Rachel Simmons

Rachel Simmons: Portrait of the Ghost Ship Orlova

Rachel Simmons

Rachel Simmons: Portrait of the Ghost Ship Orlova


2021, 2022


Acrylic Ink, Collage, Digital print, Gesso, Letterpress, Monoprint, Relief print, Screenprint, Thread, Typewriter


Double Accordion Fold, Fan, Pamphlet


Orlando, FL

$ 3,000.00

1 in stock

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Pennsylvania State University Libraries

University of Connecticut (UCONN)

Rachel Simmons: Portrait of the Ghost Ship Orlova brings together three of artist-educator Rachel Simmons’ titles, Antarctica: An Explorer’s Archive, Orlova and Particulate History. Together, these titles weave a narrative about climate change, ecotourism, and memory, threaded through Rachel Simmons’ 2008/2009 travel to Antarctica on the now ghost ship, the MV Lyubov Orlova.

Antarctica: An Explorer’s Archive, 2022, Edition of 12, Glass and vellum fan book with digitally printed images and text; four vintage 50 ml glass vials with digitally printed vellum pages, knitted socks worn in Antarctica by the artist with embroidery thread, dried acrylic ink & punch labels; painted wooden rack; screen-printed pamphlet book with digitally printed engineering paper & waxed thread; a custom-made exhibition box. Signed by the artist.
Pamphlet book: 11.25” tall x 7.18” wide when closed, Fan book: 4” tall x 8” wide x .5” deep when closed, Glass vials in wooden rack: 6” tall x 7.2” wide x 1.4” deep. Video of An Explorer’s Archive can be seen here, and a video of the exhibition box can be seen here.

“Through this personal archive, I engage with concepts of exploration, heroism, gender, storytelling, and memory. There are three distinct physical components in the archive, each referencing an officer’s roles on a typical polar expedition: a scientist’s lab vials, distilling the essentials of exploration; a photographer’s glass book, juxtaposing my experiences with those of early polar explorers; and the ship’s log, written by the captain or navigator, containing a photo essay about the MV Lyubov Orlova, the Soviet-era ship that brought me to the Antarctic Peninsula in 2008, only to be lost at sea a few years later.

The archive’s materials reference the purpose of expeditions— the gathering of data and mapping new areas, the activity of documenting one’s travels through ship’s logs and journals, and the importance of archiving such materials for educational and historic purposes. This interactive archive encourages the reader/viewer to examine the role of the modern ecotourist— a traveler that’s neither scientist nor professional explorer— for whom surviving in the wilderness is an experience they pay to have, rather than work they are are paid to do.

Throughout the archive, I incorporate text from Alfred Lansing’s dramatic recounting of the voyage of the Endurance, Ernest Shackleton’s doomed 1914 Antarctic expedition in a wooden ship that was swallowed by ice floes. Lansing’s heroic, gritty, ultra-masculine story about how Shackleton’s crew struggled to survive is juxtaposed with my expedition photographs and stories, taken as a woman traveling alone far from home, battling anxiety, seasickness and homesickness, but within the comforts of a cruise ship. Since women were not invited to participate in early polar expeditions, they were excluded from opportunities to become heroic explorers, claim land in their name, inspire grand narratives and secure impressive public personas. As Virginia Woolf wrote, “As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.” In part, my desire to travel to Antarctica was to prove to myself that I could do it, and later, to communicate my experiences to others.

Archives are usually repositories for primary sources and evidence-based materials; however, archives can also document the universal human experience through events in an individual’s life. In this personal archive, I sought to document, revisit and process my Antarctic travel by including pieces of clothing I wore, curating a selection of my photographs, and conducting new research into the origins and disappearance of the Orlova. In many ways, the Orlova was like the Endurance—a floating home that was tragically lost to the sea in service of adventure. As is often the case in my practice, this project was driven by a need to make meaning of events in my life, while communicating aspects of my experiences for the reader/viewer. And, as with any archive, it can be cross-referenced with other archives to provide a more wholistic picture of world events.”

Orlova, 2022, Edition of 10, Digital Print and Letterpress, hard cover tunnel book with magnetic wrapper box, 6” tall x 6.5” wide x 1” deep when closed. Video of Orlova can be seen here.

“This tunnel book is named after the MV Lyubov Orlova, a former Russian icebreaker—now a ghost ship—that took me safely to the Antarctic Peninsula in 2008 and again in 2009. I created the scene by making a collage of elements from multiple photographs taken at various times and locations. Like a colorized postcard, this abstraction of a real experience depicts passengers from the Orlova on a zodiac tour of an iceberg bay. In the foreground, one of my cabin mates, a Tasmanian prison guard on holiday, is taking photographs of the landscape. Towards the back of the scene, the Orlova waits patiently for her passengers to return for food, warmth and comfort. The hyper-saturated colors intentionally flatten the space even as the tunnel structure seeks to deepen it, reframing the polar landscape as a theatrical stage and transforming my personal experience as an eco-tourist into a brightly packaged commodity.”

Particulate History, 2021, Edition of 20, Typewritten text, Monotype and Relief prints on Thai Kozo paper with Gesso, Thread and Collage, Double accordion binding with magnetic enclosure, 12” wide by 6” tall x .25” deep when closed.

“Particulate History, a double accordion featuring polar imagery & visual poetry, was inspired by the scientific method of harvesting historical climate data from the earth’s glaciers by drilling and extracting long frozen cylinders called ice cores. Air pollution, volcanic glass shards, greenhouse gases and industrial chemicals circulate across the planet and become trapped within air bubbles in the ice, preserving samples of the earth’s atmosphere over hundreds and thousands of years. Scientists can travel back in time by studying these layers of frozen time, allowing them to measure and date volcanic eruptions, rising CO2 emissions, temperature fluctuations and even fallout from thermonuclear bombs. I learned about ice cores when researching for my first trip to Antarctica and quickly became fascinated by their physical embodiment of time and knowledge. As I crunched my boots across deep snowfall, I couldn’t help thinking about the history below my feet.”