Experimental Exchange

Experimental Exchange

In an interdisciplinary studio known as Clay in Context/Wet Space, Digital Space, Assistant Professor of Architecture Hansy Better and Assistant Professor of Ceramics Linda Sormin challenged students to investigate the intersection of their disciplines through the design and construction of an architectural screen at Harmony Hill School in Chepachet, RI.

As students worked in teams to plan the structure and ceramic components of each panel, Better and Sormin encouraged them to think about themes such as vulnerability and transformation—concepts that took on extra meaning when the ceramists worked side-by-side with students from the school to build the screen.

Harmony Hill is a nonprofit school for boys aged 8 to 18 who are challenged socially, emotionally and behaviorally. Daily life for the boys is regulated by tight schedules and strict rules of conduct, so the chance to use their hands alongside RISD students signified a refreshing break in routine. Architecture student Zehra Ahmed noticed that the work had a “relaxing effect” in that it allowed the boys to “slow down and observe” the results of their actions.

Sormin was quick to point out that the project was not intended as community service, but rather as a research opportunity to explore how artists work together and respond to material and conceptual problems. “We are not there in the role of art therapists,” she emphasized. Therapy is already a big part of Harmony Hill students’ lives; in fact, the screens were built for a waiting area outside the counselors’ offices. Instead, Sormin explained that RISD participants were “there to experiment, to investigate how this kind of exchange and collaboration can unsettle art practice.”

Each panel in the semicircular screen that resulted from the collaboration is a cohesive and carefully executed work. The panels successfully integrate structural elements and ceramic components, and beautifully combine the hands-on work of RISD and Harmony Hill students working together to create a functional work of art for the school.

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