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This fall has the masses anxious about "the swine," with college students in particular trying to avoid the H1N1 flu. But for the Hillel Gallery Project — a committee of Brown and Rhode Island School of Design students responsible for organizing art exhibitions at Hillel — the looming flu season turned out to be a source of inspiration, not just rattled nerves.

"Contagious," the committee's fall juried show, emerged from a search for ideas that would be "pertinent" to the present time and for "issues at stake at this moment," said JungMin Lee '11, co-chair of the Hillel Gallery Project. The theme incorporates current worries about both the H1N1 and seasonal influenza viruses as well as thoughts about what Lee called an "interconnected world," where information and knowledge (as well as germs) can spread incredibly quickly.

The show features around 25 works by 19 student artists — 11 from Brown and eight from RISD. The works themselves are a mix of traditional and more unusual techniques, including paintings and digital photographs, as well as installations and a body cast.

Richard Eder, an arts critic for the New York Times and a visiting lecturer at Brown, juried the show.

"Contagious" begins in the hallway that leads from the main Brown-RISD Hillel lobby and continues into the social hall. Painting and photography are the most common media, making up at least one-third of the works in the show.

"Myths of the Near Future," an intaglio print by RISD junior Whitney Alsup; and "Karma #1," a pen, marker and pencil illustration on foam core by Affandi Setiawan, also a RISD junior, are both notable for their intricacy. The former, a detailed portrait of animal-like humans dancing by a fire, possesses the strange and lovely air of a Grimm fairy tale. "Karma #1," a brighter and more abstract work, serves as the eye-catching opener for the show itself.

The hallway also offers several photographs and a brightly colored piece made of knitted squares and found socks, as well as the body cast mentioned earlier. That piece, called "My Sweet," is a life-cast made of silicone rubber, hanging upside-down with the groin at eye level for maximum shock value. Needless to say, it dominates the hallway space.

The second, larger room of the show hosts the rests of the works — among them, a series of photographs, several paintings and a couple of large installations. "Coupling," a sculpture of concrete, nylon, sand and black resin by Cecilia Salama '12, combines stark beauty with a suggestion of bodily discharge, making a strong contrast to the quieter, more muted painting "Olive Tree #3" by Melissa Henry '10.

Against the back wall, RISD junior Alex Temple's installation "O' sweet Amelia, where has all the time gone…?" stands out in particular. Built with steel, leather, dirt, leaves, a dog leash and a Gucci bag, the work evokes a quiet desolation even in the midst of the bright room.

With some of the works in "Contagious," it's a stretch to make a connection to the show's stated theme. That isn't necessarily a drawback. The Hillel Gallery Project and Eder have succeeded in both lightly connecting the works to each other and leaving them free to stand on their own, a difficult balance to achieve.


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