Artist and Nasher staffer, Rachel Rushing, is spending her time in isolation thinking of what it means to work—as an artist, as a citizen, and as a steward of nature—with this rich and tangled reading list that includes the likes of artists and educators Michelle Grabner and Pablo Helguera to Henry David Thoreau and Charlotte Bronte.
Now that we’re all required to be “still”, I’ve been thinking a lot about labor.
- Labor movements of history
- Unseen labor
- Hidden/obscured labor
- Current definitions of essential labor
- Labor in the home, a place I’ve often resisted in order to assert and understand myself in the world
- Labor in the earth
- Labor of the earth
- Collective labor in projects like wikipedia
- The qualities of labor- repetition, balance, rhythm, movement, unity, harmony, chaos & contrast…
- Labor can be a synonym for care.
- Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ “Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969!” and “Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Outside” (1973)
- Different kinds of labor – breathing has 2 parts, both are necessary- inhalation and exhalation, contraction and relaxation, inspiration and expiration.
At any given point I tend to have a collection of books that I have either
- read and continue to reference
- pick up and put down repeatedly
- read completely through
- and think about before reading
My current reading list contains each of these categories and answers the questions:
- What encourages me?
- What soothes me?
- What challenges or inspires me?
The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists edited by Michelle Grabner, Mary Jane Jacob
- As I’m rethinking my relationship to the space and people around me, I’m reminded of this collection of essays—thoughts on how artists think about their studio spaces—from “In Conversation” by John Baldessari to “Studio Unbound” by Lane Reylea. Our surroundings can be a kind of channel for thinking, making, and doing… or undoing.
Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things by Jane Bennett
- I haven't made it through this yet, but I'm interested in her project. She proposes that everything, all organic and inorganic forms, hold a “vital materiality” or agency, and how we understand and react to the world would change if we understood the different agencies surrounding and acting upon us.
You're More Powerful Than You Think by Eric Liu
- Liu succinctly works through many of the challenges to civic engagement and comes out on the other side with tools and encouragement for collective strength.
Artistic Citizenship: A Public Voice for the Arts by Mary Schmidt Campbell and Randy Martin
- As a social practice artist, I’ve been working for a few years now to consider the impact of art on civic life, especially how arts processes can be employed as tools for developing social cohesion and collective action. I’m hoping this book might add some perspective.
Education for Socially Engaged Art by Pablo Helguera
- An approachably written, though brief, overview of the history, structure, and pedagogy of what goes by many names, whether that’s socially engaged art or social practice, this books trains a critical eye on the nature and value of artist intent.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
- Jane was always inspiring to me from the first time I read her as a teenager. Her determination and honesty has been something I've always held onto. “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me…”
Maya Angelou: The Complete Collected Poems
- Angelou's voice combines vulnerability, honesty, humor, and strength in a way I have found comforting in challenging times. Poems like Call Letters: Mrs V.B. taught me to remember bold self-assurance when I need it most.
Sure I’ll sail them.
Show me the boat,
If it’ll float,
I’ll sail it.
Yes, I’ll love them.
If they’ve got the style,
To make me smile,
I’ll love them.
‘Course I’ll live it.
Let me have breath,
Just to my death,
And I’ll live it.
I’m not ashamed to tell it,
I never learned to spell it.
The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv
- Louv has made a career of studying the effects of nature (and its deficit) on the brain. Super interesting and encouraging to listen to the natural world more and rethink what types of environmental relationships we consider necessary.
The Natural History Essays by Henry David Thoreau
- Works of fiction help develop empathy in readers. Essays on nature, like these by Thoreau, help me develop a sense of calm and appreciation my environment—an organic empathy.
The Good Gardener edited by Annette Giesecke and Naomi Jacobs
- “To garden is to “cultivate”, and to “cultivate” is to “dwell” (p16). A collection of essays working through the ways we relate to the dirt and life around us.
Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor edited by Nina Stritzler-Levine
- Thinking back to labor, I love this catalog of small weavings by Hicks. By nature, weaving feels like the rhythm of breathing. That inherent flow combined with Hicks explorations in texture and color results in a collection of works in which “thought” and “process” run parallel to each other, until they become the same thing.