Visual Arts

Museum as Culture Medium: Locally Made Inoculates the RISD Museum


       Anyone who lives in or around Providence and creates things is no stranger to the wealth of raw and energetic creators that call this place home, studio, squat or any combination of those. It seems also there is a common frustration: a lacuna of space to present much of this work for dialogue to a broader public. Whatever our place in the so-called Creative Capital's puzzle, it is no surprise to us, that RISD Museum's Locally Made represents work by 300 Providence area artists: most of whom are eager to disrupt the whole institution's vacuum. It is a celebratory permeation of the membrane that so often keeps separate the institutions of art, and the passionate many who live it.

          The show's organism generates exchange between two vital systems: identifiably traditional presentations of wall-based work, sculpture and video (the 'feels like a museum' space), and (here is where RISD Museum proves its youthful ingenuity) a modular, transforming performance space: part theatre, part museum, part school and part community center. 


          The Upper Farago Gallery presents a hefty selection of work in a plethora of voices, recently acquired by the museum. As a survey of much of the area's visual development, the gallery has moments of a cohesive and contemporary Providence-school optic-aesthetic, if I may call it that. Cornered near the gallery's entrance are two works: Ara Peterson's black and white, radial, wooden, Op art-y interference pattern, Forced Spiral 3 (2012) and Anne Spalter's kaleidoscopic and similarly dense, oversensory and fragmented landscape-video, Factory (2011). Colorful Providence anchors, Andrew Moon Bain, Pippi Zornoza, Brian Chippendale and Jungil Hong hang together in a mini-salon hang, in close proximity to Allison Bianco's Sinking of Matunuck, together forming a dominant set of visuals that grew and continue to grow here: psychedelic, information-rich, raw but altered landscape ripe with vibrant and graphically flattened dimensionality.

          In the Spalter New Media gallery one will find a video arrangement curated by DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum's Dina Deitch. The display comes in three thematic parts: Language displays Tony Cokes' seething, text-based, video critiques Evil.16.Torture Music, detailing the Disco Inferno of “torture lite,” music-based sound bombardment used in US detainment facilities such as Guantanamo Bay to sonically disassemble the minds of detainees, and Evil.48:, a running commentary on (mostly male) US policy makers' bilious and ignorant statements regarding and controlling women's bodies.

          Across from this powerful work hangs a monitor looping three documentary videos addressing issues and fluid qualities of Water: Chris Taylor's Small Craft Advisory, a documentation of Taylor tediously blowing glass, rocking and balancing his tools on a barely stable rowing boat; Ed Osborn's slow, panning record of waning Arctic glaciers in Albedo Prospect; and Magaly Ponce's exploration of “politics and ingenuity behind water collection in Cape Verde.”

          Between these facing displays is a bench where one can sit and view the projected centerpiece, a sort of contradictory video triplet using video's immateriality to directly address Material: Xander Marro's Pattern of Ritual exploits the revernt materiality of film and Spell Casting Mishaps Volume 1 a highly patterned, stop motion collage, highlighting video's physical impressionism; Megan And Murry McMillan's While She Waits for the Light and What We Loved and Forgot unveil the materiality behind video production in eerily silent pans; J.R. Uretsky deepens this self-aware expression with Aggressive Love: The McMillan Family, exploring their house in flagrantly textiled, chaotic puppetry, awkwardly leaving behind assembled relics.


          These gallery presentations, Deitch's video selection especially, act to situate and establish Providence and its artists in the expected lexicon of display. But it is in the programming behind what organizers call One Room, that creates a gravid substrate to fill the lacuna, to make permeable the institutional membrane we've established, and feed back (feedback) into established tradition.

          Organizers and Museum Educators Deb Clemons and Hollis Mickey are responsible for the inventive platform's inception. With the goal of activating community, the duo defined a program that could extract, present and sustain the process of making. As Clemens and Mickey developed an adaptive programming structure, Providence/Philedelphia/Juneau based Strange Attractor Theatre Company conceived of the spacial architecture: a metaphorical alloy of the traditional learning space in a New England school house with the community-centric, Native American long house. The result, a transforming cabin-construction (it actually unfolds, like the Hasbro toy—another local reference) combines these spaces of community gathering and educational discourse with the arrangement of a theater, contracting the proscenium and inviting the “audience” into the dialogue.

          Again, walls are collapsed—in  this case the fourth—and the programming follows suit. With a surge of ambition for daily events and the realization that they couldn't reach to the depths of the community themselves, Clemens and Mickey presented the five arms of their dextrous programming (Assembly, Spotlight, The Artist's Lab, Demo & Discourse, and Office Hours) to a bellyful of local organizers and curators with specialized networks, allowing specific selection to lie outside of the institution.

          The result, so far, is very refreshing—art institutions take note. At the time of writing, the show has been open for less than a week and already I've visited the Museum as often as I have in the past six months. Just in the past few days: J.R. Uretsky with video performance queering masculine identity, Office Hours with Strange Attractor on contemporary theatre design, Demo and Discourse with local celeb Meredith Stern, and every day this week DJs spin at noon in Micah Salkind's The Re-sounding City. It is a social space of sharing, not only presenting works and processes locally made, but bringing those of us working here closer together and creating a reflexive, both external and lived cohesion amongst local cultural producers.

          So, in response the the Pheonix's recent request for a bit of credit... a reactionary “Yes, thank you for that spark.” But let's stress this: that is indeed a small bit in a cornucopia of credit owed to a much larger conglomerate of artists, musicians, performers and aesthetes that have pollinated and fertilized this visionary atmosphere. And so the real thanks goes to, and actually lies within the Museum Educators' choice to alter our perception of the museum's white space, to tear it open and hand it off with trust and confidence to hundreds of artists that will perform their practices with Pollockian spontaneity, in commune with and against the grain of institutional tradition.

Follow the surge of activity: @risdmuseum #RISDmuseum #oneroommuseum

For a full schedule of Locally Made's One Room programming, check out the calendar

Or just visit the museum's Lower Farago Gallery and press the red button for a daily schedule printout!

Locally Made runs at the RISD Museum through November 3rd. For more information on Locally Made please visit

All photos: Marcel McVay
Ara Peterson, Forced Spiral 3 and Anne Morgan Spalter, Factory.
(Clockwise from top) Andrew Moon Baine, Mineral Water Song; Pippi Zornoza, Eagle Heart and Wildcat; Brian Chippendale, Providence 2046; Jungil Hong, Ki Yosei.
Lynne Harlow, Shake Some Action, 2006, and Nicole Chesney, Bide (2007).
Allison Bianco, The Sinking of Matunuck, 2012.
Dean Snyder, Daphne’s Pendant, 2008. Candy and metal-flake auto paint over carbon fiber/epoxy composite.
Jessica Deane Rosner, Election Gloves, 2011-13. Rubber gloves, ink, embroider, framed fabric flag, and wooden shelf.
Museum Educator and One Room organizer Hollis Mickey introduces One Room, School House Long House, and J.R. Uretsky’s Bromance performance to an eager audience on Locally Made’s opening night.
Captivated onlookers watch J.R. Uretsky’s video component of Bromance.
J.R. Uretsky attempts to fit her puppet-costume into an inanimate plush puzzle piece in front of her video performance in Bromance.