The 2022 Grad Show:
Comments, Inquiries and Revelations

Maxwell Fertik
→MFA ID 2023
Angelina Rodgers
→  BFA PT 2025

In May 2022, the RISD Grad Show returned to the Rhode Island Convention Center after being paused and then relocated due to the pandemic. With over 250 graduate students from seventeen departments in one space, the Grad Show is RISD’s most ambitious exhibition of the year. Six months later, we’re still thinking about it.

↥ Grad Show 2022; works by Alexis Tingey (MFA FD 2022), Nicolle St. Cyr (MFA PR 2022), Laura Koven (MFA TX 2022), Ineke Knudsen (MFA PT 2022)

In the first year back in the immense liminal space of the Rhode Island Convention Center, the annual Grad Show was high stakes. But as a culmination of so much work over two or three years, it really only represents the final product of each student's year-long masters thesis project. For Painting, this may be four pieces in a series of hundreds of sketches and experiments; for Industrial Design, this may be a single article of clothing to represent hundreds of audience inquiry and material tests, not to mention the writing and research that exists tacitly beneath the surface. The graduate thesis is an impossibly rigorous beast that ultimately has to be translated through a concise series of artifacts. Of course "concise" doesn't nearly embody the scale of some works. From tiny glass fragments that have survived under molecular stress to an entire room constructed to simulate interstellar entanglement, without question, each piece contains multitudes. Perhaps, "compact" would better describe the feeling of these grandiose projects boiled down into a single visual vignette. Each one a signifier of an intense personal memoir. But we digress. . .

In isolation, a generous handful of individual pieces guided the viewer into (un)familiar worlds: queer post-digital futures, fantastical closets of nostalgic materials, visions of warped space, post-carbon narratives of rebirth and fortitude, and legions of design work grappling with feelings of unrest, both in digital and tangible landscapes.

↥ Margaret Lindon (MFA D+M 2022), I Don’t Quite Remember It That Way . . .

Looking forward but also looking back, the Grad Show maintained a unique segmentation of disciplines. At the front, the viewer is greeted with a tenuous assemblage of the whimsical, monumental, and morose. By choosing to show a ceramics, a painting, a furniture, and an innovative textiles suite, the curator pulls us in with a tactile survey. As we move in to the right, a deeper look into the multicultural, spatial, queer audiovisual depths of work seem to transcend discipline and redirect any supposed assumptions about the represented department. Down the corridor, an array of furniture that feels incredibly personal swings the visitor down into the final big space. This area is a dance floor of standing rapturous bodies. A VR headset floats above a sea of weeping steam-bent chair legs, a foam golem, and digital textiles among many other large scale relics of this region. Throughout, we witness design cohorts boxed into their own areas, grouped by media despite echoing the visual rhetoric of the rest of the space. Smaller boxes house a blue bicycle experience, a veteran sanctuary, and other views in intimate, uncanny worlds. To sum up something this vast is impossible, but to acknowledge each passing year as significant in its ephemeral, enduring moments is nonetheless crucial.

As 2022 comes to a close, yet another Grad Show is just around the corner. Remember what stuck with you as you witnessed 250 new memoirs. Remember what you remembered that day. Each grad show is a flicker in the canon of RISD but equally a sonic boom of personal accounts. Honor them and bring them on into the next year. 

—Maxwell Fertik

↥ Miguel Lastra (MFA CR 2022), Hernando, 2020

The experience of traversing a gallery is a potent one. Where to begin? Probably at the beginning, standing beside the radical figural sculptures of Miguel Lastra, a ceramicist who entered my life in a similarly radical way (but more on that later). Here I stood, at the threshold of the Rhode Island Convention Center on my last day in Providence for Spring semester. Engulfed in a sense of accomplishment, having conquered EFS, I eagerly anticipated a breadth of theses from a group of people much further along in their journey than I. As a second year undergrad at RISD, the amount of work intake and output thus far has been both wildly fulfilling and overwhelming to a point of paralysis. If one year of art school could so vigorously change my perspective, how will I, my work, and the world have changed by the time I’m defending my graduate thesis? This speculation carried me through the show.

Upon entering, I first noticed the abundance of material installed throughout the space. It reminded me of the end-of-year purge I had just burdened the Homer hall trash room with. So many newsprint drawings and sculptures with a turn-around of maybe five days beg the question of what to hold on to and what to trash after critique. While graduate students can take months or even years to experiment and develop their theses, RISD freshmen are plagued by excess perpetuated by the multiple projects assigned every week. I can’t help but wonder if the landfill greets this artwork with the same eagerness as the gallery space.

While process plays a significant role in the creation of an artwork’s meaning, content inevitably reveals its destiny by persisting in time. Simply put, art has an afterlife, whether it is tangible or intangible. If you choose to make an archival oil painting in the 1700s bound for an aristocrat’s mantle or a Sculpey diorama destined for the bin, that matter still means something in a grander scheme.

This idea of all matter holding weight manifests in Miguel Lastra’s ceramic sculptures, which are made of junk or waste clay. In the ceramic studio, bags of clay pile atop one another. Buckets overflow with bone-dry scraps, pottery trimmings, and failed experiments. These scraps are rehydrated, mingling in a brimming reclaim bucket. There is almost weariness at the thought of putting it all back to use.

The origins of clay are an enigma to many. Personally, I have imagined beds of pure white porcelain at the top of a mountain, and the mystical, ancient flow of rivers and glaciers depositing and redepositing silt across a continent. Real-istically, ceramics require hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in order to harvest ancient clay deposits. By unnaturally deepening fissures in the earth, fracking appropriates resources and disregards the centuries-long work of water, wind, and time to form sedimentary rock. When a failed pot just means a toss into the reclaim bucket, the holistic transformation of deposited particles to a bag of buttery stoneware is lost. Lastra disrupts this narrative by sculpting with junk clay, causing one to ponder how even with the limitations of a less flexible, grittier substance, meaning can be drawn out of the material integrity. Lastra’s figures are mangled, yet connected. They are hollow, yet full of vitality. They examine material abundance and origin, sometimes housing or existing among dirt, moisture, and plant life. Having been taught my first official ceramics class by Miguel, I left with a new understanding of reclamation and a sense of preciousness for materials drawn from the earth.

My ceramics journey began only a year ago in the creaky, dusty basement of the Metcalf building, making tiny slab pots under the guidance of Kalee Calhoun, who taught the freshmen ceramic evening workshops. Every Monday, I would carve out time in the chaotic multi-studio schedule to sculpt and learn to throw. I overcame my contempt for the wheel, learned about the department at RISD, shared laughs, stress, and easily achievable ideas in clay. These evenings led to my taking Ceramic Sculpture for Wintersession. At the end of Spring, the final glazing day was a thoughtful one. I thanked Kalee for a year’s worth of informal, yet indescribably valuable ceramic education. At the Grad Show, which I attended in anticipation of writing this piece, we spoke about progress, serendipity, and heartwarming connection. Upon leaving the gallery, I pondered how individuals in such different places in life could impact each other in such an important way. Like a cat drawn to a sunspot, I felt a new understanding of my place at the show, at RISD, and in Providence. I left having learned more about each RISD major than I’d ever imagined, knowing that I needed to keep doing ceramics, and wondering if or when I would do for someone else what Kalee and Miguel did for me: inspire a new passion, forge a new path of research, and encourage mindfulness of material. 

—Angelina Rodgers

Find the thesis work of individual 2022 graduate alumni here.

↥ Miguel Lastra (MFA CR 2022), Rosa, 2021

Maxwell Fertik and Angelina Rodgers are moldmaking in the plaster room, creating more material abundance.