13 Aug 2022 1:07 PM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

The last time I went to work on the machine, I was carrying a box of paper, trying to balance the bottom but stumbling on bushes, grasses, and flowers that had grown much taller than me. The weeds belonged in this place, so no one ever pulled them. My boots sank into the mud, and it was time to take deeper and more intentional breaths. It was important to be calm when I got to the door I was looking for. There is no path to the door, only traces of footsteps left by others, leading to a clearing surrounded by all this greenery. 

Learning to open the door was the easy part; remembering how to walk there through the garden took the most practice. Several people showed me, some more than once. With each walk I took notes and made mental reminders so I could get back. I enter the familiar space and the door shuts behind me, leaving me in complete darkness. I set my paper down on a table using my hips to navigate and, with my hands now free, I clap twice and the lights flood into the room — a full letterpress studio. There’s a Vandercook Universal no. 1, a number 4, an SP 25. Any press will appear if you ask for it.

The studio exists because artists needed a space to work outside of institutions that lock their tools away. This space was created by community, word of mouth, rituals, practice, tradition, the powers of wish fulfillment, and tactical steps. Everyone has a different way of getting here. The best way to remember the path is to return as often as possible. 

Inside, I allow my energy to acclimate to the space and to the machine. I whisper my prayers. Soon my mind, body, and heart are in sync and I'm off like a rocket. For me it’s about the release of energy, about sharing parts of my life. I find myself entranced when I’m arranging type on the press bed — the puzzle that will reveal itself only with color or pressure. It’s the perfect process for my jittery brain. I pick the brightest ink possible, just for the thrill, and grab my paper, hands dirty, but too excited to stop to wash. I use language to make prints and once a print leaves my hands it is open to interpretation, but I can feel the transfer of energy from myself to my materials.

The machine is a tool for creating vessels, like books, but the machine is also a vessel. This process, this space helps me navigate and stay afloat regardless of circumstance. To come to this place again and again is a necessity but it’s also a choice. When I can, I give care to my practice. When I can, I give care back to the body. My direct relationship with the machine helps me remain present and accountable to myself. Some of the objects I create on the machine have energy, and I can make a human-like connection to my prints because, through the letterpress process, I feel an activation of the materials.

I’ll admit, it’s been a while since I’ve been back to this place. I let the fear of judgment far worse than my own hinder my process as I try to sustain a practice too often clouded by whiteness. I’ve let anguish and anger about navigating life under capitalism overshadow my path. My spirit wants nothing more than to return to this place, yet I realized I needed this stillness to regain the energy I had poured into my art practice. This break from the machine is not just a penance; it is also a rest, which is necessary because I am human. I must know by now that this place still exists in me because of all the times I’ve left my trace on that path. In the meantime, I keep my words and wishes in notebooks and post-its until I can return to the place where I go to make sure I don’t bury the voice inside of myself.

Ruby Figueroa is a visual artist and writer from Chicago, IL. Their autobiographical work is a mix of nonfiction, prose and poetry seen in their letterpress prints, zines, artist books, monoprints, broadsides, and videos. Ruby’s work explores home and the relationship between humans, loss, time, and heartbreak.

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