Clarifying Connections

Image Landscapes | grad-student curated campus exhibition

“The point of a room like this is to create other rooms,” notes Lisa Maione 05 GD/MFA 16 as she looks around the Gelman Student Exhibitions Gallery, where a multimedia exhibition she curated with Elizabeth Leeper MFA 17 GD is on view through January 17. “A show isn’t a finished product and… neither are any of the objects in this room,” she adds.

Image Landscapes: New Readings in Art, Design and Architecture, which opened at the end of October, presents a mix of undergraduate and graduate work that invites imaginative leaps and associative epiphanies. Consider Exquisite Confusion, a series of monoprints by Syraya Horton MFA 16 PT that suggest moments of pain, violence and tragedy—with varying degrees of abstraction and obfuscation. The red and purple tones echo those of Revisited, a textile by Philip Muller MFA 16 TX, and Fossil Camp, a monotype by Kate Aitchison MFA 16 PR. Together the three works cut an Orion’s Belt-like line across the gallery that is emblematic of the curators’ desire to make the exhibition feel like “a place.”

At the same time, the clean surface of Bench by Maya Bjornson BRDD 19 SC is partially enveloped by a billowing outgrowth of wood that evokes the cloud mass featured in The Nothing. This looming charcoal illustration by Rosalind Breen MFA 16 PT reproduces a still image from the 1984 fantasy film The NeverEnding Story—a title that resonates with the ethos of Image Landscapes.

This is the kind of imaginative play Maione and Leeper intended when they first proposed the show, which is enjoying a two-and-a-half-month run in a gallery that also gets a lot of foot traffic from visitors to the RISD Museum. “We wanted to make this show extremely interactive,” Maione says of her approach to hanging the exhibition—a careful balance of on-the-spot invention and adherence to a curatorial desire for the show to “activate vision.” On the day work began to arrive at Gelman, the designer recalls feeling challenged by “the room suddenly feeling gigantic.” But she quickly recognized exciting new storytelling opportunities in allowing the scale of the work and the gallery to play off each other.

With its emphasis on interconnecting disciplines, Image Landscapes is a reflection of the thinking Maione cultivated as an undergrad and during a decade of professional experience working as a designer – and eventually an assistant art director at Metropolis—in NYC before returning to RISD to pursue an MFA. After transferring here from Savannah [GA] College of Art and Design in 2003, she felt drawn to the theoretical and speculative thinking she saw in the Graphic Design department, particularly at the grad level. While working in NYC, her adjunct teaching experiences at Queens College and Parsons also reinforced an abiding interest in interdisciplinary design thinking, which she was eager to pursue by returning to RISD.

“It has always been interesting for me to see things from very different and disparate places at the same time,” Maione says, adding that she’s now exploring aesthetic convergences in art and design through her thesis. “Whether I’m looking for those things out in the world or beginning to experiment as a person who [makes such work] and shows that publicly, part of the experiment of Image Landscapes is discovering the vocabulary around these connections.”

Based on reactions to the show at the opening reception, Maione and Leeper feel that fellow students are recognizing and appreciating those connections. Two of the exhibiting artists, Thalassa Raasch MFA 16 PH and José R. Menéndez MFA 17 GD, happily discussed the compositional and color affinities of Workshop, Everard and Plankton Environment, their respective contributions, before turning to see how their works communicate with others across the room, and with the gallery itself. “Maybe that happens every time, but I don’t think so,” Maione points out. “In my mind, every show should invite that” kind of active perceptual participation from viewers.

Robert Albanese