Immersive Learning Abroad
Students participating in a RISD course in South Africa visited game reserves and learned how local conservationists are supporting wildlife populations.
Artists and designers draw inspiration from their surroundings in unpredictable ways. So students who participated in RISD Global’s 2018 Summer Studies classes are only beginning to comprehend how their immersion in international cultures from Africa to Europe to Asia will influence their creative vision this semester and for years to come.
“It’s so important to be exposed to different cultures,” says grad student Cheng-Hao (Tim) Hsieh MID 19. “When you get out of your comfort zone and throw yourself into a completely new context, you’re learning and growing every second.”
Hsieh was a teaching assistant for South Africa: Art and Science Conservation, a three-week course in June and July led by liberal arts faculty member Lucy Spelman, who’s a biologist and veterinarian. At RISD she aims to inspire up-and-coming artists to use their creative talents to advance ecology and conservation efforts around the world.
In South Africa students visited game reserves and learned how local conservationists are monitoring and supporting wildlife populations. They then made work in response to environmental challenges such as poaching and illegal trade. Several students focused on the plight of vultures, whose tendency to circle above fallen elephants and rhinos—which alerts park rangers to poachers—has made them a target for poisoning.
Eight thousand miles to the north in Copenhagen, Denmark, another group of students also focused on sustainability issues, but from the vantage point of Danish design. Led by Furniture Design faculty member Nathaniel Smith, they biked around the city and explored disparate aspects of Danish design through architecture, city planning, lighting, ceramics and textiles.
“You can learn about Denmark’s clean, minimalistic design by reading books,” says class TA Sebastian Arroyo Hoebens MFA 19 FD, “but when you’re there, you really get a sense of where it comes from and how it relates to the Danish way of life.” Smith invited a steady stream of local designers to speak to students, which, for Hoebens and others, allowed their knowledge to extend beyond the old masters to the many great contemporary designers coming out of Copenhagen these days.
Due west, in the Republic of Ireland, Dean of Fine Arts Rob Brinkerhoff and the students in his Illustrating Irish Myths and Legends in the Burren class plunged into traditional Irish narrative and took inspiration from the unique environment. “The landscape is so foreign, it’s like another planet,” says class TA Victor Badami MID 19. “Who would expect orchids to grow in Ireland?”
Students toured museums and ancient historic sites for the first half of the trip and then created their own interpretations of classic, old-world stories using the medium of their choice: paint, pen-and-ink, photography and so forth. “A lot of students infused the stories with elements from their own cultures, which was really cool,” says Badami.
The connection between making and place was just as apparent in Rome, where Assistant Professor of Graphic Design Paul Soulellis encouraged students in his Artistic Practice in Public Space course to feed off the urban landscape and layered history of Rome and investigate the site-specific possibilities of paper, sound, screen, stone, performance and other media in all dimensions.
TA and Graphic Design grad student Elaine Lopez MFA 19 GD describes the experience as “amazing” and explains that she and the rest of the class experienced a wholly unique view of the city—one that tourists never see. “One off-the-beaten-path site we visited was an old warehouse that had been occupied by immigrants,” she says. “In order to stop the authorities from tearing it down, they turned it into a really cool gallery space with rooms and rooms full of art from all over the world.”
Lopez adds that the best part of the experience for her was meeting students—both grads and undergrads—from different departments, eating new foods and having new experiences. “I was taken by the idea of bringing people together from all over the world,” she adds, “and I hope to incorporate that concept into my thesis somehow.”
Six thousand miles east in Japan, students in Tokyo: Bike Building tapped into traditional bicycle-building techniques at the Tokyo College of Cycle Design, where master craftspeople have been building steel-framed bicycles for generations. Organized by Associate Professor of Industrial Design Khipra Nichols BID 78, the class complements the RISD curriculum with a focus on craft and precision and introduces students to Eastern design aesthetics and mindfulness techniques that help them connect with their subconscious insights and intuitions.
All of these cross-cultural experiences provide students with the wide-reaching, inclusive perspective they need to succeed at RISD and make lasting contributions to a global society. “These classes give students the chance to focus on one specific studio experience, away from the academic pressures of the school year,” says Associate Director of Off-Campus Learning Valeria Albani. “And the opportunity to collaborate with students from different majors—and from other art and design schools—amplifies the intensity of the learning experience.”
Associate Professor Paolo Cardini leads a RISD symposium in Rome focused on non-Western, student-conceived visions of the future.
In July students participated in an intensive summer program investigating new ways of making poetic work in response to place.
Moroccan artisans and designers visit RISD as part of a multiphase cultural exchange program.