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Inquiry in Italy

Inquiry in Italy

Ever since the European Honors Program (EHP) was founded in 1960, RISD's most adventurous artists and designers have basked in Italy's rich cultural offerings.

Ever since the European Honors Program (EHP) was founded in 1960, RISD's most adventurous artists and designers have basked in Italy's rich cultural offerings. Students who take part in what is now a five-month program are given the freedom to pursue their academic interests while living in a country that has inspired artists for centuries. And when not hard at work in the studio, many students spend their weekends exploring in Florence, Naples and even Berlin and Paris - destinations that are just a train ride away.

Headquartered in the Palazzo Cenci in the heart of Rome, EHP actually provides much more than a European getaway. In cross-disciplinary studios that host local artists, students from every major are encouraged to explore their own creative pursuits - and then follow those pursuits wherever they may lead.

After spending last spring in Rome and Sicily, Hamed Bukhamseen BArch 13 returned to RISD with an altered perspective. The native of Kuwait says his study of Italian architecture - especially structures from the fascist era - changed his approach to design. "I really came to understand detail - in an architectural sense," Bukhamseen explains. "And I can better understand spatial experiences."

But aside from developing his technical abilities, the architecture major also discovered a newfound love of performance art while in Italy. In the beginning of the program, Bukhamseen conducted a mathematical study to record the water pressure of the Nasoni, public fountains that have provided Rome's citizens with clean drinking water for centuries. However, with a little encouragement from Senior Critic Nicola De Pace BArch 95, who advises students in the EHP, he decided to add a bit of theatrical flair to the project by hooking up a wash basin and shower to the city's ever-flowing channels. And then - in a highly populated market square - the soft-spoken student bathed publicly (while partially clothed).

"I wanted to see what would happen from stealing this water," Bukhamseen explains. "Eventually, the project turned into a performance. I definitely got some interesting reactions," he says with a smile. "I would have never done that if I didn't go to Rome."

After studying in Italy for about four months, Stephanie Canlas 14 - who lives just blocks away from the Pantheon and the Coliseum - is enjoying the intellectual flexibility the program provides. "Here in Rome, it's like we're getting a sneak peek at life as an artist. There are no prompts, no assignments, no grades. It's just us, Rome and infinite possibilities," she explains.

According to Canlas, Painting majors are constructing with video installations, architects are making ceramics and illustrators are producing more conceptual pieces. The Illustration major says this interdisciplinary exploration has inspired her to dabble in new mediums such as copperplate printing and screenprinting. And guidance from visiting critics clearly helps further the creative process, she says.

"Everyone here has been able to try something they've never attempted before," Canlas explains. "The program gives us the freedom to try new things that could potentially feed into our future work."

According to Illustration Professor Susan Doyle 81 IL/MFA 98 PT/PR, who is serving as EHP's chief critic this semester, it's common for many students to develop an elevated artistic mindset while taking part in the program. And that frame of mind tends to stick with them long after they return to RISD.

"Most students find a deep intellectual curiosity - not a technical one - to anchor their projects," Doyle says. "By experiencing something new, we are more objective about things. We see through fresh eyes."