Reflecting on Being in Mutual Encounters

an essay by Sofía Ortiz MFA 17 Painting​

Mutual Encounters was on view in the Gelman Gallery from March to April 2017. The exhibition was curated by Anina Major MFA 17 Ceramics and Vanessa Nieto Romero MFA 17 Printmaking.

The following text originally appeared in v.1: A RISD Grad Journal.

Of the many romances surrounding the notion of being an artist, the solitary nature of studio work is one of the most prevailing. This despite the fact that solitary practices, particularly among emerging artists, are increasingly untenable. In a practical sense, facilities, equipment, and studios are frequently unsustainable on a single income. In a practice sense, interdisciplinarity, hybridity, and social media bring people together. And yet collaborative work is more than a symptom of an expensive and “interconnected” world—it is also an antidote.

Mutual Encounters unfolded in this context. Curated by Anina Major MFA 17 CR and Vanessa Nieto Romero MFA 17 PR, the exhibition, on view this spring in the RISD Museum’s Gelman Gallery, featured women student artists paired across disciplines and invited to produce new works together.

Watch out, women working.

Photo: Cesar Faustino

Allow the following conjecture: many years spent in collaborative situations suggest to me that women tend to show up. Maybe it’s because women’s work is historically communal (therefore underappreciated as it fails to bolster the genius myth), or maybe it’s because it tends to be labor intensive, but clearly there is something about presence that women, consciously or not, understand. Mutual Encounters materializes this collaborative being.

Although collaborative practice is a term that gets thrown around a lot, I am referring to old-school, breathing the same air, cara a cara collaboration. Sure, you might be uploading your research to Google-drive and We-transferring audio files, but at the end of the day, you are forced to sit in a room and look someone in the eye and tell them you have no idea what they are talking about. In-person collaborations temper the “me-centeredness” fostered by our digital worlds. There is materiality to collaboration, mass to presence, body in work.

Photo: Cesar Faustino

Indeed, many of the works in Mutual Encounters unabashedly beckon the body: sit on me, sniff me, feel me. The show favors experience, moving beyond the visual into sensorial generosity. Unsurprising, considering the world takes every opportunity to remind women that we present body first. No bodies are neutral but women’s especially bear the brunt of scrutiny and regulation, of being called at, litigated over, grabbed. We cannot help but be hyper-aware of our corporeal selves.

The works assert this focus through multiple mediums, implicating the bodies of viewers in interactive work, vestiges of the body in textile, glass, ceramics, and the bodies of the makers themselves, present through video, audio, performance.

And then, when the planets align and we have looked each other in the eyes, consensual indeterminacy can generate something wailing, beautiful, and alive.

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