A photo of the Donor Wall Art Installation in the lobby at CIIS in San Francisco.
Arts at CIIS News

With Gratitude An Installation

Honoring CIIS’ Lifetime Donors

Alice Lin December 14, 2022

CIIS is a university with a unique range of studies and distinct culture embodied by the word transformation. Our community honors the past while seeking new directions, and respects boundaries while seeking to dissolve the barriers that divide us from one another and from our planet. “In Gratitude” attempts to embody this inclusive and generous spirit that so many donors have graciously helped to cultivate over the decades. The installation purposely has empty areas for moments of quiet and the potential for future growth.

On Materials. Nature plays a strong role in CIIS culture. The CIIS community seeks to understand nature, takes inspiration and guidance from it, and strives to maintain balance with it. There was no doubt that a donor wall for CIIS must incorporate natural elements. Wood is associated with warmth; it imparts the feeling of welcome and home that CIIS has provided for so many people over the decades. Rock generally serves as a counter to wood; its hardness is associated with strength and coolness. These particular rocks were hand selected for their colors — orange and purple are colors that have been part of CIIS branding for years; magenta is the color of transformation.

On Space. When tasked with designing a donor recognition wall for CIIS, one of the first questions was, “Does it need to be a wall?” The wall slated for the donor honorifics was part of a sunny alcove in a highly visible and high traffic area. CIIS’ culture of fully immersing the self seemed to call out for an installation beyond the 2D surface, for an encompassing embodied experience that would encourage visitors to linger and contemplate. CIIS is a place of welcome and engaged wisdom. I wanted the installation to utilize both walls of the alcove, giving a sense of expansiveness and immersing the viewer. Additionally, shifting the installation onto two walls makes it viewable to people passing through the building as well as to the street. 

On Form. Years ago I admired the new 3D tiles that were appearing in contemporary interior designs; this was the perfect opportunity to utilize them. While names on tiles are the typical way of recognizing donors, these 3D tiles would bring in an unusual touch of modernity. The subtle shift in depth and the curved shape would create the sensation of water gently rippling (a motif also in CIIS’ new logo coming in 2023). The modularity would allow for tiles to be easily added above, below, or even around the corner in the future, seamlessly blending our past, present, and future community of donors.

The Giving Garden portion of the installation grew from a separate concept proposal, but now seems an inseparable complement to the tiles. Taking inspiration from Asian arts, the Giving Garden’s rocks and sands don’t adhere to any particular tradition, but rather explore the materials and repeat the motif of serene, organic movement. The components and shape of the Giving Garden are intended to change over time to accommodate the growing ideas and support of CIIS.

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