Thanks in part to the efforts of Fulbright Student Program Advisor Dorothy Bocian, RISD has once again been named a top producer of Fulbright scholars among art and design schools. As reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, RISD and MICA were the top two producers among Specialized Institutions for 2013–14.
“Of course, we’re very proud of these students,” says Bocian, “and also of the other 16 applicants who were not awarded grants. The application process itself is an amazing learning experience and one that frequently contributes to a solid career path.”
Four of this year’s RISD Fulbright scholars are currently working on projects in their host countries, with the fifth – video artist Rachelle Beaudoin MFA 07 DM, who won a Fulbright Core Scholar Grant – slated to begin her journey in early 2014.
Though RISD’s most recent Fulbright scholars focus on a range of disciplines – Joseph Vasquez MFA 13 PR on printmaking, Chris Wolston 09 GL on sculpture, Andrew Fladeboe 06 PH on photography and Jessica Paik 13 PT on painting and printmaking – they are all working as cultural ambassadors, helping to build mutual respect and understanding between the US and other countries around the world.
Interior Architecture Critic Pari Riahi, an architect based in Amherst, MA, recently took first prize in small lot | BIG IDEAS, a juried competition co-sponsored by the city of Northampton, MA. The goal of the competition was to enhance small, odd-shaped building lots in urban neighborhoods throughout the city. Riahi’s bright, efficient one-family Luminous House stood out among the 23 entries because it demonstrates the best use of the site for which it was designed.
In order to maximize the limited space, Riahi’s team (which included RISD undergrad So Eun Lee BArch 14) built up – using a beautiful contemporary staircase – and took advantage of the site’s northern views of nearby conservation land via a continuous series of clerestories that also flood the space with natural light. “We designed a linear staircase that acts as a spine for both floors and gives the long, narrow space direction,” says Riahi. “The judges appreciated how well it’s integrated into the life of the house.”
Gwen Farrelly, RISD’s director of Global Partners and Programs, and Vice Provost Carol Strohecker recently returned from a visit to the European Honors Program (EHP) in Rome, where they were warmly welcomed by EHP Director Ezio Genovesi and Chief Critic Mairéad Byrne.
“During our visit to the Palazetto Cenci, EHP students generously welcomed us to their reviews,” Farrelly says. “We were delighted to witness so much fresh work and new perspectives on Rome.”
They also enjoyed listening in on the discussions led by visiting critics, including the four artists in residence at MACRO museum Jacopo Miliano, Riccardo Beretta, Hilla Ben Ari and Sahej Rahal, as well as Dan Hurlin, the current fellow at the American Academy, and Rome-based artist Roberto Mannino 80 SC.
“Carol and I are delighted to report that RISD’s program in Rome – the oldest US art and design program in Italy – is home to a thriving community of artists, poets, writers, performers and critics this semester,” Farrelly concludes.
Dean of Architecture + Design Pradeep Sharma co-organized All Over the Place, the 2013 administrators conference of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. When participants met at RISD from November 14–16, they continued ongoing discussions about the rapidly evolving field of architecture and how architectural education is adapting to meet changing demands.
Since the focus of the organization is on dialogue and cross-pollination of ideas, the opening session eschewed a keynote speaker in favor of a two-pronged approach featuring a discussion of digitally intelligent architecture by Mario Carpo, Vincent Scully Visiting Professor of Architectural History at the Yale School of Architecture, and a behind-the-scenes look at some incredible work taking place in Rwanda under the leadership of young maverick Michael Murphy, the CEO of Boston’s nonprofit MASS Design Group.
At a recent sabbatical presentation, Graphic Design Professor Lucinda Hitchcock spoke about visiting Berlin and observing the details surrounding its memorials as part of her ongoing research into typography, form and narrative. The quiet austerity of the Peter Eisenman–designed Holocaust Memorial (above) made a lasting impression on her, but she was equally taken with some of the more controversial work created by other artists.
Places of Remembrance, for example – a “living memorial” designed by Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock that was installed in the wealthy Bavarian Quarter in 1993 – integrates a series of signs into modern city life that call out the increasingly horrific Nazi laws enacted in Germany in the 1930s and early ’40s. One sign memorializes the day that Jews were ordered to give up their pets. The installation was originally so upsetting to local citizens, Hitchcock explained, that the artists were forced to add a smaller tag to each of the 80 signs indicating that it is part of a memorial. Hitchcock befriended the artists while in Berlin and invited them back to Providence as visiting designers for Graphic Design’s graduate program.
Another powerful installation she experienced first-hand, Stolpersteine (Stumbling Stones) by Gunter Demnig, is a collection of simple, 4-by-4-inch brass markers hammered into the sidewalks in front of the homes of Holocaust victims rounded up by SS troops for deportation. The piece is subtle, Hitchcock said, but each simple, handcrafted marker tells its own terrible story.
And the equally intense Library by Israeli sculptor Micha Ullman remembers the infamous Nazi book burning that took place in Bebelplatz in 1933. An underground room of empty bookshelves is visible from above through a glass plate set into the sidewalk.
“It is the quiet absence of detail – the suggestive white cube of emptiness – that tells the most profound story,” said Hitchcock. Among the courses she teaches is a Graphic Design elective called Setting the Site: Type and Message in the Environment in which students explore the possibilities of developing spatial narratives.
In his recent sabbatical presentation in the Tap Room, Literary Arts + Studies Professor Sandy Gourlay shared an abbreviated version of a talk he gave in June at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. A William Blake specialist, he explained that he spent a good deal of his sabbatical analyzing Blake’s “retrographic” lettering – the reversed writing required in most printmaking – using a digital microscope.
By examining the various techniques Blake used to sign his commercial plates – including five that he contributed to a 1780s “layaway bible” – and experimenting on his own, Gourlay was able to determine which of the engraved “signatures” on these plates were actually executed by Blake. More importantly, he was able to identify the distinctive letter structure that Blake later used in almost all of his original “illuminated works” combining text and illustration. In short, Gourlay said, he delved deep into “recovering Blake’s dynamic process of writing.”
As part of his mission to put ideas at the core of teaching and learning in RISD’s TLAD department, Professor Paul Sproll welcomed guest lecturer Ross Schlemmer to speak to students last week. Schlemmer teaches Art Education at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania and also heads up a community arts caucus under the National Art Education Association.
During a friendly roundtable discussion, Schlemmer encouraged students to examine the theory behind community arts practices and service learning. He pointed out the symbiotic nature of community arts, where student and teacher both learn from the shared experience, and talked about socially conscious work in the world at large that attempts to serve the community, build wellness and push viewers beyond their comfort zones.
For example, ParaSITE (shown above) by Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz, is a portable, translucent homeless shelter that is inflated and warmed via a building’s outdoor heating vent. These structures are popping up in cities across the country. Work like this “uses art as a transformative tool,” Schlemmer pointed out, rather than as something relegated to museums and galleries. He went on to quote cutting-edge composer and producer Brian Eno, who said, “Stop thinking about art works as objects and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences.”
At an open presentation on November 12, faculty and administrators who had attended the 2013 AICAD (Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design) conference in Baltimore shared themes that emerged from the gathering, which focused on New Paradigms in Teaching and Learning.
At the conference, AICAD institutions discussed how they’re changing their curricula and core requirements in response to innovations in virtual-learning technology and student demand.
The favorite buzzwords were “innovative disruption,” according to the RISD people in attendance. They also pointed out that many of RISD’s competitors are making significant changes to core requirements in order to give students more control over their education and are experimenting with alternative learning models that focus less on deep disciplinary study and more on flexibility.
This rather sudden shift away from traditional models of higher education is unlikely to be an approach that works here at RISD, where academic leaders have made a clear commitment to a disciplinary model that takes into account history and context. “We have the luxury to plan any changes from a position of strength,” noted Provost Rosanne Somerson.
Professor Mickey Ackerman working with Foundation students.
Vice Provost Carol Strohecker added that the economic times in which we find ourselves have shifted the focus at all colleges and universities onto competencies and preparing students for the job market. “We need to be realistic about economic circumstances,” she said, “while at the same time articulating who we are on our own terms.”
The most likely next steps will involve the evolution of RISD’s Campus Master Plan, which is responding to a campus-wide call for more unstructured, interdisciplinary spaces that will promote spontaneous collaboration. “There’s a difference,” noted Dean of Graduate Studies + Research Patti Phillips, “between deep disciplinary learning and living in isolation.”