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"Wendy Richmond: Navigating the Personal Bubble" opens at the RISD Museum of Art
Wendy Richmond, Study for Alone in Public, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

PROVIDENCE, RI.- The Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design announces the exhibition Wendy Richmond: Navigating the Personal Bubble, featuring new works by multimedia artist Wendy Richmond. Navigating the Personal Bubble opening to the public on Friday, May 25, 2012.

“Wendy Richmond’s exploration of ‘public privacy’ is surprisingly revealing of the ways in which we interact and communicate in this digital age,” says Museum Director John W. Smith. “We’re excited to share her observations and discoveries in this video installation created specifically for the RISD Museum’s Spalter New Media Gallery.”

Richmond documents and exposes how portable digital technology creates mobile zones of privacy—what the artist calls “personal bubbles”—that change the social experience of being in public. “A primary aspect of public privacy is how we use personal technology to create a cocoon when we’re in public spaces,” Richmond explains.

Earlier this year, Richmond investigated the notion of public privacy in a six-week winter session course with RISD graduate students. The progression of ideas developed in the class became the starting point for her three-channel video installation, Alone in Public (2012), created for the RISD Museum exhibition.

Alone in Public is a compilation of short video portraits depicting Richmond’s friends and acquaintances working on their laptops alone in cafés, libraries, and other public settings, with footage captured by their computers’ built-in cameras. The individual portraits were submitted to the artist upon request, forming the source material she combined and edited into three looped video projections. Building on observations made in Alone in Public and inspired by Richmond’s background in dance, a vinyl wall text component piece, Gestures (2012), conveys a taxonomy of behaviors specific to the personal bubble. The choreography of gestures listed on the wall and seen concomitantly in the videos reflects the artist’s desire to find “commonality and mutual awareness through physical movements.”

Richmond says she first noticed the personal bubble phenomenon in 2004, while commuting between coasts and waiting in airports. She observed fellow travelers carve out their personal zones in these public spaces by talking on cell phones, working on laptops, reading e-books, and playing video games.

“We were all engaged in our own internal worlds, temporarily oblivious to what was going on around us,” she recalls. She soon began surreptitiously documenting these personal zones, taking notice of how individual behaviors might change depending on the setting or whether they seem to stay constant across locales. She also became aware of how age, gender, urban environments, and the larger culture shape personal bubbles. Much of her work since that time has explored these issues of public privacy and the use of personal technology in contemporary culture.

Wendy Richmond is a visual artist, author and educator. After graduating from Wesleyan University in 1975 with a background in dance, fine art, and graphic design, Richmond began mixing traditional media with new technology while collaborating with programmers at MIT. She later co-founded the Design Lab at WGBH, Boston, and developed courses in expression and media at Harvard University. Richmond is a contributing editor for Communication Arts magazine, where her column Design Culture has appeared regularly since 1984. She received her master’s degree in art from New York University in 1999 and is the recipient of a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center residency, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, an LEF Foundation grant, and the Hatch Award for Creative Excellence. Her books include Design & Technology: Erasing the Boundaries (1990), overneath (2002), and Art Without Compromise* (2009). Her recent exhibitions include Public Privacy: Wendy Richmond’s Surreptitious Cellphone (Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, 2007); Public Privacy (Carroll & Sons, Boston, 2009); and Overheard (gallery@calit2, University of California, San Diego, 2010).

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