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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

On Wednesday Ceramics students gathered to hear visiting artist Brie Ruais speak about how she uses clay as a stand-in for the body, creating sculptural pieces that “assertively claim space” while transparently reflecting the gestures used to create them. She sees her sculpture, which she recently showed in a solo exhibition at Nicole Klagsbrun in New York City, as a feminist take on the work of sculptor and video artist Richard Serra. Other influences include contemporary stalwarts Jackson Pollock, Bruce Nauman and the late abstract expressionist Agnes Martin.

Ruais generally begins each piece with 130 pounds of clay (her body weight) and then spreads it upwards or outwards in a process she refers to as “physical confrontation.” When Associate Professor Katy Schimert, head of the Ceramics department, had the opportunity to see Ruais’ work in the fall, she immediately asked her to visit, describing the work as having “a monumental presence and power.”

Click on the images above for more information.

TECHSTYLE HAUS Moves Forward

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Students and faculty on the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe team are just back from a successful trip to France, where they presented the latest plans for the high-tech house to sponsors. They also secured windows, appliances and a warehouse space in Versailles where they’ll assemble their Techstyle Haus in time for this summer’s competition.

Meanwhile, back in Rhode Island, construction is underway on interior flooring modules and framing for the deck and ramp system. The next step is erecting the steel structural ribs that will support the building’s exterior textile shell. For the latest news and design details, check out the team’s Facebook page.

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Welcoming New Students

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Spring has finally arrived at RISD, and with it come colorful new banners hung along the riverwalk just in time for the first Admissions Open House tomorrow. Current students, faculty and staff will host an opening meeting with admitted undergraduates and lead campus tours, offering new students and their families an opportunity to ask questions and get a better feel for RISD before making the final decision to enroll.  

Designed by Micah Barrett 12 GD in the RISD Media Group, the banners were meticulously crafted by seamstress Hannah Tran and her team at Accent Banner in Medford, MA. 

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Breaking News About the Future

In the March 24 issue of The New Yorker, Calvin Tompkins treats readers to an extraordinary nine-page feature on Ryan Trecartin 04 FAVAlthough he notes that “reviews of Trecartin’s videos often verge on the ecstatic,” Tompkins goes on to profess his own ongoing fascination with what the LA-based filmmaker and his posse of close friends is doing.

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“About a year ago, I started looking at the work that Ryan Trecartin and his loosely associated group of fellow artists and designers have produced during the past decade,” Tompkins writes. “Not even [Nam June] Paik, I decided, made videos that are as consistently non-boring as these – or as full of breaking news about the future.”

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In a lengthy section chronicling his years at RISD, the story explains how Trecartin and his longtime creative partner Lizzie Fitch (who left before finishing her degree in Painting) first began working together, looking at why their joint creative process continues to work so well.

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“I need a lot of time alone, but I don’t like making things alone,” Trecartin explains. Tompkins then adds: “Without her, he often says, he would never have been the artist he’s become.”

But there’s so much more to it – and to the New Yorker story itself (which also quotes several other alums who still work with Trecartin). Get your hands on a copy if you haven’t already read it.

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Critiquing EcoDesign Futures

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Tomorrow evening, April 3, Cameron Tonkinwise, a director of Design Studies at Carnegie Mellon, will deliver A Critique of EcoDesign Futures: Hacking, Speculating, Visioning, Transitioning at the Fleet Library at RISD. He and RISD faculty members Nicole Merola (Literary Arts + Studies), Peter Dean 76 Arch (Furniture Design) and Anne Tate (Architecture) will discuss how design educators currently define sustainability and unsustainability and the methods (successful and not) used to imagine alternative futures. The free event is open to the entire campus community and will kick off at 6 pm.

IDEO Designers Talk Wearable Tech

Earlier in the month, Zoe Schlacter 17 FS (far left in the photo below) adjusted her round glasses before making tweaks to a fashionable shoe designed for a very specific client. “I’m creating a prototype of a sneaker for a young, homeless woman who lives in San Francisco,” explains the Foundation student while cutting out pieces of cardboard. “The sole of the shoe includes a hidden compartment for her to conceal money and valuable objects.”

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Schlacter created the prototype in one of Brown’s labs during From the Bottom of My Fuel Cell, a full-day workshop hosted by members of the RISD STEAM group. There, Brown and RISD students divided into teams to create wearable devices meant to enhance the lives of fictional characters. After looking at rough sketches of their contraptions, designers from IDEO, an innovative consulting firm that specializes in product and brand development, offered students some welcomed advice.

Bill Stewart MID 96, an industrial designer who makes medical devices, encouraged the young inventors to make iterations of their prototypes in rapid succession. After inspecting a battery-powered device (shown below) that allows kitchen workers to receive a physical “shock” when someone is near, he pushed students to test out the technology as soon as possible. “It helps to see your product in 3D,” he explains. “You can find problems faster – and fix them.”

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Brown students Mark St. Louis and Atty Eleti try out a wearable device they designed using Arduino, an open-source electronics platform.

Later in the afternoon, Stewart and Prat Ganapathy hosted a lecture in the Chace Center auditorium that explained the process they use when designing surgical tools. “We never throw out any of the ideas we generate during brainstorming sessions,” he notes. “You never know when they might come in handy.”

Learn more about the workshop at the RISD STEAM group’s site.