State of the art

RISD grads share their visions
By GREG COOK  |  May 28, 2008

TRASH CULTURE: Milton Stevenson’s The Beginning of My Ascent to the Center of the
Universe Vol. 2.

RISD’s annual “Graduate Thesis Exhibition” could be just the place to glimpse the future of art, as predicted by the school that U.S. News & World Report recently said has the best master of fine arts program in the country.

More than 120 graduating students present work in a sprawling show at the Rhode Island Convention Center that ranges from painting and ceramics to furniture design and landscape architecture. There’s so much going on that it’s hard to notice quiet pieces like Xiaoli Dai’s cute spare ash wood stools with a surprise: the stools are rockers. It’s hard to tell by sight if they’re good to sit on, but they’re some of the best-looking work here, resembling elegant Chinese calligraphy made 3D.

No trends pop out. This year’s painting and photography are bland, but the show comes through with its usual selection of stylish graphic design and alluringly curious fashion, like Nanhee Kim’s exploded sweater and knit dresses covered with stuff that looks like knit scales or dinosaur fins. But mostly this year’s event is populated by been-there-done-that ideas and styles.

An exception is Mark Skwarek’s Children of Arcadia, which invites you to explore a digital apocalypse. Lightning flashes and rain pours down on rolling green hills dotted with tall trees and ruined classical-type temples. Great plumes of smoke billow into the sky. Blonde women in blue dresses wander about with names hovering above their heads. Occasionally a bit of type pops up on the screen, something about “NYSE” (the New York Stock Exchange). As video game worlds go, it’s good, but nothing much seems to develop. The most interesting thing I found was a group of six virtual ladies rest-lessly walking in a tight circle like furies or fates.

A computer intro explains that this “is a real time virtual ecosystem which undergoes the stress test of the apocalypse to expose the moral fibers of its inhabitants and the flaws in their idealized utopia.” The virtual landscape somehow corresponds to the landscape of New York’s Wall Street. Real people can also supposedly wander New York’s actual financial district wearing special goggles that allow them to virtu-ally wander the apocalyptic arcadia. The severity of the virtual apocalypse is determined by US economic data and Google headline searches for America “good” or “evil.” That’s a lot to take on, and it doesn’t quite add up here, but Skwarek’s onto something.

Lucas Ray’s The River In My Mind Project is a computer summary and photos documenting a project in which he interviewed people about their memories of Providence’s rivers and then apparently stenciled some of their thoughts onto downtown sidewalks. It’s a promising subject; too bad the quotes are mundane: “I remember when the river fed the mills”; “I remember when the river was completely hidden.”

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