New alt_space Exhibition in May April 13 2019

Rachel Simmons
The Language of Watching

On Exhibit: May 4 - June 15, 2019
Opening Reception: Saturday, May 4, 4-7 PM
Artists Talk: Friday, May 17, 11 AM

Rachel Simmons


Orlando artist and Rollins College professor Rachel Simmons has explored human relationships with the natural world through her active studio practice since 2000. For this exhibition, The Language of Watching, Simmons reflects on this complex relationship through the history and culture of birdwatching. 

This work emerged from Simmons’ time as an artist-in-residence at Karen Kunc’s Constellation Studios in Lincoln, Nebraska. Simmons began interviewing birders around Lincoln who had experienced the annual mass migration of sandhill cranes, and quickly discovered a community with a strong passion for birding, which led her to investigate a range of historical and contemporary perspectives surrounding birdwatching. 

Simmons presents her work through a range of creative methodologies from hand-bound artist’s books and letterpress broadsides to collaborative printmaking projects.  In her series Bird Song Broadsides, Simmons explores bird mnemonics, phrases created to help birders remember a bird’s rhythm, pitch and tempo as part of the identification process. For these text-images, Simmons examined a range of historical and contemporary bird guides and became interested in how “these little catch phrases reveal much about the values and perspectives of the birdwatchers who wrote them and their intended audience.”  To explore this connection between language and nature, Simmons uses printmaking processes such as letterpress, screen printing and cyanotype to create text-images that invite consideration of the sound and shape of the language used to describe bird songs. She states, “Using typefaces from the 1800s and a blocky repetitive pattern underneath suggest the current timeline in human evolution as we move towards life in urban environments, while also reminding us that we interact with nature every day through our encounters with birds.”

Simmons is also exhibiting FLOCK, an ongoing socially engaged project that began in 2015. This project “draws connections between birdwatching and our broader cultural values through collaboration, community dialogue, and printmaking.”  For this project, Simmons has engaged participants in bird watching activities while also discussing various perceptions of birds found in historical field guides.  The participants then explore printmaking to create bird silhouettes that incorporate colors and patterns influenced by discussions and activities, as well as the urban environments in which many interact with birds.  Simmons elaborates, “while the physical prints are one outcome of this project, I value the collaborative making and discussion even more than the prints themselves, and I see the prints as artifacts of this process. This comes from my genuine interest in getting to know people through how they see nature – a process which helps me understand my own relationship with nature.” 

About the Artist

Rachel Simmons is an artist-educator who teaches foundations, printmaking and book arts at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Rachel began teaching at Rollins in 2000 after earning her MFA in Painting & Drawing from Louisiana State University. Her diverse practice is informed by the tensions surrounding globalization, ecotourism, activism, climate change & sustainability. In Rachel’s socially engaged art projects, she asks community participants to think critically and creatively about our relationship with nature.

Endlessly curious about the natural world and our relationship with it, Rachel often collaborates with scholars from other academic disciplines and members of her community to create new work. Current collaborative projects include the environmental graphic narrative Future Bear with historian Julian Chambliss, and Visible Climate, an examination of climate change in the National Parks with geographer Lee Lines. She has traveled to Antarctica, Iceland, Namibia, the Galapagos Islands and many of the US National Parks to research environmental issues pertaining to these projects.

Rachel's work is included in the Lawrence University Special Book Collection, The Jacqueline Bradley and Clarence Otis, Jr. Collection, the Art Collection of Valencia College, The Bush Science Center at Rollins College, The Orange County Regional History Center and several other 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.