This biennial was on display from Jan 21–Feb 21, 2021.
Exhibited works are catalogued below.
Launch Event with Elaine Lopez
Join us for the launch of the RISD GD MFA Biennial, titled "Everything You Can Think Of; Nothing You Want." This Zoom event will include mingling, an introduction to the website, a discussion with the curators, and a presentation by Elaine Lopez.
Elaine Lopez graduated from the RISD GD MFA program in 2019. She is an Associate Professor of Graphic Design at the Maryland Institute College of Art and an AICAD Fellow.
Community Building Through Design
Tatiana Gómez Gaggero & José Menéndez
How to aim to build strength, confidence, and trust in our communities through design by doing what you can with what you have?
José Menéndez and Tatiana Gómez will talk about some bottom-up initiatives they have been part of or have initiated during the last year as a way to respond to the needs of their surrounding community in times of a pandemic, social unrest, and climate change.
Graphic Design is Our Passion: Creating Community between MFA Programs; Or, I’ll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours!
Bobby Joe Smith III
How come we have never met? We have so much in common!
This event is a platform for conversation between current and recent students of graphic design MFA programs. Primarily, this is a meeting space, a talking space, a community space.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put MFA programs and their students into various states of crisis. It feels appropriate to reconsider what a graduate education means and how it serves our goals and growth as designers. What better way to do so than coming together as a community. So we are interested in coming together and asking: How are you doing, really? What are we even doing? Are we getting enough? Are we dealing with too much?
This is intended to be a friendly, unstructured conversation, rooted in openness and connectivity. Our goal is to make the graduate student experience transparent and to foster ongoing community between students.
Mirror Schools: Education in a State of Emergency
Federico Pérez Villoro & Chris Hamamoto
In a time where education is rapidly being reordered in response to the pandemic, the value of academic institutions is put to the test. The cost of keeping schools running seems at odds with their concrete offerings and the need to transition institutions online exposes their (previously invisible) structures which seem more apt to protect markets than students need. Yet this is not just a result of the pandemic, but the progressive collapse of privatizing knowledge and oppressive meritocratic systems. But, what are the essential components of schools and what are their academic and administrative surpluses? Can they really be repackaged online and if so how to make them more accessible? Are their alternatives that can emerge in response? This three-day workshop will address the need to rapidly develop new learning spaces as profound recalibrations of education logics by enhancing what digital platforms offer enabling access, but also by conjuring intimacy within virtual environments and critically considering the political and economic mechanisms that benefit from our digital presence and over-productivity. Participants will reassemble their experience as current students to develop and distribute “mirror” versions of the institution they are affiliated with as a way to comment, amplify and transform institutional materials into public and free resources.
A syllabus is a creative document that gives shape to a shared experience. This workshop is an opportunity to convert frustrations and critique into proposal. Participants will work in small groups to identify unmet needs or new possibilities, then imagine and draft a syllabus in response. By its conclusion, the workshop will generate a catalogue of speculative courses that structure alternative configurations of learning, modes of engagement, and priorities, with emphasis on mutual exchange, community, and student and instructor well-being.
A conversation with Drew Litowitz, Angela Lorenzo, Sarah Mohammadi and Lauren Traugott-Campbell on how to start an independent publication and how to foster creative community after school.
Drag Queen Anahi Santos falls asleep during a livestream performance in April 2020
I love her lack of energy, go girl give us nothing!
—YouTube comment on a Dua Lipa performance
The 2021 Graphic Design MFA Biennial was about everything and nothing. Everything You Can Think Of; Nothing You Want was a reflection of our varied experiences in this graduate program: what it is and what it is not.
Everything You Can Think Of and Nothing You Want correspond to two separate but related bodies of work—like two sides of a coin, informing one another—housed in one virtual biennial. Accordingly, the show may exhibit graphic design as would any traditional biennial, yet it may also make visible those things obscured by the polished pieces on display: the exertion, the exhaustion, the expense.
Everything You Can Think Of is abundance. Possibility and imagination. This exhibition represents a sliver of the output of the diverse, ambitious graduate student cohort at the Rhode Island School of Design. We are expanding our field through formal experimentation and critical writing. Everything You Can Think Of portrays the idealized MFA experience: The institution provides freedom, knowledge, and equipment for students to produce beautiful bodies of work, pursue interesting research, and cultivate meaningful practices—but the experience often comes at great cost.
Nothing You Want is everything unseen. Artifacts of students' lives concealed and discounted. Another sliver: financial precarity, sleepless nights, alienation, loneliness, frustration, depression, fatigue, burnout, anxiety, anger, shame, doubt, guilt, debt—things ugly and untidy, yet common in our graduate program and others, surely. The material on display reveals that students perform a calculus of neglect, where sleep, food and community are weighed against work, labor and production.
A word of caution. Do not let one side of the show distract from the true message. We both admire the work on display and endorse the expressions of complaint. This show is a slim volume of the RISD GD MFA program in totality—beauty, ugliness, gaps, redactions, and erasures included. The message of the show exists in the tension between the two sides, including the complicity of graduate students.
Exhibiting Nothing You Want is a precarious act; there is an imbalance of power between faculty, administration, and students. We are committed to challenging this imbalance but in doing so are left vulnerable and risk misinterpretation. We intend transformation, not malice, not insult. These grievances are revealed with care and consideration to induce positive change. The argument of Everything You Can Think Of; Nothing You Want is that the only way forward is transparency, testimony, and open dialogue.
2020 and its attendant crises have shown us that—while risk-taking and failure are encouraged—failings are unacceptable within the university. In the midst of burnout, physical and mental illness, and a global pandemic, the institution has not sufficiently revised expectations regarding production and productivity. But as our shadow biennial, Nothing You Want, establishes: work is not just a product; it is also labor.* 2020 has revealed that RISD students have inherited unsustainable systems which ignore or scorn student wellbeing. What we reluctantly accepted a year ago seems unendurable now. There must be a better way.
Our programming attempts to reconcile what we endure and what we desire. Our speakers, all RISD alumni, will offer reimaginings of the MFA program. Many have become educators after graduating and have seen both sides of MFA education; they offer perspectives on how institutions can care for students and faculty alike.
Traditionally, a biennial is a moment to pause and reflect on the ideas and concerns of the RISD graphic design students during the past two years. Presenting the work of the MFA cohort in 2021 without reckoning with the material and emotional conditions of those same students would be a dereliction. We owe more to one another and to ourselves.
We join with students across the world in saying: institutions must change if we are to reconcile everything and nothing. We want their full energy committed to our cause. Go girl, give us everything!
*The unseen cost of this biennial is over 1000 collective hours (a low estimate) of unpaid labor undertaken by current GD MFA candidates beyond our normal school-related responsibilities.