Course Description

Instructor: Jim Drain   jdrain(at)risd(dot)edu
TA: David Sharp    dsharp(at)risd(dot)edu
AIE Chief Curator: Virginia Shore
AIE/RISD Liaison:
Allison Sloan Roberts

Thursday 11 am- 5 pm and Friday 1 pm- 5 pm

We will be working cooperatively on a sculpture for the new US embassy currently in the design phase for Rabat, Morocco.  Typically, commissions do not work this way: (in the most simplified sense) a commission is granted, the artist makes the work and the work is installed; however, for this commission, we will be working in concert with a lead artist (me) on the project.  It is a challenging proposal, but one that I find very thrilling.
In this course we will work together on something with real consequence.  The work will debut this November in D.C. and once the embassy is constructed, the sculpture will be on permanent display.  The opportunity to have real input into the nuts and bolts of the work itself is available through this course.   Together, we will be focusing on how to incorporate materials in new and unorthodox ways, building models, researching and discussing issues relating to cultural diplomacy.

Submit a project proposal to Art in Embassies that will debut at the Smithsonian in November 2012.

“All the Islamic arts [are] governed by the science of preparations in the realm of metre, rhythm and in the form of interval in music.” Isaam El-Said

“The order and unity of the material world, they believe, is a mere ghostly approximation of the spiritual world, which for many Muslims is the place where the only true reality exists. Discovered geometric forms, therefore, exemplify this perfect reality because God’s creation has been obscured by the sins of man.”-Travel Mecca for Smartphones and Mobile Devices

Material Objectives:

  • Looking at the language of “Moroccon Arts” and finding the point of contact/synthesis with the language of the “American Arts.”  Are their similarities worth exploring; does an object or process have ethnicity?
  • Translating 2-dimensional design (as found in the ziilij/textile Arts) into a 3-D structure; the best metaphors for such a structure: constellation, cat’s cradle, webs.
  • Explore the shape of modular units and find the scale best for each shape
  • Work with durable materials (stainless steel wire, glass, bronze) in new ways; that is, how can we combine these materials or approach them from a different perspective (ie braiding stainless steel wire; can the glass act as large beads? can the glass become modular units in and of themselves?)
  • Explore new processes of fabrication (CNC machining, 3-D printing): are these new means of production helpful and/or relevant to this project?

Project Questions

  • What does it mean to make a sculpture for a US Embassy? Who is the audience?
  • What is cultural diplomacy? Do we need to care?
  • Why is research important to the project?
  • What is site?  Is it purely a visual construct?


PDF readings are available for each class meeting on the course blog.


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