Patterns in our Hands workshop

29 09 2018

Catching up after a whirlwind couple of months and the beginning of the semester… but these ideas are still percolating and I expect to keep exploring them in the months ahead.

In late summer, I had the opportunity to run a workshop for 25 international artists in Berlin, on the theme of “Patterns in our Hands.” I continue to be interested in the ways that we share knowledge through our bodies, and how such embodied knowledge facilitates ways of learning that break down boundaries of gender, age, personality, and language. Donna Haraway, in Staying with the Trouble, conceptualizes string figures, or what I grew up calling string games, as a process of “giving and receiving patterns, … of relaying connections that matter, of telling stories in hand upon hand…” String games, this “rhythm of accepting and giving,” becomes a form of collective knowing, of learning and knowing together.

The International String Figure Association collects string figures from all over the world, laying out in detail how such patterns are used by children and adults, to bring good luck, or bountiful harvest, or safe passage to the afterlife. Their books, however, are full of diagrams and remarkably complex instructions for how to create each figure. How much easier, then, and more satisfying, to share the patterns hand upon hand.

So after some discussion of ideas, we turned to sharing patterns – and the joy and concentration and openness were so much more than I had expected. I saw artists rediscover knowledge in their hands from decades earlier. I saw artists who struggle with a common language learning from each other. And I saw the patterns open up space for knowledge sharing in unlikely pairings.

Thanks to Flutgraben e.V. for the space, to Kate Hilliard for her assistance, and to Jo+Michelle Piper for the photos. 



Dear Friend: a thesis in / of letters

10 07 2018

With this MFA nearly completed, I took time last month to work on the visual presentation of the thesis. My MA thesis and PhD dissertation are both hard-bound in library style, doubtless identical to every other thesis and dissertation on the shelves next to them. But this MFA thesis, about letters and care and listening and attunement, called out for something greater, something more thoughtful, more care-full.

After much deliberation, I hand-bound two copies into a Japanese stab stitch binding, which are now housed in a clamshell box. The historic stamps on the cover represent the locations of my grad school residencies – US, Germany, and Mexico.





(For anyone interested in reading the thesis-in-letters, I can send you the PDF.)

Books and Pages

31 05 2018

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been giving thought to how to more broadly conceive of “books” and “pages.” I’ve been making book-pairings to represent each of the correspondences in which I’ve been engaged over this past year, each inspired by particular words or on-going themes from our correspondences. Some look very much like books; others less so, but in those cases, the “pages” are the defining element for me.

some patriarchies don't know when to quit open view 2

some patriarchies don’t know when to quit

here january marks the beginning of spring

Here January marks the beginning of spring

the only power we ever had

the only power we ever had

Spring Speaking

13 04 2018

I’ve maybe said yes to a few too many invitations this spring, but in each case, I’ve done so because of the opportunity of spending quality time with friends and artists.

A grad school friend and I had agreed to co-chair a roundtable discussion on Experimental Writing and Arts-based Memoirs at the Transcultural Exchange conference in February in Quebec. Although he had to back out at the last minute because of a family emergency, I still attended and presented in the hopes of good discussions, time with friends, learning with and from artists, and engaging with possible new opportunities in artist residencies. And, what a lovely chance to experience the Francophone culture and a fortified old city, all amidst piles of snow.

I said yes to an invitation from the National Art Education Foundation to present about my Activism, Art, and Design class on a featured grantee panel at the National Art Education Association conference in March in Seattle. Because NAEF had supported my curriculum development with a grant that contributed significantly to the success of the class through a series of visiting artist-activists, I felt obliged to attend and to help publicize their grant program. (Good thing, too, because I read that they didn’t award some of their grants in this most recent cycle, due to lack of applications! That’s leaving money on the table and art educators should be applying.) A major draw for attending, though, was the chance to spend time with a college friend – sharing memories, discussing art and literature, cooking and eating together, etc.

And just this month I said yes to attending an accreditation and assessment conference in Chicago on behalf of my school – partly because I felt an obligation, given that we have an accreditation visit next year, and partly because it allowed me to spend time with artist friends in Chicago. Christa Donner, one of my regular correspondents, and I were invited to give a presentation and performative reading of our letters at Compound Yellow, an artist space in Oak Park. It was a lovely time of exchange and discussion, and such a different experience reading the words aloud, to each other, in front of an audience, than reading the words on a page in the privacy of home. The whole experience confirms that the thesis-in-letters I’m currently writing will exist both in writing and as a performative reading – details of that currently in progress.

Many thanks to Mary Sherman at Transcultural Exchange, Kathi Levin at NAEF, and Laura Shaeffer at Compound Yellow for the invitations that yielded such rich conversations and time together!



Some new and old friends at Compound Yellow

Lex: continuing coverage

13 03 2018

When one embarks on a research-recovery project, part of the hope is always that the research might help the subject to become better known. My exhibition and publication on German artist Alice Lex-Nerlinger are now nearly two years old, which in academic circles can feel like very old news, but I’m excited by the bits and pieces that continue to come to the surface from the project.

lex book cover preview

Jay Clarke recently wrote a lovely review of the book for Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Woman’s Art Journal (which unfortunately isn’t viewable online but they kindly sent me a PDF to share with the museum folks in Berlin).

Lynette Roth, the curator of Inventur: Art in Germany 1943-55, currently on view at the Harvard Art Museums, saw the Lex show back in 2016 and subsequently included Lex in her curatorial project. I won’t get to see the show but I hope to see the catalogue soon.

And there’s a lovely tribute to Lex’s work on the site On This Date in Photography, full of images.

Paper / Work Exhibition

12 03 2018

Many thanks to Abigail Yoder of the Saint Louis Art Museum for jurying my tunnel book into this exhibition of art made of / on paper. Although I couldn’t attend the exhibition in person, it was lovely to get the catalogue in the mail and see the wide variety of two- and three-dimensional work, and the many ways that artists are working with paper.

dear julia

Dear Julia, tunnel book with monotype printing and cut paper, 4×6″


Taking Care: a beginning

2 03 2018

07_Buller_Rachel_Taking Care project launch

Dear friends,

I am writing to you with an invitation. As many of you know, I am in the midst of an extended project that explores letter-writing as an act of relational care, a vehicle for listening, a mode of attunement, in past present and future contexts. The correspondences have so far left their traces in a variety of forms – letterpress and monotype prints, audio narratives, artist books – and I am about to embark on an iteration in embroidery.

Taking Care will be a letter- and thread-based project of listening. I’ve seen so clearly these last many months that letters are not only a way of exchanging thoughts and ideas but also a form of active listening. As I wrote to a friend recently, I now see letters as an invitation to listen, almost a contractual agreement of care – a promise that I will listen to you if you take the time, take the risk, to share your thoughts with me. I have also experienced a clear connection between processes of handwork and labors of listening. During this last year I’ve been spending time with elders at an assisted living facility, in a weekly gathering whose attendees crochet, embroider, knit, color, and simultaneously offer care to each other through the generous act of listening, in much the style of sewing circles or quilting bees. In both letters and handwork, the invitation to listen is, I believe, directly connected to a slowing down, a taking time to take care, and this is precisely what I want to reflect in this next stage of my work.

Taking Care will focus on how we receive and remember acts of care, large and small. I invite you to remember a time when you felt genuinely cared for by another person, and I offer to listen to you. If you choose to share this experience with me, I invite you to write me a letter (or an email, if that seems more feasible to you), recounting in as much detail as you wish how you experienced this gesture of care. As part of my listening, I will embroider some of your words, selecting particular phrases that evoke the giving and receiving of care. I feel it important, along with the intimate act of listening, to make these words publicly visible in a concrete way – for we all know how often such caring labors remain unseen and undervalued. If you choose to write a letter by hand (mailing address below), I will embroider your words in a replication of your handwritten script. And if you choose to share an experience with me but prefer not to have any of the words made visible, I will honor that.

As I receive your stories of care from the past, I will also offer you, in exchange, some words of care for the future (so please include your mailing address if you wish to receive these by post).

Thank you in advance for considering this, for your time in listening to me and caring for me across time and space. I hope to reciprocate the labors.

Take care,