Seven Stories Tall, RISD MFA Graduate Show at ClampArt

From Left to Right: Julie Gautier-Downes, Vanessa  Godden, Frances F. Denny, Maya Krinsky, Ramell Ross, Forest Kelly, Mo Costello of the Rhode Island School of Design

This week ClampArt presents the work of RISD’s 2014 MFA graduating class under the title Seven Stories Tall. A blend of photography, drawing, and video installation, the show explores familial and cultural narratives as they shape identity and place.

The works of Forest Kelley and Frances F. Denny both present meditations upon family history. Kelley’s re-imagining of his deceased uncle as a series of staged tableaus grapples with the biography of a gay relative living in a conservative Massachusetts community in the 1980s. The photographs bring life into a past veiled by ambiguity.

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Copyright Forest Kelley, "Untitled," 2013, Archival pigment print, Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City

While Kelley blends fact and fiction in his efforts to remember, Frances F. Denny adopts a documentary approach to family history. Denny explores the domestic patterns and rituals of the artist’s New England upbringing across several generations of women. The concept of Denny’s project is complemented by the artist’s eye for composition and pattern, lending the work much visual appeal.

Ramell Ross and Mo Costello both photograph characters and environments that stimulate the imaginations of their audience. Costello’s work combines the staged and the happenstance to put viewers into states of wanderlust or reverie. Ross’ photographs, heavy with foreboding, add an uncanny element to the exhibition.

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Copyright Mo Costello, "Slim," 2014, Archival inkjet print, Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City

The haunting presences in Ross’ images are balanced by the equally disconcerting absences of Julie Gautier-Downes’ contribution to the show. Here, photographs of abandoned architecture and landscapes are paired with comprehensive lists of the objects represented in each image. Gautier-Downes’ work emphasizes the indexical character of her photographs while simultaneously encouraging viewers to imagine the unspoken histories that brought them into being.

The works of Maya Krinsky and Vanessa Godden introduce drawing and video into the gallery. Krisnky’s investment in cross-cultural identity politics is reflected in a series of hand-drawn graphs, diagrams, and statements that place pressure upon the binary splitting “American” from “not American.”

Vanessa Godden_Still from 19 Slip Knots

Copyright Vanessa Godden, Still from "19 Slip Knots," 2014, Video installation, Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City

Godden’s installation positions a video of the artist consuming a rope facing a video of the artist pulling it out of her mouth. The screens are connected by a single cord of rope, which spills over the pedestals of the video monitors, becoming an abstract mess on the floor. The videos are accompanied by an audio recording of the artist addressing her audience. Godden’s ritualistic gesture adds a visceral dimension to the show that endures well after leaving the gallery.

As a group, the artists included in Seven Stories Tall show great promise and the exhibition deserves a visit before it closes on July 19.



Frances F. Denny // Julie Gautier-Downes


Vanessa Godden // Mo Costello // Maya Krinsky


Ramell Ross // Forest Kelley

Text by Cory Rice

Photographs by Chad Smith

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