Shelf Life

Sunny Nestler

author
Judah Schulte
photography
August Bramhoff
illustration
Sunny Nestler

Sunny Nestler is a multi-disciplinary artist, teacher, and biology enthusiast. Throughout their decades-long practice, they have produced works in a range of mediums including illustration, sculpture, installation and publishing. Hailing from Arizona, Nestler has established themself as a strong presence in Vancouver’s DIY art scene with their contributions to art book fairs, frequent gallery shows and the creation of a course at Emily Carr University that uses scientific method to inform artistic expression.

Like many extraordinary things, Nestler’s creative practice began in an ordinary way. “I started when everyone else did, like age two or three,” says Nestler, “but around the time when the school system squeezes [the art] out of you, I enrolled in drawing classes at the senior centre in my neighbourhood.” Their interest in biology was also born in childhood. Having lived in New York prior to moving to Arizona, young Nestler and their mother would try to make the dreary rain more interesting by looking at samples of it through a microscope. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought is was so cool that it was there, but I didn’t even know.”

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Looking through that microscope sparked in Nestler an insatiable curiosity for the natural world. They spent their early years attempting to cultivate moss samples on their mother’s dinner plates, poring over the illustrations in their collection of field guides and exploring the patches of green between the rows of houses in their suburb. Though they may have been unsuccessful in cultivating the samples of moss, Nestler succeeded in cultivating within themself a sense of wonder. Never stopping to let it diminish, the spirit of exploration that graces every child was preserved within their art.

Nestler’s work is molecular and playful. Made of a myriad different shapes and symbols, they have created a whimsical world that is full of colour and appears to be multiplying right in front of you. Whether it’s sculpture, textiles, illustration or animation, Nestler’s collection gives the impression of looking through a microscope that contains in it a portal to another dimension. That is not to say it’s all fun and games. True to actual biological processes, Nestler’s work also emulates the strangeness of growth and decay.

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Perhaps the most famous and frequently appearing microorganism in Nestler’s repertoire is the Coneworm. The Coneworm, or coneus longissimus, is a creature composed of two or more parking cones stacked on top of each other. According to Nestler’s body of work, in which they can be seen mutating in multicoloured clusters, they are a thriving species. “I’ve always had this practice of looking at the smallest possible unit of something,” says Nestler, “so, if I’m drawing a tree, I’ll draw a leaf a bunch of times to make sure I understand the structure of the leaf before I start the whole tree. I’m really interested in the repeatability of modular units, what happens when you disconnect them from their original context and then repeat them infinitely. I’m using this drawing method that is a semi-comical analog to genetic mutation, where DNA reproduces in a certain way. It’s a plus that they’re also just a really good repeatable modular unit; they’re stackable, bendable, they segment and they reference this mechanism of natural mutation, but also the synthetic world.”

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There are, sadly, some things that Coneworms cannot do. One of those things is self-publishing books of art. For that, Nestler relies on their ten years of experience. In that time, Nestler has drawn, printed and bound several of their own publications. Their most recent work, Undergrowth, was on display at the Vancouver Art Book Fair after five years in the making. Nestler’s creations not only populate pages of their own design, but also those of publications such as Swampcone Magazine, the forthcoming edition of SAD Mag and Discorder.

Many would say that science and art are separate subjects and most of the time, they would be right. Nestler seeks to show us that if you look very closely, like, say, through a microscope, the two fields are very much connected, and art, as a process of endless creation and recreation, is mutation.  

RAHILA’S GHOST: A GROWING FAMILY OF POETS

author
Judah Schulte
photography
Coltrane Yan
illustration
Matthew Lim

 

Since its conception in May 2017, Rahila’s Ghost Press has published six chapbooks. The Vancouver-based press publishes poetry exclusively, taking submissions from emerging or established writers, and strongly encouraging women, writers of colour, LGBTQIA2S+ writers, Indigenous writers and writers with disabilities to submit.

Founder and publisher, Mallory Tater, got the name of the press from her great-great grandmother. Curious about her heritage, Tater and with her fiancé, who is also RGP’s Managing Editor, Curtis Leblanc, made a trip out to Saskatewan to investigate her family’s beginning in Canada. As RGP’s website states, they learned that “Rahila Corches [was a] mother of three, [who] immigrated from Campeni, Romania with her husband Samson.” Rahila’s interest in reading and her untimely death made an impression on Tater. It seemed a fateful coincidence that at the time she learned this information, Tater had been planning on starting a press. It wasn’t only homage that inspired the name, but its ties to the concept of family. “I’m a firm believer in chosen family,” says Mallory, “and looking backwards to forwards on the relationships in my life links the idea of chosen family to the press.” And a family she made.

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Mallory Tater and Curtis Leblanc || Photography by Coltrane Yan for Discorder Magazine

The RGP team is made up of seven editors, all of them decorated with published work of their own and awards or nominations. Tater met her team through university and the Vancouver poetry scene. Together the group reads submissions, fundraises and attends book launches. As a family performs labours of love, the team (Tater included) labours for free; only the contributors receive honorariums. “One of the nice things about having such a big group is that we can pair the writer with an editor that fits them properly — in terms of interest, personality and aesthetic,” explains Tater. This intentional pairing is indicative of the passion with which the press is run and the identity that it maintains.

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Illustration by Matthew Lim for Discorder Magazine

For the cover of each chapbook, Rahila’s Ghost solicits a different local artist and converses at length with the poets to make certain they feel their work is accurately represented. Tater cites the time this back and forth takes as one of the greatest hurdles in the process of publishing, but one that is worth the struggle. “When writers are submitting and want their work to be taken care of, I take that seriously,” says Mallory. “It’s such a privilege and an honour to take on that role.”

Having published a collection of poems and signed a novel with major Canadian publisher, HarperCollins, Tater is versed in the challenges of the industry. With poetry not being as lucrative as some other forms of writing, it can be a trial for poets find platforms for their work. And Vancouver, with its high cost of living and a younger art scene than major city centres, can add to that difficulty. Inspired by other chapbook presses like Metatron, Tater saw a way of leveraging these problems into opportunity. “I had the time and energy to provide a platform for the voices in my community and across the country.”

The poetry in their list of published titles is clear and contemporary. Much like the press itself, Rahila’s Ghost seeks out work that is accessible and thoughtful. “To me personally, the best poetry is the kind that takes the internal into the external smoothly and in a way that everyone can connect to,” Tater explains. Submissions go through the hands of all the editors for consideration. The ones that resonate with the most members of the team get accepted. “I don’t like doing the rejection part, but that process needs to exist. If we could publish 40 manuscripts a year, we would do it.”

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Mallory Tater and Curtis Leblanc || Photography by Coltrane Yan for Discorder Magazine

RGP is a press that views itself as a home for poetry. It was founded by a local poet who saw a need and is maintained by local poets who see the same. Projecting the voices of emerging artists, Rahilia’s Ghosts understands as well as anyone that any community is a family and family sticks together.

 

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For a list of releases and submission information, visit rahilasghostpress.com and follow Rahila’s Ghost Press on social media for upcoming events.