Dream of the Golden Empress by Rachel Simmons

Through cinematic visual language, Dream of the Golden Empress tells the story of an arrogant emperor bent on environmental destruction. The characters in this allegory— the Emperor, the Golden Empress and the People— are archetypes referencing actors from the current political landscape in the United States. Like shadow puppets, each character embodies easily recognizable traits like greed, selfishness, compassion, anger and love. The lush color palette of violet, black, gold, emerald green and bright orange alludes to elitist behaviors of excess and unchecked power. Across the book, a linear narrative in fuchsia floats over repeated storm clouds, disrupted by a sequence of five-line protest poems, each multi-layered through pressure printing on wood type. The textural quality of these prints evokes a sense of vibration or disruption, hampering one’s ability to read the message as it glitches. These two distinct but interwoven threads, the narrative and the poetry, capture two ideas: the historical retelling of a political disaster, and the interruptions caused by cacophonous voices of dissent, warning and protest. The moral of the allegory is revealed in the colophon where readers are asked to take responsibility for their political choices, because despite what fairytales tell us, there are no heroic figures who can save us from ourselves. On the reverse side of the accordion, the Golden Empress is illustrated through Lego relief prints in a style inspired by Balinese shadow puppets. She moves through a series of poses—perhaps dancing or fighting—as befitting her dream to inspire the People to move, respond and take action.

Here are some excerpts from the book:

1 I dreamt of an emperor so bold & selfish, he stopped the earth from spinning simply to say that he could. In the ensuing stillness, crowds watched uneasily as towering indigo clouds darkened the sky & shadowed the land.


2 Those who were initially impressed were now frightened & confused. Fear settled over their hearts. They turned on one another in anger, arguing over who had granted the emperor so much power, but it made no difference. It was too late.


3 The emperor’s blustering confidence faltered as powerful winds rose up and flattened trees, towering tsunamis rolled towards land, bright lava billowed into the dark sky & great ravines opened underfoot all the way to the horizon. This was surely the end.


Artist Bio

Rachel Simmons is an American artist-educator who teaches foundations, printmaking and book arts at Rollins College, an innovative liberal arts institution in Winter Park, Florida. She began her teaching career after earning her MFA in Painting & Drawing from Louisiana State University. Rachel specializes in book arts & printmaking, and her diverse studio practice is informed by environmental activism, and exploration of language and personal narratives. In her socially engaged art projects, Rachel asks community participants to think critically and creatively about our relationship with nature. Endlessly curious about the natural world and our relationship with it, Rachel often collaborates with scholars from other academic disciplines and communities to create new work. She has traveled to Antarctica, Iceland, Namibia, the Galapagos Islands and many of the US National Parks to research environmental issues pertaining to these projects.