Instagram Meets Installation

Graphic Design seniors Raina Wellman, Eliza Chen and Theia Flynn

While the endless and often madcap scroll of an Instagram feed might not seem like the most fruitful starting point to unpack what it means to be an artist, Raina Wellman 19 GD, Eliza Chen BRDD 19 GD and Theia Flynn 19 GD decided to do just that. In fall 2017, they sourced a massive collection of process-related posts from their peers for a collaborative project in their junior-year Design Studio III.

Thanks to smartphones “our ability to document process is completely different” from in the past, explains Chen. “We were seeing many images on Instagram that were really good drafts and noticing people proudly updating their followers on the work they were creating, step-by-step.”

Last year around this time the three friends realized that their project dovetailed with the deadline to submit proposals for the 2018 Dorner Prize at the RISD Museum, which invites students to propose original interventions that “examine, critique or celebrate the Museum’s collections, architectural idiosyncrasies, habits of visitation and or/web presence.” (The deadline for the 2019 Dorner Prize is right around the corner, with proposals due by Friday, January 18.)

Installation proposal for the RISD Museum by Graphic Design seniors Raina Wellman, Eliza Chen and Theia Flynn
Part of the team's proposal for their installation in the RISD Museum.

Since “it’s a really wonderful opportunity” to get funding for a site-specific installation at the region’s most popular art museum, the trio decided to go for it, choosing a nook in the Chace Center lobby—between the escalator and the RISD Works museum shop—for their proposed installation. “When you go to an art museum, you end up seeing clean, completed objects and products that are very purchase-able,” they explain. “We wanted to help a viewer understand more of what it means to actually be an artist and demystify the process of artmaking. And we wanted to show what it means to be a student here at RISD.”

“We wanted to help a viewer understand... what it means to be a student here at RISD.”

The crucial first step for the team was gathering the right raw material. Taking a more-is-more approach, they put out calls for student “drafts” on Instagram and Facebook, plastered campus with posters, contacted peers whose work they admire and asked department heads for suggestions. Though Instagram posts were the original conceit, students were invited to share drafts of work in progress in whatever digital format they preferred (text was also welcome).

But how did the three graphic designers define a draft? “In some ways we wanted to leave it open and let contributors identify that for themselves,” explains Flynn. And as the submissions flowed in, they varied even more than expected. “People would submit things—like enormous sculptures—that for some would probably be a finished project but for them was literally a piece in process,” she says.

Submission from Noah Beckwith 18 GD
A submission from Noah Beckwith 18 GD

But overall the submissions were profound, heartening and occasionally hilarious. From a casually confident painting of a mustachioed chicken in a top hat by Hyeongjun Kim 21 IL to a simple yet formally beautiful drawing made in p5 (a coding language used in introductory web design courses), the Draft Catalog team found much to love in the collection they curated for the museum installation on view all last spring.

In the accompanying poster books, submissions were presented with each student’s name but not major to better convey the breadth of interests and talent found on campus and to highlight the truly interdisciplinary nature of process work. Since contributors had access to a pdf of the book and could print their own copies as souvenirs, the project became something of a yearbook—“an expression of what that year at RISD meant to everyone,” they explain.

DIY poster books that accompanied the Draft Catalog publication, by Graphic Design seniors Raina Wellman, Eliza Chen and Theia Flynn
DIY poster books that accompanied the Draft Catalog installation.

“Ironically, this piece feels like one of the few... that I’ve been able to complete,” Wellman notes, citing the challenge of realizing an idealized vision in the midst of busy schedules and full course loads. “So many young artists end up thinking their work is not good enough and stop making... because it doesn’t fit into what they view as art or art making,” she continues. “We hope the more unusual parts of the Draft Catalog helped show that even students here at RISD make work that doesn’t always feel artful—work that’s silly and unstructured and unclean—to emphasize that it’s not all about delivering perfect objects.”

Bound copies of Bound copies of the 2018 Draft Catalog by Raina Wellman, Eliza Chen and Theia Flynn
Bound copies of the 2018 Draft Catalog are available at the Fleet Library at RISD.

—Lauren Maas / photos by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH and Raina Wellman 19 GD

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