Reconstructing Cuba

Reconstructing Cuba

As a summer intern at NYC’s American Museum of Natural History, senior Joyce Lin focused on fabricating models of Cuba’s swamps and coral reefs.

As visitors to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in NYC beat the city heat and explored four floors of exhibits illuminating everything from dinosaurs to outer space, a team of curators, artists and research associates was busily at work up on the fifth floor. The space was closed off as the team painstakingly worked on ¡Cuba!, an exhibit that will open in November and explore in depth the island’s biodiversity, culture and history. Among the skilled fabricators and model makers working to ensure that the exhibit meets the AMNH’s high standards was rising senior Joyce Lin BRDD 17 FD, who landed a summer internship at the museum funded through a Textron Charitable Trust Fellowship. managed by RISD Careers.

“The production team [at AMNH] is constantly tackling new problems and adapting to new situations. It's not unlike the RISD studio environment, where we're continually learning and solving problems through making.”
Joyce Lin BRDD 17 FD

“There are a lot of Cuban animals I was completely unfamiliar with,” says Lin—unique species “like the solenodon, a small but venomous rodent that’s found nowhere else on the planet.” In fact, 32% of Cuba’s vertebrates and 50% of its plants are endemic to the island. Other species the exhibit will highlight include the endangered Cuban crocodile and the long extinct giant sloth.

“I spent most of my time helping to reconstruct Cuba’s swamps and coral reefs,” Lin says, “using my furniture design skills to build sets and working with materials I don’t normally use at RISD like fiberglass, spray foam, silicone and different kinds of resin.” She fabricated more than 160 lily pads for the swamp exhibit, using real lily pads and a vacuum forming machine on plaster casts and then airbrushing the pieces to make them as realistic-looking as possible.

Lin loved being in a setting that is conducive to environmental research and other kinds of learning. “The production team is constantly tackling new problems and adapting to new situations,” she explains, “and they’re basically figuring things out together as they go. It’s not unlike the RISD studio environment, where we’re continually learning and solving problems through making.”

As a dual degree student majoring in Geology/Biology at Brown and Furniture Design at RISD, Lin was a good fit for this particular internship. “I’ve always been interested in science as well as art,” she says, “and there are a lot of connections between them. Understanding biological structures, for instance, carries over into my work designing furniture.

“Furniture Design fits my personality and interest in material exploration. [...] I like the idea of objects acting as interfaces between people and the environment.”

“I’m really glad I decided to major in Furniture Design at RISD,” Lin adds. “I also considered Sculpture, but Furniture Design fits my personality and interest in material exploration. My thesis project will probably involve interactive sculptures and objects that reflect my curiosity about both the natural and fabricated worlds. I like the idea of objects acting as interfaces between people and the environment in positive and negative ways.”

Lin’s studies in Furniture Design have provided her with a host of experiences that tie into the work she did at the museum. Last year, for example, she completed a project called Sound Chambers using the same vacuum forming machine she used this summer to fabricate lily pads. The project utilized the unique acoustic effects of polystyrene plastic to create an isolated environment—a sort of double-headed dive helmet—for two participants.

As Lin’s summer internship came to a close, the native of Birmingham, AL took advantage of everything the experience afforded, including immersing herself in the museum’s amazing exhibits during breaks. “I saw the Dark Universe show in the Planetarium six times!” she says with a laugh. “And I had access to all the museums in New York, so I did a lot of museum hopping every weekend.”

photo courtesy AMNH/R. Mickens

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