Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bathroom conversations

After interviewing fellow RISD students and local artists, I started to look closer at where, on campus, I felt a sense of community.

Almost all of the responses from RISD students were either convenient places, like the dining halls, or places specific to a group of people, like studios. These results reaffirmed the idea that RISD students, for the most part, stay within the boundaries of their department. This consists of studio spaces, shops, and near-by cafes. Department studio spaces and shops certainly create a sense of community and ownership, but they also brew animosity and departmental prejudice that exacerbates the department bubble syndrome. The cafes or coffee shops that happen to overlap people of different departments only happen by convenience and hold no real sense of community (ex: cable car: I.D. and Architecture). In addition to the reclusive nature of departments, any and all attempts to create a common space on campus were not only not used, but also completely rejected (RISD store ‘student space’).

At RISD, we may not be a community by social interaction, but we are a theoretical community, grouped because of our passion for art and design. I think this community rejection speaks to our theoretical connection. As artists and creators, we want to make our own space or mark; we don’t want to be told where to be social. Labeling is a huge problem as far as creating a common space is concerned. In her book, Jacobs rejects new urban planning and supports diverse, organic growth in cities. This applies to RISD, but 10 fold. A community space at RISD needs to be informal, flexible, and constantly evolving.

I began to think about the places I frequent on campus, and if I really felt attached to or apart of any one of them that was outside of my department space. I decided that for me, some of the bathroom stalls on campus have the best sense of community.

I started to reminisce about the first floor bathroom on the front side of Bank building. Last year this space belonged solely to my department (furniture design), but felt so much bigger than that. The Bank building was home to the painting department several years before, and I’m not sure what else before that. The bathroom is extremely small (barely room for one), and the walls hadn’t been cleaned in years. Because of this, a wealth of conversations (political and vulgar), drawings (funny and dirty), and tags had built up to cover every surface of the room. I loved being in that bathroom to read or contribute and felt a true bond to the space. After the Metcalf store moved into the Bank building the bathroom was white washed covering at least a decade of work including my favorite conversation:

-“Do girls poop in here?”
-“Yes.” (in pink, fancy letters drawn to look like turds)

Now, because the studios that used to be in Bank are now in the Metcalf building, I call the 2nd floor bathroom home. This bathroom, too, has built up a diverse and hilarious body of work, and was recently partially covered with blue paint by another student. This vandalizing upset the community of stall users and quickly personal and intellectual attacks on the blue vandal materialized.

Every time I go into this bathroom I am excited to see what has been added or removed or responded to. These walls of the stall have been a way for people in different majors, who otherwise would not usually socialize, to communicate with one another in an unbiased environment. It is an appropriated space for a makeshift community center for students to constantly share ideas, images, jokes, and insults.

My proposal is to allow students and the public to communicate by contributing 2-D and 3-D work to all of the surfaces between the Chase center and Memorial hall (like the bathroom stall). This space is new and sterile, lacking character and any evidence that students actually attend RISD. This space would not be labeled a student space, but would hopefully attract people interested in drawings, conversations, and jokes and inspire them to add. In addition, it might allow for the Chase center to feel like a part of RISD not just a billboard or source of income.

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