Trauma. Resilience. Strength. Vital themes for any artwork, but heavy. They were so heavy for Rachel Linnemann at the beginning of the pandemic that she had to shift her focus to something lighter. More fun. Playful, even.
Plus she lost her studio space during the pandemic, so her primary artistic medium—bronze casting—was literally heavy. It was too much to do anywhere else.
Linnemann turned instead to what she calls in her artist’s statement “visual joy,” a theme she brings to her educational residency at the Contemporary Arts Center that kicked off last week and extends through February. The “educational” portion of the residency mean she needs what amounts to lesson plans for the public. As she works, community members can stop by from 4 to 7 p.m. most Wednesdays and Fridays (the holidays mess with the schedule a little) to make a small sculpture with found objects and Linnemann as their guide.
The themes of these pieces, that ideas came out of her pandemic shift, are centered around self-pride, gratitude, resilience, and joy. “I had this moment where all I wanted was joy,” she says. “I couldn’t meet with family. I was living on my own for the first time.”
And then there was all that bread. “My sister, during the first part of lockdown, would get bread from Mom,” says Linnemann. “Mom would chuck her a loaf of bread [to stay socially distant] and my sister, from a distance, would chuck me a loaf of bread. There was this outpouring of love from family. It reminded me of all these stories I heard growing up.”
Linnemann grew up in Bethel on a farm that’s been in her family since after the Revolutionary War. “Hardship was always partnered with gratitude growing up,” she says. “During the beginning part of the pandemic, the entire world was experiencing hardship that I felt like family members and rural communities had faced for generations—food insecurity, job loss. I really felt obligated to show the world through my artwork that hardship can be partnered with gratitude.”
The themes also answered the question Who is essential? Consider Linnemann’s piece titled “We Are the Champions,” which has a caution-yellow mop bucket full of gold-painted trophies. Linnemann, who earned her master’s degree in fine art this year from the University of Cincinnati, interviewed essential workers for her thesis project. Hospital employees praised the janitorial staff, and yet much of society overlooked—and continue to overlook—their vital role of cleanliness during the pandemic.
Or what about “Take a Bow,” which features two shopping carts on their ends. They seem to be bowing to one another, and they’re connected by a bridge of colorful gift bows. The bows—she cast more than 100 from plaster and also used some ready-made ones—are placed in the carts’ swinging baskets, unsecured. So if you remove one, a bunch will fall.
“What are our actions during the pandemic?” she says her piece is asking. “What unforeseen consequences do we have? Also, the bow is meant to be this celebratory moment acknowledging grocery workers and also acknowledging what we’ve all gone through during the pandemic and what we’re still facing.”
Check out Linnemann’s Instagram account for more images of her work.