︎︎︎ PREVIOUS

︎ HOME
NEXT ︎︎︎




INHERENT VICE

Conceptualizing a year-long exhibition and RISD studio course through deaccessioning efforts, collections care initiatives, and community building conversations at ︎︎︎ RISD Museum




  over-view  



Born at ︎︎︎Rhode Island School of Design, Inherent Vice reframes museum collections care as a reparative, empathetic act that embraces both literal and metaphorical cracks as opportunities for revealing and making room for neglected narratives.

This project was born of conversations about how conservators and curators can make behind-the-scenes work more accessible at major American museums. 


Read about the Exhibition ︎︎︎

 

“Inherent vice, also known as inherent fault, is the tendency in an object or material to deteriorate or self-destruct because of its intrinsic internal characteristics, including weak construction, poor quality or unstable materials, and incompatibility of different materials within an object.”

—American Institute for Conservation (2021)


︎︎︎ Poignant Reflections (Art Scope Magzine)

︎︎︎ RISD Museum Presents: “Inherent Vice: Hidden Narratives” (Art Daily)


More than 90% of the RISD Museum’s Costume and Textile collection is in storage, and over the years, many artifacts have become structurally compromised.

More than 100 of the museum’s Gilded Age garments were found to have deteriorated in storage.





Despite the museum’s meticulous galleries, the Gilded Age garments were stacks of shattered silks, dry-rotting cotton, degraded net, and corroded beads— all examples of inherent vice. They were useless for exhibition, storage, or teaching.





COLLECTION RESEARCH




DEACCESSIONING THE COLLECTION


In the summer of 2021, we started a discussion about what to do with 31 extremely degraded garments.  


An era of wealth and opulence, the Gilded Age was a time of enormous economic growth across the United States. Natural resources were extracted, factories were built, and fortunes were made. In this societal context, inherent vice also existed on many levels, including toxic materialism, gross economic disparities, corrupt politics, and white-supremacist social and racial hierarchies.

The inherent-vice metaphor also extends to the Gilded Age foundations of many institutions, including this museum, which was founded in 1877 by (and in many ways for) Providence’s elite. 


CREATING ACCESS


Instead of leaving these garments in storage, (as they were too fragile to teach from or exhibit) or pouring resources into stabilizing them (which would financially burden the institution), we decided to approach the problem as an avenue for new methods of instruction, exploration and understandings.

The garments were given to students to conduct exploratory research through— to use them, to touch them, to tear them, and to learn in this process of hand-on experimentation and research.

This was conducted in tandem with the original intent of the creation of the museum— to provide a resource for inspiration and research for students of the school.


CURRICULUM DESIGN


Through collaborative problem solving, a course was developed using the insight of professors and artists in several fields from around Providence, and Rhode Island.



DISSECTING A GARMENT: Conceptual Explorations


An experiment to begin our explorations into the material memory of each garment, a grey women’s overcoat was studied and analyzed to understand what stories lie in the weaves of each fabric. Through historical research, garment dissection, concept mapping, a few answers were uncovered. 











OUTLINING OUTCOMES: Syllabus Development 


Read the EXTENDED SYLLABUS ︎︎︎


Course Development

  • Build knowledge about the lives of objects in museums—exploring ways to challenge and expand canonical narratives of object interpretation and care.
  • Explore ways to respond to and/or critique objects from museum collections in an art making practice; including appropriation, interpretation, reconfiguration, and interrogation.
  • Develop an understanding of the museum archive as a site of transformation, permeability, and shifting meanings.
  • Identify strategies for questioning and subverting institutional/ Eurocentric authority in collecting, care, storage, and interpretation within the museum archive.
  • Develop skills for creative problem solving, idea generation, and independent research skills.
  • Generate workflow for documenting creative practice. Use this strategy to create a digital documentation journal.
  • Compile a research journal that documents course content, your independent research, and your response to and analysis of both.
  • Work collectively to develop a work to be displayed in the "Inherent Vice" exhibition gallery that suggests alternative readings and articulations of the museum archive.

Learning Outcomes


Upon successful completion of this course, a student will be able to:
  • Identify
    • A working definition for the archive
    • Contemporary artists who utilize archives/collections as source and/or material
    • Strategies artists use to engage with archival material
    • Strategies for curating with care, ethical use of archival material, and decolonial practice.
    • Ethical questions surrounding the care and conservation of museum collections

  • Plan and create a final project proposal that effectively synthesizes the content of this course into a site-specific proposal/ piece/ work/ intervention
  • Critically analyze your own work and the work of others
  • Think critically about the visual language of display and make intentional installation choices that enhance the meaning of your work
  • Effectively document your research and creative processes
  • Develop a conceptual, theoretical, and linguistic foundation necessary to think about, discuss, and utilize the concepts presented in this course


Rhizomatic Learning and Museum Transparency 


  • The studio aims to grow as a rhizome—interconnecting processes, disciplines, students, faculty, curators, conservators, scholars, textile specialists, artists, writers, designers, and makers inside and outside of the institution. 
  • It is a collections care initiative, a community building opportunity and an experiment in museum transparency.
  • It will consist of seminars, material investigations, discussions, explorations and evolve as a year-long exhibition in Donghia Gallery, at RISD Museum.
  • As collaborators in Inherent Vice, you will explore these thorny issues in this experimental research studio by dissecting a selection of deaccessioned garments—ethically, psychologically and materially. 
  • We see investigation and discussion of the physical deterioration of Gilded Age garments as an opportunity to respond, reflect and raise questions regarding the pressing socio-political-environmental issues of our time, and across time.


Weekly Themes 


Group work, collaboration, conversation, discussion, cross-disciplinary prompts and critiques are vital to each class: 

  • Fabric/Material (Source/Origin)
  • Space/Place
  • Worn/Wear
  • Care/Repair
  • Time/Story
  • Seduction/Aesthetic Force (Beauty, Error and Justice)
  • Relationship/Community
  • Transformation/Opportunity 

Field Trips 


The Wedding Cake House
(514 Broadway, Providence, RI 02909)

Haus of Glitter
(Hopkins Park, 97 Admiral St, Providence, RI 02908)

Tidal Resonance
(India Point Park, 201 India St, Providence, RI 02903)

RISD Museum Sound Walks



EXHIBITION DESIGN


Though museums typically present meticulously mounted garments in clean, well-lit galleries, their storage closets are full of shattered silk, dry-rotted cotton, degraded net, and corroded beads—all examples of inherent vice.






INHERENT VICE 

January 29, 2022 — July 10, 2022

Inherent Vice encompasses this yearlong exhibition, deaccessioning and other collections-care initiatives, community-building conversations, and related RISD courses and creative output produced therein. As a whole, the project reframes collections care as a reparative, empathetic act that embraces both literal and metaphorical cracks as opportunities for revealing and making room for neglected narratives. 

The label texts describing these once-luxurious and now-ghostly gowns address their current conservation issues as well as their origins during America’s Gilded Age (1870s–1910s).


HIDDEN NARRATIVES

July 23, 2022 — January 15, 2023

A wintersession 2022 course explored the topic of inherent vice. In the spring, an apparel studio class offered students the chance to dissect the garments, while a textile silkscreen class created new work in response to the prompt “hidden stories.” The students’ artwork is presented here with a selection of deaccessioned garments.

The deaccessioned garments’ damage is a mixed blessing. We wouldn’t have had these conversations if they weren’t falling apart. In storage, these pieces would have continued deteriorating; now they have been preserved digitally, considered deeply, and transformed creatively.

The exhibition was curated such that the garments represented hollow bodies in a gory Gilded Age scene— full of opulence masking empty lives and blood money.

The garments, hung like ghostly bodies, were deteriorating in front of the audience, in the galleries over the course of the show, representative of the inherent vice of the garments, and institutions that supported the elite, such as the museum itself.




MATERIAL TRANSFORMATIONS



THE COTTON INDUSTRY: Research


With a profound focus on the cotton industry, an in depth analysis was conducted into the human stories of the industry across time. Using Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay’s work as a framework to understand the role of the craftsman and cotton harvester in the process of garment production, this process was the springboard to further practice of engaged research and for the project.  


Read the ANALYSIS  ︎︎︎

Read the ESSAY  ︎︎︎





“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”

― Stephen Jay Gould
The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History




THE RELEVANCE OF COTTON: Contextualizing Research


  • In 2018 it was projected that 400,000 Indian cotton farmers had taken their lives since 1995. That translated to 48 suicides each day, for 23 years.
  • Cotton is considered one of the dirtiest crops–– for many reasons, however, this reality of the cotton industry also makes it one of the bloodiest crops to have existed in the world.
  • Indian cotton was a force of colonial power during the British Raj; the imperial systems that were put in place almost a century ago continue to haunt the cotton industry in India.
  • This croquet sport skirt from the Gilded Age is but a symbol of the pristine white cotton which discolors and browns over time–– the space of the skirt a battlefield for the white and brown to interact.


MORE THAN A SKIRT: Garment Design

White cotton is worn by white bodies; but this skirt, over time, with its ‘inherent vice’ shed its facade of whiteness, and became brown–– brown like the bodies that made the skirt, brown like the bodies that harvested the cotton, and brown like the bodies that deserve justice.



EMPLOYING DATA HUMANISM: Data Visualization 

This skirt is a dossier of thoughts, a parchment which served as a space for colonial catharsis. The process of archiving and cataloging through drawing, doodling, scribing, and scribbling created a map which pays homage to the 400,000 farmers who took their lives. Each of them, part of this topography which hopes to bring humanism into data representation through mapping.





A COLLABORATION ACROSS TIME AND SPACE: Design in Community 

This project was a collaboration— a collage of different bodies and hands and ideas and thoughts, culminating on the landscape of the dimity Jacquard fabric. From sitting outside the home of the slave ship owner, John Brown’s house in Providence and scribbling all over the skirt, to allowing other Brown women from the community in Rhode Island to contribute their creative hand to the contemplations on the skirt, this creation was a product of community and solidarity. However, there was collaboration not just across space, but also time. This skirt was made in collaboration with those who harvest the cotton, those who processed it, wove it, stitched it, and even she who wore it. This skirt possesses the deep material memory of its travels and histories, and the new ones which await it.




PROJECT  DETAILS


Client:
       
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design

Team:

        Kate Irvin, Anna Rose Keefe, Jessica Urick, Lisa Morgan, Yukti V. Agarwal, Natiana Fonseca

Timeline:
54 weeks (Sept ‘21 — Sept ‘22)

Tools:
Microsoft Suite, Museum Plus, Archiving Tools (Industrial Scanners, Cataloguers, etc.), Conservation Tools, Photography Tools


Exhibited at:
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design

Skills:
Museum Archiving, Cataloging, Course Development, Project Management, Proposal Writing, Conservation, Historical Research


Reflection:

Collaboration
My biggest learning during this project was that collaboration comes in many forms, and it always results in greater work and the genesis of new innovative ideas. Collaborating was a gift I was given during these months working on this project.

Disclaimer:
* THIS WORK WAS UNDERTAKEN DURING A FELLOWSHIP WITH THE RISD MUSEUM
** ALL WORK PRODUCT BELONGS TO THE RISD MUSEUM
*** CONTENT ON THIS PAGE HAS BEEN TAKEN FROM RISD MUSEUM’S WEB & ARCHIVES



︎︎︎ PREVIOUS
︎ HOME

SHUFFLE ︎
NEXT ︎︎︎

YUKTI V. AGARWAL


As a multidisciplinary thinker, my work aims to reimagine societies and futures through engaged research and purposeful design and innovation. 

︎︎︎ About


Brown | RISD Dual Degree Program

Majors 3 
    Textile Design  
    Psychology   
    Mindfulness Studies

Minor 1
    Art and Design History





TYPE
︎︎︎



SHUFFLE ︎




Current Work:
Brown + RISD Honors Thesis

How can the multisensorial design of public space facilitate moments of implicit mindfulness in momentary experiences—to develop more dispositionally mindful communities?