On Empathy and Making

In the TEDx talk Seung Chan (Slim) Lim MFA 11 GD recently delivered at Wellesley College, he speaks about how empathy fuels the creative process – a topic he began exploring while at RISD. He published a book on the subject, Realizing Empathy: An Inquiry Into the Meaning of Making, in 2013.

“As a designer I must find ways to harness the most complex of technologies into an experience that is not only pleasant, but also empowering and meaningful,” says Lim. “I have learned that making things is analogous to engaging in an empathic conversation with another person.” 

RISD Educators Earn Science Awards


This morning Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee visited the Fleet Library at RISD to present the 2014 RI Science & Technology Advisory Council (STAC) awards. The grants facilitate collaborative research among the state’s institutions of higher education and support STAC’s partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF). This year’s seven winning research teams were awarded a total of $806,000 to study how marine life in Narragansett Bay is responding to climate change. Nature Lab Director Neal Overstrom, Head of Landscape Architecture Scheri Fultineer and Sculpture  Lecturer Edythe Wright are all members of the winning research teams.


Neal Overstrom (left), director of the Nature Lab, represents his research team at today’s awards ceremony.

“RISD values creative problem solving, critical thinking and an openness to risk and uncertainty – fundamental and necessary skills in developing innovative approaches to the world’s most challenging problems,” noted interim President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID in the accompanying press release. “These STAC grant awards represent our belief that bringing art and design together with STEM disciplines can have a transformative effect on education, innovation and economic development.”

At the ceremony, Governor Chafee noted that the $9.3 million the state has invested in the program to date has yielded $36 million in matching grants and federal funding, thus boosting the local economy. Interim Provost Pradeep Sharma, who was on hand to welcome the crowd, noted that “diversity is at the core of creativity, and these awards are a testament to the power of diverse teams.”


Will Throw for Food


Ceramics students at Marshall University have crafted 1,200 bowls in preparation for tomorrow’s 11th annual Empty Bowls food bank fundraiser in Huntington, WV. Assistant Professor of Art Frederick Bartolovic MFA 06 CR is once again leading the students in their drive to feed the hungry. “It is a great honor to organize this production effort,” he said. “The problem of hunger in our own community is at times hard to believe. Empty Bowls is an opportunity for Marshall students to help the community, to see that art can make a difference!” Visitors at the event will purchase bowls for $15 each, and the food bank’s director of development estimates that the proceeds will provide more than 100,000 meals in the coming year. 

Polish Prose


On Monday night, celebrated Polish painter and writer Grzegorz Wróblewski recited some of his gripping prose poetry in the Chace Center’s Metcalf Auditorium. The multi-talented artist read from Kopenhaga, a comprehensive collection of work inspired by the joys and difficulties he experiences as an immigrant living in Denmark. Piotr Gwiazda, an English professor at the University of Maryland, attended the event to read aloud his own English translations of the text.

Some of Wróblewski’s more humorous literary vignettes poke fun at the absurdities of everyday life. Other pieces are introspective musings on humans’ capacity to commit atrocious acts. “What terrifies me in Denmark – the land of Bohr and Kierkegaard, a caring tolerate state with a high standard of living? What terrifies me is Homo sapiens,” he noted.

The author also gave some pointed advice for beginning writers. “If an editor doesn’t respond [to your work], you need to calmly drain two bottles of cheap wine and discuss the matter with local pigeons,” he quipped.

After the reading, a student asked how his painting process influences his writing. “I find that I go between both mediums fluently,” Wróblewski responded. “Art fuels my writing in interesting and unexpected ways.”

Alum Designs Eclectic Extravaganza


Harper’s Bazaar recently ran a feature about the incredible restoration of designers Keith Johnson and Glen Senk’s Greenwich Village home – an over-the-top tribute to their shared love of horses and corgis led by Brooklyn architect Dana Laudani BArch 91. The five-story 1852 Anglo-Italianate townhouse had been divided into apartments, so Laudani’s first order of business was turning it back into a single-family residence. The home features a Gothic library, 10 fireplaces, Victorian-era marble fireplace surrounds with antique English and French mantelpieces, hand-painted murals by students at the New York Studio School and a fully restored gilded Art Deco bar.


“The clients are collectors of fine art and eclectic decorative arts,” says Laudani. “RISD provided me with the perfect background for this type of high-end residential work – integrating fine art, architecture, decorative arts, craft and construction.”


Molly Hatch, an adjunct faculty member in Ceramics,also contributed to the project, creating unique blue and white tile designs for the home’s amazing kitchen, complete with wood-burning fireplace and paving stones imported from the streets of Bologna, Italy.

Photos, top to bottom: MiddleWay, Boogle, Flavia and NeverMind

Sculpture Department Head Dean Snyder is preparing for a solo show at Providence’s Cade Tompkins Projects, which will be on view from April 26 through June 20. The exhibition will feature Snyder’s recent sculpture, including such signature pieces as Flavia (2012), NeverMind (2013) and MiddleWay (2014). In an interview on GoLocalProv, Snyder said, “All of the works in the upcoming exhibition are members of a body of work focused on seduction—entrapment. The newer sculptures are more ‘engineered’ in process and more graphically akin to the way I make drawings.” Snyder was a Guggenheim Fellow in 2013 and resident artist at Italy’s Siena Art Institute in 2012. Boogle, a sculpture commissioned in marble by the 2008 Olympic Committee, is on permanent display in Beijing, China.

An update from our RISD Tokyo Leader, Karin Kunori 10 GD:

Many greetings from Tokyo! After a long winter, spring is finally here. In Japan, people celebrate the coming of spring with Hanami (flower viewing) when sakura (cherry blossoms) bloom all over the country. The season is brief, usually lasting just two weeks between the end of March and the beginning of April.

The Japanese word is written 花見. “” means flower, and “”, means observing. The Hanami custom is many centuries old, and it used to announced the start of the rice harvest season. The sakura (and traditional haiku poems about sakura) remind us to cherish each day. The short life span of the flowers, and even the beauty of the falling petals is a Japanese metaphor for life; spirited and beautiful, yet fleeting and ephemeral. 

In the modern day, Hanami commonly consists of having an outdoor party with friends and colleagues. People gather wherever sakura trees are found to hold picnics and festivals from early morning to night. 

Last weekend, some RISD TOKYO alumni got together to enjoy a Japanese Hanami picnic with many more Tokyo friends. Sitting under the sakura trees at Inokashira Park, we enjoyed good food, drink, and merry company. Inokashira Park, in west Tokyo, is famous for having over 1000 sakura trees, and a lake where people can rent boats to view the blossoms on the water’s edge. Here are several photos from our event! An afternoon of sunshine, boat riding, picnicking, sharing stories and making new friends. We wish you were here!

To connect with alumni in and around Tokyo, please join our Facebook group.

Geiser’s American Avant-Garde


Ghost Algebra (2009) featured natural objects, re-photographed video, medical illustrations and other collage elements 

Los Angeles-based theater artist and experimental filmmaker Janie Geiser is in Providence this week working with RISD and Brown students as part of her FirstWorks Arts Learning residency. The former Guggenheim Fellow is leading a cross-disciplinary workshop in which students are helping to create Fugitive Time, a performance piece that integrates performed objects and puppetry with live-feed video manipulations of found, constructed and collaged elements.


A still from Geiser’s Ricky, a 2011 piece that explored the realms of childhood, war and loss

FirstWorks will present a free public showing of scenes from the work in progress on Saturday, April 12 at 7:30pm in Brown’s Granoff Center. The public is also invited to an artist talk and screening of Geiser’s The Nervous Films ­shorts on Thursday, April 10 at 7pm in the RISD Museum’s Metcalf Auditorium. Advance tickets for the event can be purchased here.

On Friday night, amped-up students were attracted to an explosion of sound and color erupting in a corner of the Gelman Student Exhibitions Gallery. The cause of the sonic mayhem was Stinky Nice, a rowdy noise band (pictured in top photo) formed by five mighty musical RISD students.

As lead singer Adrienne Fowler 14 FAV howled into a microphone, a saxophone player squeaked and blatted out dissonant melodies. “This is out of control!” yelled one viewer while jumping up in the air.

The crazed musical performance was part of Museum Takeover, an all-night event sponsored by RISD’s Programming Board. Prior to the opening, students installed interactive art exhibitions throughout the Gelman Student Exhibitions Gallery and the museum. 

Standing in front of a checkered wall, Mariam Quraishi 15 IL played a game that involved shooting moving laser targets projected on the wall. Other students had a ball using a light installation to cast shadow puppets across the Grand Gallery’s blue walls and 18th-century oil paintings. 

For caption information, click on the photos above (photos courtesy RISDKIDS).

Prakash on Preserving Chandigarh


Earlier this week architect/urbanist/historian Vikram Prakash spoke at RISD about India’s northern capitol city Chandigarh (his hometown) and the work he is doing with the Chandigarh Urban Lab to preserve the intent of its master plan. As Prakash explained, the thriving Modernist city designed in the 1940s under the direction of the late Le Corbusier is now facing unchecked development intended to further boost the value of its already pricey real estate.



A detail of Chandigarh’s original master plan and a look at the Le Corbusier-designed Palace of Justice, completed in 1956.

Prakash is wary of both the speculative frenzy among government planners and the reactionary preservation movement focused on Chandigarh’s capitol complex. “We must consider the city’s architectural DNA and the intent behind the design when thinking about preservation,” he said. Rather than “fossilizing the design” and blindly completing the original master plan or throwing it out entirely and green-lighting such ill-conceived projects as the high-rise Tata housing complex that’s currently being battled out in Indian courts of law, planners should reinvent Chandigarh as an evolving hub that still reflects the aspirations of the nation-state while meeting the current and future needs of its citizens. 

Naked and slathered in petroleum jelly, Doreen Garner MFA 14 GL slides her body against the interior of a small glass tank stationed in the center of a Glass department studio. As a crowd forms around the visceral spectacle (pictured in top photo), she nestles into a pile of stuffed, rubber tubes that could be mistaken for intestines. 

With a stoic face, Garner beckons audience members to come close to her glass cage and then wipes her open eye against the transparent barrier. The action draws tears from both the artist and the viewers. “One girl started crying in a corner of the room,” Garner would later note. “It was an intense performance that challenged the typical power dynamic that exists between the subject and the viewer.”

This hair-raising performance was part of RISD’s Graduate Open Studios event last Friday night. Members of the public were welcome to wander through the cavernous hallways decorated with half-complete sculptures, ornate jewelry pieces and other works.

In a nearby building, students formed a line around a table holding broken objects cradled in square blocks of felt. Kate Bell MFA 14 JM used a shattered teacup and a string of pearls to create art that explores feelings of absence and yearning.

In the same room, Monica Choi MFA 14 JM presented brooches made of discarded technological devices. Memory boards and audio wires are some of her favorite things to refashion into wearable baubles. “I’m attracted to objects that were once intimately part of humans’ lives,” she noted.

For caption information, click on the photos above. And check out this video version of Garner’s intense performance!

Maine Attraction

Congratulations to illustrator and wildlife artist Rebekah Lowell 04 IL, whose oil painting of an American Wigeon just won the 2014 Maine Duck Stamp Contest. The winsome waterfowl earned Lowell her second win in the annual contest. Proud Perch, the Maine native’s painting of a pair of Wood Ducks, took first prize in 2011. The new stamp, which hunters are required to purchase, will be released this summer, and proceeds will be used to conserve and manage Maine’s waterfowl.

Envisioning the Future


How do we as designers envision the future? How do we imagine the human race getting from here to there? Will the products we’re currently working on be good for the planet in the long-term? How will these products and the materials used to make them persist over time?

These are some of the hard questions posed by visiting design theorist Cameron Tonkinwise (pictured above, third from left) and taken up by a panel of RISD professors at the Fleet Library on Thursday evening. Organized by Associate Professor of History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences Damian White, the panel considered whether it’s better to envision a “preferred future” as part of the design process or to take the fast-paced, democratic “build-it-and-see” approach that has become popular in hackathon settings.

The panel also discussed questions of sustainability and “undesign.” As Tonkinwise pointed out, once a potentially harmful product emerges, there’s no way to get rid of it. “Designers need to think of their work in the contexts of personal, historical and geological time,” said Literary Arts + Studies Associate Professor Nicole Merola. And Architecture Professor Anne Tate agreed and suggested that designers ask themselves, “Is my intervention a singular drop in the bucket or is it connected to a larger whole?”

On Thursday night, students took turns peering inside an unusual installation lined with stacks of philosophy books, an unused camera, palm leaves, FBI documents and a small Koran. Made by Andre Bradley MFA 15 PH, the thoughtful piece (third photo from top) provides an abstract sketch of his relationship to his family, masculinity and spiritual beliefs.

The installation is part of Reading Room, an exhibition on view for the rest of the semester in the Gelman Student Exhibitions Gallery. Curated by Seojung Min MFA 14 PR and Wangui Maina MFA 14 PR, the show includes introspective sculpture, paintings and other works directly inspired by the artists’ favorite books or snippets of text.

“The line between artist and author becomes easily blurred when considering reading as a form of exchange,” notes Maina. “The wide range of media in this exhibition emphasizes the many ways reading functions.

For instance, Matthew Mahoney MFA 14 SC is showing a series of ink drawings that are visual interpretations of the characters featured in Cormack McCarthy’s gut-wrenching novels. On another side of the gallery, Cecile Chekovsky 15 AP presents a cotton knitwear collection made after finishing Milk, a historical novel about enslaved nursemaids.

At the opening reception, Robert Hurlbut 14 TX was drawn to bold paintings of female protagonists by Sophia Narrett MFA 14 PT. Meanwhile, Reesa Wood MFA 14 PT was busy inspecting Galveston Flood, a wall piece Lucy Humphreys 16 FD made after researching a devastating sea storm that pummeled an island off the west coast of Africa.

“It’s certainly a force to be reckoned with,” Wood notes, looking closely at the single piece of Tyvek used to make the piece. “Its material conjures up images of Haz-Mat suits and residential wreckage.

Reading Room continues at the Gelman Student Exhibitions Gallery though June 1.

RAKED Draws Attention


Raked – Sculpture Critic Jane South’s inspired new installation at Spencer Brownstone Gallery in SoHo – was featured in The New York Times yesterday as part of Karen Rosenberg and Pete WellsCritic’s Gallery Crawl through SoHo and TriBeCa. Here’s what they say about the work:

Jane South’s intricate paper sculptures have been getting more and more ambitious. For a 2013 installation at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Connecticut, she pieced together a realistic-looking lighting grid laden with little pieces of technical “equipment” (mostly cut-and-glued paper, with some actual lights and cables).

Raked, her new piece at this Wooster Street gallery, also takes its cues from theatrical infrastructure; it’s a slanted stage that supports a vast array of black, machinelike forms. It all looks so dynamic that you assume, at first, that the parts are actually moving: a set awaiting its actors. They’re static, but that precurtain excitement lingers.