Fev 29th 2016 RISD Hot Seat


Eva Sutton

is the current Head of the Photography Department at RISD. Her inter-disciplinary background involves mathematics, fine arts, architecture, computer science, computer art, and photography. Prior to becoming an artist she was a software engineer working in biotechnology and large-scale database management. Her current work focuses on diasporic populations of people who have left their homes as refugees, and the ad-hoc, vernacular architecture that displaced people build in squatter communities.  


          Continuous, focused persistence despite setbacks is important. If you aren’t persistent it will be hard to continue to grow as an artist. I tell my students that you have to be willing to knock on many doors and be flexible in finding multiple ways forward. There is always another way! There will be impasses and times of confusion during any project and during your career. That’s natural and you have to expect it. You have to be able to live with doubt, because as an artist you’re exploring, experimenting—you don’t know the outcome when you’re making something new. Doubt is a part of that. When that moment of doubt comes, make a mental note of it, recognize it as part of the process and continue. Clarity will come. Goals can be reached, but it takes persistence and the ability to tolerate doubt. Also, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you DO anything, you’ll make mistakes. Fix them and move on.

          I’ve always been one of those people who couldn’t decide whether I was more interested in art or science and through the use of technology in my work, I don’t have to make that choice. I love coding. I feel that software has an aesthetic, a potential elegance, almost like poetry. It can be very personal—very expressive of the coder’s personality. When you read what someone has written and the logic is clear and precise—that’s beautiful! I never studied computers because I was being strategic about getting a job or being marketable. I was just curious about what you could do with them and I still am, since technology is changing all the time. Writing software and designing architecture are very similar to me. The difference is that architecture is about physical structures and software is about virtual ones, but they’re both systems which have an internal logic and which take on form. Photographs have structure and form as well. Early on in my life, I gave myself permission to meander through different disciplines as I pleased and this has resulted in a hybrid practice. I prefer to see connections, rather than boundaries.

          RISD is a quirky place. It’s a bunch of people coming together to create an institution that purposefully puts art and design center stage--its reason for being. At RISD, art and design aren’t marginalized as an add-on, something on the periphery of something else, but the core focus. RISD is very tolerant of difference, strangeness, quirkiness. It celebrates it. As an artist, I find that incredibly validating and empowering. In my experience here, it’s also a fundamentally humane place. By that I mean that RISD truly does value the uniqueness in people, their particular way of thinking and being.

          Personal wish? I would love to work more closely with the people in the squatter communities which I’ve photographed, particularly those in Cambodia. I can imagine living and working alongside the people in these communities. They would have so much to teach me about being creative--making things out of nothing. Americans often pride themselves on being inventive—and we are, but when you can build a functional house literally from garbage, something that weathers torrential rain during the rainy season and baking heat during the dry season—now that’s impressive! The use of found materials in these squatter communities is unbelievably resourceful! I’d love to have people like that teach me how they see and think. It would broaden my perception immensely. 

          Hmmm…I would probably ask Liliane to think out loud about how architecture can play a role in solving some of the world’s great problems, like the massive population growth of cities due to urban migration or the habitat loss of coastal populations due to climate change. As a corollary, I’d also be interested to hear her thoughts on what the role of an architect is in solving problems that are this complex. When does an architect become and an activist? And since big problems always have a political component, when does an architect become a politician?



RISD Hot Seat with Lilane Wong

RISD Hot Seat homepage

RISD Hot Seat is a student-hosted interview getting to know individuals at RISD led by two GSA leaders, Yu Cao and Rebecca Buglio. 

Through understanding the unique perspectives and interests each individual contributes, and asking about the ins and outs of different programs, our goal is to bridge conversations between graduate students, faculty, and staff to build a stronger, interdisciplinary graduate community at RISD. Weekly interviews with RISD faculty and staff in each department will be sent out each Monday as a conversational article to the graduate student body via email, and will be posted on here on the GSA’s website and Facebook page.