Where Writing Meets Studio Work
Emily Frances Winter MFA 15 TX describes her research-driven thesis as “an argument for the potency of textiles as a medium.”
When Jane Androski MFA 11 GD and Emily Rye MFA 11 GD were collaborating on their joint master’s thesis five years ago, they often referred to it as “the work before the work” – a way to establish and visualize the terms and goals of a professional partnership post-graduation. Now co-principals of Design Agency, a Rhode Island-based studio they founded to embrace design as an agent of change, their experience stands as a prime example of the theme at the center of Formative & Persisting, the most recent iteration of a biannual exhibition that highlights the research, dimensions and dynamics of the written thesis at RISD. The exhibition, on view through September 25 at Sol Koffler Graduate Student Gallery, presents the thesis as a living document-one that frames and propels work done at RISD as much as it sustains future practice.
Supported by Graduate Studies and curated by Senior Lecturer Anne West, Director of Campus Exhibitions Mark Moscone and current grad student Elizabeth Leeper MFA 17 GD, the show includes written theses by 30 graduates (including Androski and Rye) along with visual representations and descriptions of their creative practice. The curatorial team has divided the work into six categories – blueprint, catalyst, method, monograph, pedagogy and research – that suggest the various ways the thesis is, as the title suggests, both formative and persistent. With outcomes that range from a graphic novel questioning approaches in arts education to a speculative magazine focused on the future of wearable technologies, the work showcases the diversity and depth of voice found within the graduate community at RISD.
“The show is designed for everyone at RISD and for the outside community, but it specifically acts as a window for incoming and returning graduate students,” says Moscone. “Seeing these examples helps ground their ideas and hopefully channels their focus on not just the writing but the work that’s being made alongside the writing.”
Over/Under, the research-driven thesis of Emily Frances Winter MFA 15 TX, informs the designer’s current work at The Weaving Mill, an experimental production studio based in Chicago that focuses on the development of short runs of industrially woven fabric and community-centered programs. “In many ways, my thesis was an argument for the potency of textiles as a medium,” Winter explains in the accompanying artist’s statement. “It was an opportunity to identify and work through some of the fundamental questions of the medium: its history, its elements, its material and political possibilities.”
In his thesis-turned-monograph Inshallah, Dima Gavrysh MFA 12 PH chronicled his pre-RISD experience as a photojournalist covering the US war in Afghanistan. His work is accompanied by a reprint of a recent article in Black & White magazine that lauds his written thesis, saying, “Its scope of time, geography and subject matter far transcends that of typical graduate student projects….The connections between interior concerns and exterior realities are likewise well beyond the norm….”
Inshallah represents the transformation of thought Gavrysh experienced as he re-examined this work and speaks to what West refers to as the “double optic effect” of thesis development. “The thesis reflects the experience of critique on the artist as well as the investment made by their thesis committee, faculty and peers,” she says. “But most importantly, it reflects what they want for their work.”
Cheerfully describing their longstanding partnership on the biannual thesis show as “the great collaboration,” West and Moscone take care to emphasize the careful consideration they place on the design and rhythm of an art school exhibition that puts text front and center. “We think very carefully about pacing,” says West, noting that multiple stations throughout the gallery are meant to provide “a deeper view of the rather remarkable thought community” at RISD.
“It’s not a gloss-over,” West is quick to add. “Thesis books [at RISD] are a highly focused, intense process of finding one’s voice and commitment to a practice. We want to convince viewers it’s worth their time to drop in.”
, Graduate Studies