With Commencement right around the corner, RISD’s graduating master’s degree students are working overtime to complete their thesis projects and get their work ready for public scrutiny at Grad Show 2021. Like last year, their creations will be on view virtually via an online platform maintained by the RISD Museum, but current students and faculty members with access to campus (those in the spring 2021 COVID testing pool) can also experience elements of the show in person at the RISD Museum’s Chace Center galleries and at the WaterFire Arts Center.
Director of Campus Exhibitions Mark Moscone 88 PR describes the preparations for the show as “organized chaos” and notes that it’s interesting to see how the work lives in such vastly different physical spaces: the classic, windowless white galleries of the Chace Center versus the huge, naturally lit industrial space of the WaterFire Arts Center.
“Thesis work is always very personal and individual,” Moscone says. “We selected key pieces to anchor each space and also thought carefully about how to divide the work between the two galleries. In one area, we grouped together work by the Furniture Design, Textiles and Jewelry + Metalsmithing departments, for example. Their surfaces and 3D structures create an interesting dialogue.”
All Bodies Wander by printmaker Haley MacKeil MFA 21 PR (top photo), for example, draws viewers into the WaterFire gallery. Made primarily with handmade paper, the piece incorporates a huge inflatable boulder that slowly expands and contracts.
“A fan mechanism inflates and deflates the piece so it looks like the stone is breathing,” Moscone explains. As the artist notes in the online documentation, “This practice forms a threshold between two worlds, two bodies, two different understandings—it creates sites for connections with something, someone or a place that cannot be [otherwise] accessed.”
“We’ve tried to create these big wow moments that bring people into the space,” Moscone says, “but some pieces are very quiet. It’s nice to come around a corner and discover them on an intimate level.”
Body as a Surface (pantyhose, glass, stockings) by glass artist Fan Su MFA 21 GL, for example, quietly occupies a corner of the gallery. “The body as a surface has the flexibility to be endlessly manipulated, reshaped, redesigned and rebuilt,” the artist explains in her online statement.
Many of the artists and designers present work in the medium they studied at RISD, but others express their visions in multiple forms. Interdisciplinary designer Elena Huang MID 21 focuses on structural mechanisms and biomechanics. She created Invisible Skin out of squid (ink, quill and skin tissue), glycerol and organza. Fellow Industrial Design student Sophie Engel MID 21 presents a wall of hand-carved linocut prints she calls Positive Apocalypse.
A stunning, multidisciplinary collection of prints and patterns by furniture designer Shreya Tuli MFA 21 FD investigates the artist’s life experiences and her move from India to New England. “I integrate diverse media, moving fluidly between two-dimensional and three-dimensional work and creating multiple layers of pattern and object,” she says.
The idea behind the work of textiles designer Hammad Abid MFA 21 TX also stems from migration, “calling attention to displacement and forced migration as a disruption in the continuity of place, relationships, identity, memory and time,” the artist writes. “Through a collection of textiles, I try to capture the psychological effects of forced migration and communicate the impact of political violence on cultural identity and coexistence.”
Ceramist Fengkun Yu MFA 21 CR is also inspired to make work by trauma and describes the act of making as therapeutic. “The meditative process of sculpting, carving and smoothing clay guides me to a better understanding of myself,” he explains simply.
—Simone Solondz / photographs by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH
Explore work by more than 200 RISD graduate students online through images, videos, text and links to the artists’ websites.