Transcript – Rachel Church – Without Borders 2020 Thesis & COVID-19 Response

My thesis project is looking at material culture, particularly food and cookbooks, to investigate issues of gender and domesticity. My research into cookbooks has played a big role. Cookbooks have historically been used to create community. They’ve historically been used to both create and preserve a cultural feminine ideal. And in many cases, they’re the only primary source documentation we have of women’s lives in certain periods. So, these things have all informed my work as a book artist working with issues of gender and domesticity.

Something that’s been a big benefit in the Intermedia program has been the encouragement to explore different media. It’s allowed me to think about my content in different ways, to find the best way to mix my medium and my message to communicate what it is I’m trying to say. But it’s also allowed me to think more critically about the media that I’ve traditionally worked in, and better understand why I worked that way. It’s not meant that I’ve needed to abandon those mediums, but that i have a better understanding of how I use them, why I use them, and when to use them.

In regards specifically to my thesis work, exploring work that was performative and participatory was a big step for me. I learned how I can start with my own story and connect with others and their experiences on a topic. It’s helped me to think about this big question I have of: What’s the point of telling stories? What’s the point of sharing our experience?

My work has very much pivoted due to the Covid-19 pandemic. For one thing, throughout most of my graduate school career I wasn’t at home with my husband. I was living out of a suitcase, in the dorm, sometimes only getting home on the weekend, sometimes only a couple times a month. And now, I’m suddenly at home full time again. And my original presentation for my thesis work was to set up a kitchen space in the gallery where participants could make a cup of coffee or a cup of tea, sit and look through a cookbook, and leave a recipe or a story behind. That’s just not possible in the situation right now.

So with that, and with me at home, I’m flipping it. Instead of creating a kitchen space in a gallery setting, I’m bringing the art back to my own kitchen. I’ve been cooking, and I’ve produced a cookbook titled “I love it when you make me coffee in the morning.” It’s inspired in part by those fundraiser cookbooks that community groups and church groups would make. This cookbook is part memoir, and it honors the recipes that three generations of men in my family have cooked, and how they symbolize a shared partnership and a support for their wives’ careers, when that wasn’t necessarily the norm.

To create this, I’ve been doing research with my family, virtually. Talking with my mom, talking with my grandmother, calling up my dad and having him walk me through how he makes his biscuits. My sister has been going through books on the shelves at my parents’ house where she’s at to find the recipes of things that we ate as a kid.

And, I’m really pleased with how it came out. It does exactly what I wanted it to both honoring and normalizing non-traditional gender roles in the home, and what that means to the partnership.

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