Rachel Epp Buller’s master’s thesis exhibit, “Listening Across Time,” in the Regier Gallery through Nov. 2, is built on a foundation of letters, and caring with words.
When she began working on her Master of Fine Arts degree about two years ago, Epp Buller says it didn’t take long to identify what the focus of her work would be.
The associate professor of visual art and design at Bethel College is making her first public presentation of that work – she completed the MFA in creative practice from Plymouth University’s Transart Institute in August – at Bethel’s Regier Gallery.
Regier Gallery hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 2-4 p.m. (closed for Bethel’s fall break Oct. 14, 15 and 16). There is no admission charge.
While “visual” art implies the act of looking, Epp Buller’s master’s thesis work is – as the exhibit title indicates – as much or more about listening.
The exhibit’s foundation is hand-written letters, which have inspired drawings, letterpress prints, photographs, artist books, audio recordings and embroidery, along with epistolary texts themselves – all of them found in “Listening Across Time.”
“Letters are a big part of my family heritage,” Epp Buller says. “I come from a long line of letter writers.
“There is something about writing by hand that forces slowing down,” she says. The slowing is physical because of the action involved, and in addition causes “giving more thought to the words.”
She continues, “The words we use with each other are important. Letters are the documentation we have from the past, from our families and in archives. We use similar kinds of words both to evoke the past and speak to the future.”
As her artist statement indicates, “Listening Across Time” represents an exploration of “letter-writing as an act of relational care, in past, present and future contexts.”
For the “past,” Epp Buller created photographs, artist books and letterpress prints that connect to letters exchanged among a trio of sisters from the past.
Sculptural book pairings and embroidery were sparked by a series of present-day handwritten correspondences between Epp Buller and a dozen colleagues and friends in different parts of the world, wrestling together with ideas.
Finally, a set of “letters to the future” take shape through drawings and audio recordings. “There is a big difference between reading and hearing the same words,” Epp Buller says.
“In each part of the trilogy,” she says, “I give thought to how both words and traditions of making are passed between generations, transferred between hands and bodies, in intimate settings.”
There is even a participatory aspect to “Listening Across Time.” Another of Epp Buller’s projects is called “Taking Care,” involving letters and thread, and the contributions of other artists in addition to her.
Part of the project will be on display in the gallery, with viewers invited to participate by writing Epp Buller a letter about an act of care they received.
“Through these many correspondences across time,” Epp Buller says in her artist statement, “I have come to think of letters not only as a way of exchanging thoughts and ideas but also as a form of active listening … [that] is directly connected to a slowing down, a taking time to take care… . Through the art, I draw attention to the ways we care for each other with our words.”
Epp Buller has taught art and art history at Bethel College since 2012. This fall, the Kansas Art Education Association named her its Outstanding Art Educator-Higher Education for 2018-19.
In 2017, Epp Buller received Bethel’s Ralph P. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to teaching, based largely on peer recommendations and student evaluations.
In addition to the MFA, Epp Buller has a B.A. (with a triple major, in art, history and German) from Bethel College and an M.A. and Ph.D., both in art history, from the University of Kansas.
While completing her graduate degrees, Epp Buller secured three different fellowships, including serving as a graduate fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Her Ph.D. dissertation was on the work of three women artists and political activists in Weimar (post-World War I) Germany.
Epp Buller received a Fulbright Fellowship in 2011 or further study on one of the artists, Alice Lex, which she conducted mostly in Berlin.
That research culminated in the first-ever retrospective of Lex’s work in April 2016 at Das Verborgene Museum in Berlin and in the publication of Epp Buller’s book Alice Lex-Nerlinger: Fotomonteurin und Malerin/Photomontage Artist and Painter (Lukas Verlag, 2016).
Her other books include Reconciling Art and Mothering (as editor; Ashgate, 2012) and Mothering Mennonite (as co-editor; Demeter, 2013).
Bethel College is the only Kansas private college listed in Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section for 2018-19. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.
Bethel College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, parental or marital status, gender identity, gender expression, medical or genetic information, ethnic or national origins, citizenship status, veteran or military status or disability. E-mail questions to TitleIXCoordinator@bethelks.edu. –Melanie Zuercher