by Samuel Emmet
Over the weekend, scores of art students and gallery-goers descended on Providence's Rhode Island Convention Center to see the 2014 Rhode Island School of Design's (RISD) Annual Graduate Thesis Exhibition. The Convention Center, a stone’s throw from RISD’s campus in burgeoning Downcity Providence, represents a particular era in '90s civic architecture. But upon reaching the third-floor gallery space, visitors are greeted by MFA sculpture candidate Matthew Mahoney’s massive installation of human and bird-like figures made from cellophane, neon streamers, party supply feathers, packing materials and found items—immediately transporting them to another world. Mahoney’s work sets the tone for the entire exhibition, one of experimentation and exploration.
The majority of the showing MFA students kept things playful. Over 170 graduate artists and designers across 15 programs are featured in the exhibition, with the diversity of the works ranging from photography to furniture design to amorphous, Lynda Benglis-like installations of Blake Hiltunin to a prototype for an emergency first-responder motorcycle—fueled by compressed air—designed by Marty Laurita.
A highlight is Olivia Wendel's work, silk tapestries that are stained with pigment and dye in the figures of women and animals. Like many of the artists, Wendel, a candidate in textiles who began her studies as a painter, is concerned with liminality, with veiling and unveiling. But her skill with the material—the pieces are luminescent—allows her work to surpass the mere articulation of such concepts. “I am a twin,” Wendel told CH, “I often wonder while I make the stencils and block out the spaces on my fabrics: what if my soul had been born into another body? What if my soul had two bodies?"
The RISD show runs daily from 12-5PM through 31 May 2014. It is free and open to the public.
Photos by Brian Almonte, Nick Freire and Susanna Koetter