Artist, Orlando, FL
I search for ways to communicate my boundless curiosity about the natural world. I am drawn to interdisciplinary fields which looks at the intersections between politics, culture and sustainability, environmental science. Art is the ideal vehicle to express the tensions we find at those intersections.
Artist Statement: Throughout my career as an artist-educator, I have searched for ways to communicate my boundless curiosity about the natural world. As it must be with most intellectual pursuits, every time I learn something new, it only fuels my desire to know more. Trained as an interdisciplinary scholar in my undergraduate years, I am still drawn to a wide variety of research interests beyond visual art. In particular, as an interdisciplinary field which looks at the intersections between politics, culture and sustainability, environmental science has always captivated my imagination. To me, art is the ideal vehicle to express the tensions we find at those intersections.
Traveling has also broadened my perspective; I have developed bodies of work around different topics rooted in an exploration of our relationship with nature. In 2006, I began thinking more and more about the declining health of the oceans, witnessed first-hand on trips to the Pacific islands of Galápagos and Hawaii; and in response I made a body of work titled Wonders of the Sea. Later, after two consecutive voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula, I shifted my focus towards studying the effects of ecotourism, climate change and exploration on the polar landscape in Terra Nova. In a more recent project, titled Mass Migrations, my aim is once again to explore our relationship to nature, this time through the fascinating subculture of birdwatching. To work effectively in such a wide-ranging manner, with so many perspectives and disciplines in the mix, I often collaborate with colleagues in other fields who also see art as an exciting platform for interdisciplinary research and social change. Projects with physicist Thomas Moore, environmental scientist Lee Lines and historian Julian Chambliss and others, have challenged us to face our cultural assumptions about artists and scientists, and to create work that blurs the boundaries of our disciplines.
There is another essential ingredient in my work––community. To engage viewers as active participants, I have been practicing socially engaged art since I began teaching. Printmakers are by nature collaborative people anyway. We share communal work spaces and equipment; we have always been at the heart of spreading thoughts and ideas to the masses. As a contemporary artist, I use printmaking in equal ways to communicate, build community and inspire social change. Almost every project I start has a social component, whether I am working directly with others to make a flock of bird prints or whether I am teaching my students how to design an SEA project themselves.
Aside from their inherent connections to community-building, printmaking and book arts are important to my practice because I am drawn to the beautiful and complex relationship between text and image. I have always been a writer——keeping daily journals, travel journals and altering books since I was young. Working with letterpress allows me to feel text as a physical material; choosing each metal or wooden letter with my hands slows my thinking, allowing time to consider the visual and physical weight of the word I am spelling. I integrate text into almost everything I make, from the Future Bear comic to erasure poems to altered books and visual journals. It is absolutely at the heart of my practice—as essential to my ability to express myself as my relationships with my collaborators and my students.
Speaker Bio: Rachel Simmons is an artist-educator who teaches foundations, printmaking and book arts at Rollins College, an innovative liberal arts institution founded in 1885 in Winter Park, Florida. Rachel began teaching at Rollins in 2000 after earning her MFA from Louisiana State University the previous year. Her diverse practice, based primarily in drawing, printmaking and book arts, is informed by tensions surrounding globalization, ecotourism, climate change and the need for sustainability. In her socially engaged art projects, she asks community participants to think critically and creatively about our relationship with nature.
Rachel’s community-based work has been recognized by Florida Campus Compact and she currently serves as the Director of Living Learning Communities and Ward Faculty-in-Residence at Rollins. In this role, she lives on campus and serves first year students through programming which explores academic and professional pathways to becoming creative problem solvers of the future.
Rachel also travels and collaborates with scholars outside of her field to create interdisciplinary projects which combine visual art, science and even science fiction. For these projects and others, she has traveled to Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, Hawaii and Iceland to study ecotourism and the impact of human development on the landscape. Her most recent journey took her to Namibia, an emerging economy on the African continent, to better understand the impact ecotourism is having on cultures, societies, ecosystems and landscapes.
Rachel's work is included in the Jacqueline Bradley and Clarence Otis, Jr. Collection, and the Collection of Valencia College, Rollins College and several private collections. Her work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally at venues such as The American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Washington, D.C. and at the Gullkistan Residency for Creative People, in Laugarvatn, Iceland. Rachel’s current project, Mass Migrations, explores the particularities of our human relationship with birds as a symbol of nature and invites participants to become collaborators through an ever-expanding collection of prints called Flock.
Sponsored by: The Paper Fox Printmaking Workshop, Roy H. Stark Art Collaboration Fund, and the Art & Art History Department