Karin Bolender/Rural Alchemy Workshop (R.A.W.)

Philomath, OR, USA

This practice has evolved over many years into an intergenerational mode of familial engagement, exploration, and making kin across species and geographies.

Karin Bolender’s practice intimately  examines the mutualities of multispecies relations.  Through her larger project, Rural Alchemy Workshop (aka: R.A.W.), Bolender and friends have developed a long-running collaboration with whole ecologies, and most directly as these manifest through relationships with asses/donkeys. Bolender describes this work, and the varied forms it takes —shared milk, song, and walking—as a process of kin-making. Close, personal, and playful, Bolender seeks out the points of experiential, material, and visceral connection that weaves across mothers, species as well as landscapes, creating performances and artifacts that evidence the rich possibilities of kinship all around us. – AY

Making Kin Categories

She-Haw Transhumance

2006-present, site-specific, durational collaborative performance.

Photos by Karin Bolender and Sebastian Black

R.A.W. Assmilk Soap

2008-13, Time-based, site-specific performance, including the ongoing care of a family herd of asses

Photos by Karin Bolender and Shawn Hart

Gut Sounds Lullaby

2012-present, durational performance of intergenerational kin-making along domestic mammals

Photos by Karin Bolender and Lara Rosenoff

Artist Reflection —

She-Haw Transhumance is a long-term collaboration rooted in broader landscapes of rural-urban-divided thinking and artistic practices. Its core involves two artist-writer-longeared-beast-of-burden lovers, namely K-Haw (Karin Bolender Hart) and L-Haw (Lydia Peelle), walking routes of particular geography, distance, and duration alongside Spotted Asses (Aliass and Passenger, Joop and Bram) and in the midst of infinite untold others. These walks grew out of K-Haw’s durational practice of walking journeys with Aliass, beginning with a seven-week walk across the American South from Mississippi to Virginia in 2002. While we walk, we refrain from speaking (in human tongues, at least), in order to explore a mode of multispecies listening deep into the specific places we pass through.  There is also the occasional making of soap with our companions’ milk (mainly Passenger’s),  which takes shape inR.A.W. Assmilk Soap. The final batch in 2013 including the artist’s milk with the ass’s, along with tufts of fur from three generations of the family herd.

Gut Sounds Lullaby involves both video installation and live performance in which the internal sounds of the family herd (Aliass and others, and then a hired party pony for the live performance in San Francisco) are played to the fetal human (aka “Possible”). This is incorporated into present and ongoing kin-making collaborations under the title of m<other tongues.

About Karin Bolender/Rural Alchemy Workshop (R.A.W.)

Karin Bolender (aka K-Haw Hart) is an artist-researcher who seeks “untold” stories within meshes of mammals, plants, pollinators, microbes, and more. Under the auspices of the Rural Alchemy Workshop (R.A.W.), she cultivates a collaborative practice that explores dirty words and entangled wisdoms of earthly ecologies through performance, writing, video/sound installation, and other experimental forms. Durational collaborations include R.A.W. Assmilk SoapShe-Haw Transhumance (with Lydia Peelle), and Welcome to the Secretome. A book called The Unnaming of Aliass, exploring nearly two decades of roadside and barnyard living-art practice, was published by punctum in 2020. The R.A.W. family herd lives amidst the patchwork forests of the Pacific Northwest.

For more please see: “R.A.W. Assmilk Soap,” in The Unnaming of Aliass (Earth, Milky Way: punctum books, 2020), 307-332.


Kindred Artists