Her Majesty, the Mermaid Queen has recently returned from a temporary exile to Laugarvatn, Iceland. If I know her, she made the most of her time away, using the time to lay the groundwork for the expansion of her watery empire. World domination is the only option.
Rachel Rader, the queen’s creator, is a mover and a shaker. She’s the perfect poster child for organizations like Pratt, Pilchuck, and now the Gullkistan artist residency program: she works hard and makes the most of every opportunity to develop her art work and move her career forward. I got to know Rachel through our mutual involvement with Pratt Fine Arts Center, where over the course of just a few years, Rachel was a staff member, a popular flameworking instructor, a scholarship recipient, a youth program coordinator, a studio renter, a volunteer, and one of the first artists to be given a solo show at the Pratt Gallery in the Tashiro Kaplan building.
Rachel’s show at the Pratt Gallery was this past March, and to give you some idea of how long I’ve been toying with the idea of starting this blog, I wrote a post about it while it was still on display. The show was great, and deserves as much recognition as possible, so I’ll share some of what I wrote then, now:
Rachel Rader’s exhibition, Her Majesty, is presented as an imaginary museum exhibition showcasing relics from a long-lost, underwater society ruled by an all-powerful queen with a proclivity for decadence that would have rivaled that of Marie Antoinette.
The show is made up of two separate “museum installations.” To the right of the entrance, a block of vinyl wall text describes the ancient society, its ruler, and their mutual fate. Just beyond it, a formal display of the Mermaid Queen’s crown jewels, presented atop silk pillows and situated on imposing-looking pedestals, is accompanied by a portrait of the Queen in all her finery. To the left, a scene from the Queen’s lair is recreated, with a wildly extravagant feast of squishy looking sea-creature-cakes laid out before an empty, seashell-shaped throne. The individual pieces that make up Rader’s displays are made using a variety of glass working techniques: the platters on which the feast is laid out are sand cast, the delicacies are sculpted in the hotshop, and the crown jewels are flameworked and beaded, making it clear that Rachel is a real renaissance woman when it comes to glass.
The exhibition overall feels like a fairy tale, a childhood fantasy made real, with more than a hint of creepiness. The work is cute, pink, and bubbly, yet at the same time grotesque. The Queen’s decadent cakes are ornately decorated, and piled high on their platters in such a way that they seem on the verge of collapsing under their own weight. I feel simultaneously drawn in by their intricate detail and delicacy, and repulsed by their slimy, bloated forms. Rachel is careful to avoid confirming or denying any specific interpretation of the work, especially where the Queen’s character is concerned, but admits that she did intend the decadence represented in the exhibition to parallel the excess and waste that surround us in our own society, and to suggest that our actions may be taking a toll on our planet in ways that we may not be aware of at this point.
They say that in a dream, every character represents some aspect of the dreamer. This exhibition is Rachel’s dream. She is the queen, she is the people, she is the creator of the land and the story, she is the archaeologist who has unearthed the artifacts, and the representative of the museum that presents them. Always creative and committed, Rachel played the role of a curator at the opening reception for the show. She rarely broke character, and all evening she could be overheard explaining the various objects to visitors with the characteristic reverence and fascination you might expect of a graduate student expounding on her thesis topic. The stories took on a life of their own, and at times, Rachel seemed just as fascinated by the telling of the tales as her audience.
Rachel moved to Seattle from Virginia almost 5 years ago after an especially magical experience at Pilchuck Glass School, and with her infections smile and generous spirit, she quickly became a fixture in Seattle’s glass community. Rader describes the process of preparing for Her Majesty as being an amazing journey, supported by the community and by her friends. Most of the work for the show was made at Pratt, the result of having received the organization’s coveted Jon and Mary Shirley Scholarship in Glass. In addition to volunteering their time to assist in making the work, Rachel’s friends helped with many of the details that made the show so special: creating beautiful letterpress invitations, painting the gallery walls late into the night, helping to write press materials and wall text, and making the delicious sea-inspired appetizers that were served at the opening.
You can read more about Rachel and the inspiration behind the work in a 3 Questions feature on Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet.
The Gulkistan Residency was a great opportunity for Rachel, since she has had a long fascination for Iceland and its culture, especially as expressed by their popular musicians. It started when she was in 7th grade and heard Bjork for the first time on her friend’s disc man. “Bjork lead me to Sigur Ros, Mum, Emiliana Torrini, and GusGus,” Rachel says. “As my obsession grew, I became more and more curious about what made Icelandic music so special. When I started looking into it I found images of volcanoes and stories of vikings. I had to go. It turned out to be better than I could have ever imagined! I saw things in Iceland that will inspire me for the rest of my life.”
Rachel is now safely back in Seattle, but I highly recommend checking out the entries she made in her blog during her residency at Gullkistan. The images are beautiful, and you can really see the influence of the colorful, quiet landscapes in her new work. I can’t wait to see where she goes with it.