About the Open House Project

Beauty Surplus is part of the Open House Project series, an ongoing Arts Center initiative providing a platform for emerging and underrepresented artists and art forms. Artists and organizations are invited to collaborate and experiment with new ideas and original content in exhibitions that use the galleries in the John Michael Kohler home as a place for artistic inquiry. The home, built in 1883, is a unique setting for the generation of new curatorial explorations of topics ranging from the familiar to the phenomenal. 


Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels
July 14, 2019 - May 24, 2020

Annotated Library List

Posted July 11, 2019

In her research, Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels encountered the term “Speculative Magical Feminism.” Although this term lacked a clear definition, Fels found it encompassed many of the same facets she incorporates into her own work: speculative realism, magical realism, feminism, and magical feminism.

The less well defined this term became, the more Fels became intrigued. In response, she curated a library of books, listed below, that contributes to her own understanding of Speculative Magical Feminism and what it could mean.

1. Abbey Mei Otis, Alien Virus Love Disaster
Sci-Fi Short Stories

Abbey Mei Otis uses peculiar situations to investigate power dynamics, oppression, and grief. Within this collection of twelve fictional short stories, Otis teases apart perceived equality that does not actually exist and closely examines how the inhabitants of her stories react to their environments. Otis relocates kids from the moon to a small beach town, inserts humans under an alien microscope, and places people under government control. Throughout these stories, characters respond in ways we both hope and don’t hope they would.[i]

2. adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds
Sci-Fi Social Justice Strategies

In the tradition of Octavia Butler, Emergent Strategy is radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live. The world is in a continual state of flux with ever-mutating, emergent patterns. Rather than suggesting we should steel ourselves against such change, the book teaches us to map, assess, and learn from the swirling structures around us. This helps us to better understand and influence these changes as they happen. This strategy is a resolutely materialist “spirituality” based equally on science and science fiction, a feminist and Afro-futurist incantation to transform that which ultimately transforms us.[ii]

3. Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties
Sci-Fi/Magical Realism Short Stories

In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and magical realism. Machado shapes startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies. A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck; a woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity; and a salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses.[iii]

4. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions
Short Essay

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received a letter from a childhood friend, a new mother who wanted to know how to raise her baby girl to be a feminist. Dear Ijeawele is Adichie’s direct, wryly funny, and perceptive letter of response—fifteen invaluable suggestions for how to empower a daughter to become a strong, independent woman. Filled with compassionate guidance and advice, it gets right to the heart of sexual politics in the twenty-first century, and starts a new and urgently needed conversation about what it really means to be a woman today.[iv]

5. J. Jack Halberstam, Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal
Queer Theory and Pop Culture

J. Jack Halberstam attempts to make sense of the tectonic cultural shifts that have transformed gender and sexual politics in the last few decades. As part handbook, part guidebook, and part sex manual, Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal is populated by symbols and phenomena as varied as Lady Gaga, pregnant men, late-life lesbians, SpongeBob SquarePants, and queer families. Halberstam reveals how these symbolic ruptures open a critical space to embrace new ways of conceptualizing sex, love, and marriage.[v]

6. Marjorie Liu, Monstress Volume I: Awakening
Graphic Novel

Set in an alternate, matriarchal 1900s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steampunk, Monstress tells the story of a teenage girl struggling to survive the trauma of war and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power. It is a connection that will transform them both.[vi]

7.Naomi Alderman, The Power
Sci-Fi Novel

In The Power, the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool, a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature, an ambitious American politician, and a tough London girl from a tricky family. But a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power; they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets.[vii]

8. NK Jemisin, How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?
Sci-Fi Short Stories

N. K. Jemisin sharply examines modern society with thought-provoking narratives of destruction, rebirth, and redemption in How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? Spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A utopian society in a parallel universe watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow South must save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises, and a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.[viii]

9. NK Jemisin, The Fifth Season
Fantasy Novel

This is the way the world ends…for the last time. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun; with a murdered son and a missing daughter; and with betrayal, and long-dormant wounds rising up to fester. This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.[ix]

10. Nnedi Okorafor, Akata Witch
Young Adult Fantasy Novel

Nnedi Okorafor blends magic and adventure to create a lush world in Akata Witch. Sunny Nwazue lives in Nigeria, but was born in New York City. Her features are West African, but she’s albino. Sunny doesn’t seem to fit in any world until she discovers she is a “free agent” with latent magical power. Sunny becomes part of a quartet of magic students learning to change reality. As she’s finding her footing, the magical authorities ask Sunny and her friends to track down and combat a career criminal whose powers greatly outnumber theirs.[x]

11. Phyllis D. Light, Southern Folk Medicine: Healing Traditions from the Appalachian Fields and Forests
Appalachian Folklore Medicine

This book is the first to describe the history, folklore, assessment methods, and remedies of Southern and Appalachian folk medicine—the only system of folk medicine, other than Native American, that developed in the United States. Phyllis D. Light, a practitioner of this system, has studied and worked with herbs, foods, and other healing techniques for more than thirty years. She explains how Southern and Appalachian folk medicine was passed down orally through generations by herbalists and healers who cared for people in their communities.[xi]

12. Rebecca Solnit, Field Guide to Getting Lost

Rebecca Solnit is interested in the stories we use to navigate through the world. In A Field Guide to Getting Lost Solnit uses emblematic moments and relationships from her life to explore issues of uncertainty, trust, loss, memory, desire, and place. While deeply personal, her own stories link up to larger stories, from captivity narratives of early Americans to the use of blue in Renaissance painting, not to mention encounters with tortoises, monks, punk rockers, mountains, deserts, and the movie Vertigo.[xii]

13. Seanan McGuire, Every Heart a Doorway
Fantasy Novella

Children have always disappeared—slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else. Nancy tumbled once, but now she's back. The things she's experienced, they change a person. The children under Miss West's care understand all too well and are seeking a way back to their own fantasy world. But Nancy's arrival marks a change at the Home. When tragedy strikes, it's up to Nancy and her newfound schoolmates to get to the heart of things. No matter the cost.[xiii]

14. Ursula K. Le Guin, Wave in the Mind

Join Ursula K. Le Guin as she explores an array of subjects ranging from Tolstoy, Twain, and Tolkien to women's shoes, beauty, and family life. With her customary wit, intelligence, and literary craftsmanship, she offers a diverse and highly engaging set of readings. The Wave in the Mind includes some of Le Guin's finest literary criticism, rare autobiographical writings, performance art pieces, and, most centrally, her reflections on the arts of writing and reading.[xiv]

15. Yukiko Motoya, The Lonesome Body Builder
Magical Realism Short Stories

In these eleven stories, the individuals who lift the curtains of their orderly homes and workplaces are confronted with the bizarre, the grotesque, the fantastic, the alien—and find a doorway to liberation. A housewife takes up bodybuilding and sees radical changes to her physique, which her workaholic husband fails to notice; a boy waits at a bus stop, mocking commuters struggling to keep their umbrellas open in a typhoon, until an old man shows him that they hold the secret to flying; and a newlywed notices that her spouse’s features are beginning to slide around his face to match her own.[xv]





This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. Funding was also provided by the Kohler Trust for the Arts and Education, Kohler Foundation, Inc., and the Frederic Cornell Kohler Charitable Trust. The Arts Center thanks its many members for their support of exhibitions and programs through the year.