a Neolithic Cycladic goddess. She crossed her arms, displaying a posture of harmony—a demonstration of what femalecentered symmetry looks like. She has this way of sourcing from a lineage of feminine power, drawing links with history, and acting as a protagonist who knows how to establish ground where a center is lacking. She is confident, selfdetermined, and never demeaning.
School is part of the real world, she tells her audience.
And in the real world it is important to be tenacious. Don’t accept rejection, she insists. The practice of making work is unstable, unconfined, demanding ongoing investment. Keep applying for grants—even if it means reapplying sixteen times for a Guggenheim like she did—she counsels her younger audience!
Despite what the men have been telling her and the
continual dismissal of (even contempt for) her work, she persists. Never hesitant to assert that she is a female, a body with a womb, Schneemann showed her vagina paintings (still unsold) and then responded to a student who reminded her that she is best known for pulling a scroll out of her vagina. Trespassing boundaries and disturbing conventions doesn’t reduce these actions to theatrical spectacle. The practice of performance is deliberate. She reasserts that using her body for performance is arduous. It demands endurance and discipline. Because of this she denounces efforts to appropriate her work. It is not open for somatic theft. Our thanks to Patricia Phillips, Dean of Graduate Studies, who invited and supported Schneemann’s visit to RISD at every level, and whose own tenure at RISD embodied values of honesty and steadfastness in common with her friend Carolee.
Anne West is a Senior Critic in Graduate Studies.
Francesca Krisli (MDes Interior Architecture 2016), The Wing Project, 2015, paper
WE DEMAND Black Artists and Designers (BAAD), with student and faculty allies
I. We Demand a mandatory global consciousness course for all students in order to make them responsible image-makers. II. We Demand that all faculty undergo adequate, regular, and thorough cultural and identity-based sensitivity training upon being hired as well as after contract renewals on a basis of one, three, or five years. III. We Demand that there be an increase in outreach and support to both low-income students and students of color, whether they be prospective applicants or currently enrolled. IV. We Demand an increase in the number of faculty of color through a Diversity Action Plan and more active involvement of students during the hiring process, in which they should give input BEFORE and AFTER a candidate pool is closed. V. We Demand an increased number of visiting artists of color. VI. We Demand sweeping curriculum reform, departing from the Westernized and outdated form of art and design education that is inclusive only to some.
Not Your Token teach-in, Market Square, Providence, April 13, 2016 (Anthony “Utë” Petit, David Guy, and Michelle Zhuang); photo: Jillian Suzanne
VII. We Demand that the RISD Fact Book change its statistics so that international races and ethnicities are actually broken down and represented accurately. VIII. We Demand improvements in RISD’s treatment of mental health, especially in regards to the psychological adjustment and well being of marginalized students in predominantly white spaces. IX. We Demand the creation of a public memorial in Market Square that acknowledges the legacy of slavery and racism on campus. X. We Demand that the Ewing Multicultural Center be fully restored from its current state of neglect, to become a fully functioning center for students of color, faith, and LGBTQIA identities, and to provide a safe space for our marginalized students to thrive and administer programs with student organizations and the office of Intercultural Student Engagement.
Rending the Mythic Gate Reya Sehgal
We enter the “real world” through institutional traditions of unification and hope, the academy having fulfilled its duty as a site of community excellence and uplift. The institution: an imagined world of possibility built on the limiting shoulders of debt. Graduation: a chronoperformative marker, a superficial ending, a ritual of procession.1 Through a choreography so related to the hopes for our future selves, we move from inside to outside, carrying institutional dreams and burdens beyond their territories of learning.
“The future,” so to speak, is nigh.
(whispered): grade / gait / step / increment
The iconic Van Wickle Gates on the Quiet Green open only twice per year: inward for Convocation, when first-year students walk in and are welcomed by a gathering of the Brown community, and outward for Commencement, when graduating seniors process out past alums, family, friends, and others. According to superstition, any Brown student who passes through the gates more than these two times will be cursed with bad luck.2
Enter the dreaded question: and so, what next? Graduates perform professionalism (for parents, they who we are to be, ourselves, in time) as imperative, all paths chosen, departing from a seemingly pre-formative institutional life—the academy being rehearsal, the degree a value-added indicator of progress.3
The Enlightenment’s ideals of rationality-inspired improvement4 continue to haunt us, urging technopositivist outlooks that teach us we can “make the world a better place” [the young (neo)liberal-in-training’s mantra]. The academy, then, trains students toward a normative idea of progress5: get the degree, get the job, have debt, buy the single-family home, have children, send them to the academy, die with the individual legacy of positive change6, and so on, with grandkids, amen. Even in an increasingly flexible economy, a true alternative to this socioeconomic lifetime choreography is antithetical to institutional training. “The modern Western academy was created as the repository and guarantor of national culture 2
These particular gates bear Cicero’s inscription “Haec studia adolescentium alunt, senectutem oblectant, secundas res ornant, adversis perfugium ac solacium praebent.” (“These studies fortify one’s youth, delight one’s old age; amid success they are an ornament, in failure they are a refuge and a comfort.”) See Encyclopedia Brunonia at www.brown.edu/ Administration/News_Bureau/Databases/Encyclopedia/ and “Brown University Traditions” at https://www.brown. edu/about/traditions.
forward, fate, consequence, mortality, potential, aim
for the individual, the genius
growth, finished, throughout, in/complete, behind
etched, eternal, on a headstone, which weathers time more than flesh and bone ever will: “Here lies …”
Rending the Mythic Gate
as well as a cultivator and innovator of political economy. … The academy has always been an eco-nomic domain.”7
[I’m “looking forward” to being done, out, uncomfortably branded with a stamp of Mastery. I’ll continue the study. I don’t care for graduation.]
The chronopolitics of normativity require an antidote. The artist could be that antidote.
Chrononormativity, described by Elizabeth Freeman as “the use of time to organize individual human bodies toward maximum productivity,”8 is our reigning temporal force, programming capitalist progress9 into our every step. Chrononormativity is not exclusive to the engineer, the businesswoman, or the academic, but extends into our most creative reaches to categorically professionalize the artist. MAMFAPHDPostDocAdjunctProfessSell(out); we know the story. Where, now, is the unprofessional artist? The artist who does not bank their labor? Who refuses, incessantly, obsessively, to produce work in a professionally-oriented, market-driven system? As we poke holes in the banking system of education, can we move beyond the banking system of creative labor? If creative labor is recast outside of the purview of “work-time,” which has “[become] a less hallowed objective and criterion of living … more insecure and unpredictable,” creative labor recast as praxis “can reassert itself as the site of inventiveness of forms of life and mutuality.”10 The precarity
Roderick Ferguson, The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 12. Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 3.
advancement, outcome, after, imminent, order Raqs Media Collective, “A Few Questions Regarding the Qualities of Time,” PDF at raqsmediacollective. com, n.p.
of creative labor should organize artists around chaotic praxis; this undervalued labor becomes a method of reforming the very idea of public value11; and public, here, is key. It is time for a resurgence of the anarchic possibilities of social practice. Now is the time to turn our back on time as we know it. End development time, productive time, and focus instead on relational time, or the time of relations.
Chrononormativity requires an antidote. Queer temporality could be that antidote.
Judith, now Jack,12 Halberstam writes: Queer uses of time and space develop, at least in part, in opposition to the institutions of family, heterosexuality, and reproduction. They also develop according to other logics of location, movement, and identification. If we try to think about queerness as an outcome of strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic practices, we detach queerness from sexual identity. … I try to use the concept of queer time to make clear how respectability, and notions of the normal on which it depends, may be upheld by a middle-class logic of reproductive temporality. … [David] Harvey asserts that because we experience time as some form of natural progression, we fail to realize or notice its construction. Accordingly, we have concepts like “industrial” time and “family” time, time of “progress,”13 “austerity” versus “instant” gratification, “postponement” versus “immediacy.” And to all of these different kinds of temporality, we assign value and meaning.14
“In today’s world not even gold can guarantee the stability of value over time” / so / “make poems out of tea breaks and songs out of time stolen from laboring” (Raqs Media Collective). queering the notion of the continuous self, the self who progresses according to plan
improvement, next, post-, until, up
Judith Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York: New York University Press, 2005), 1–7.
Rending the Mythic Gate
Queer and radical postmodern temporalities, then, call for antidotes to progress15 and professionalization: extra-familial, nonreproductive love! Study without graduation! Research without anything to show for it! Practice without productivity! Unsalable work! Process, process, process!
Freeman argues for a “deviant chronopolitics,” a survival through deep engagement with “pleasurable relations between bodies … across time.”16 This embodied notion of history, this corporeal engagement with kairos, “counters the logic of development” by queering what counts in time.17 Ask: are we bound to time or bound by time? Is time a queer/creative double-bind?
As we pass through our mythic gates, both institutional and imaginary, we can refuse to acknowledge the future as a known category or necessary entity. We can refuse to process in the name of progress.18
[“Scared of the future while I hop in the DeLorean / Scared to face the world, complacent career student / Some people graduate, but be still stupid,” I whisper-sing Kanye to the gate #goodmorning]
evolution, late, becoming, after, kairos
Elizabeth Freeman, “Time Binds, or, Erotohistoriography,” Social Text 84–85, vol. 23, nos. 3–4 (Fall–Winter 2005), 58.
buildup, path, beyond, ahead, hope, early
The gate contains the myth of the cleave: it weds together and tears apart.
The gate overperforms the boundary of community, makes precious its stance against capitalist progress19 while thoroughly embodying it. Inside the gate is process time, outside the gate is progress20 time. The outside always influences the inside, whether in binary opposition or through the porousness of the gate’s spires. The gate poses a before and after, a caesura between life and progress.21
[I live and work and practice beyond the gate. I weave my arms through the gate. I deconstruct the myth of the gate: what is a gate if not a wall, and what is a wall if not a fortification against an enemy (“the real world”), and what is the real world if inside is its opposite—a pre-, a fiction?]
The gate is a symbol of superstition, the potential of curse. Though superstition is outside of rational capitalist logic, it upholds the romance of community by cursing those who challenge the structure of the gate, the structure of community, the structure of time, the inevitability of future.
passage, goal, advance, conclusion, asynchronous
rise, anticipation, regret, halt
momentum, premature, inevitable, immediate, anteriority, causation, anachronism, end
Rending the Mythic Gate
The social artist is uniquely positioned at/beyond the gate. Working with their publics, their work need not sell, their work need not perpetuate hegemonic notions of value, should not do anything, because to contribute is to uphold. The artist can be unprofessional. The artist can choose to not participate, to opt out. Unsubscribe. Rather than working against, work without. Redefine residency, redefine show. Rend the gate, defy the bounded. Create new myths of the living.
This is a call to circumscribe a wall.
Reya Sehgal is in the Brown University Public Humanities MA program, class of 2016.
This book is set in Chaparral by Carol Twombly from Adobe and Relative by The Entente, distributed by Colophon Type Foundry Text: 70# Accent Opaque Text, white, smooth Cover: 80# Accent Opaque cover, white, smooth Jacket: 70# Accent Opaque Text, white, smooth Printed by Puritan Capital, Hollis, NH
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