Rachel Merrill was an athlete, once. Her toe-touch-reach won her an achievement award and a certified document from the President's Council on Physical Fitness in 1992. After winning this high achievement, she's continued with a competitive edge. Exploring themes of spectacle, American sport, and ideas of competition, Rachel Merrill's interdisciplinary approach integrates textiles, sculpture, and performance into HIIT-like video projections and installations.

Merrill received her BA from Northwestern University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and earned her MFA in from Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michigan. She serves as Associate Professor of Art at Grand View University, where she received the Excellence in Teaching Award in 2018. She is the recipient of the prestigious Iowa Fellowship Grant (2019) made possible by the Iowa Arts Council and the National Endowment of the Arts. Her It's Always A Competition series won several awards in selected group exhibitions, continuing her reach.

Artist Statement

In an act to be something I’m not, I expose what I really am—a stupid good sport. Using American sports competition (organized conflict) as a metaphor, I question the performative demands of womanhood, competition, and self-preservation. My current work is a cultural critique of stupidity, a vacuous display of self-importance. It’s an observation of pop culture sound bites, public spectacle, and a heavy dose of personal insecurity on instant replay.

These moments and memories of grand stupidity focus on embarrassing, awkward, and painful parts of high performance spectacle in both grand and mundane senses. Deliberately manufacturing garish, tawdry costumes and props, these spectacles compile personas that are humorously absurd, ridiculously repetitive, and contradictions of the manufactured self. The repetitive and monotonous work (laboring over the costumes and props, performing pseudo-scripted choreography, and manipulating manufactured video) is a calculated part of momentary grandeur.

In an age of performance anxiety, we never quite measure up. Using the grand spectacle of American sport, I spend countless hours knitting, stitching, crocheting, drawing, sewing, painting, molding, crafting, watching, filming, photographing, composing, editing, preening, listening, reading, writing, obsessing, and reviewing. I (the good sport) survive using controlled behavior within organized conflict; all in an effort to just play nice.

Rachel Merrill, Untitled (Trophy Wife), 2019,
Archival digital print on paper, 16x22 in., Collection of the artist
Rachel Merrill, Untitled (Creeper), 2019,
Artificial turf, wood, caster wheels, trailer hitch, and tow rope, 56x56x4 in., Collection of the artist