By, Michelle Wilson, Teaches at the University of Manitoba and at the Winnipeg Art Gallery studio
“There is a strong emotional undercurrent to our ideas about animality… to subject these ideas to critical scrutiny is to expose highly sensitive and largely unexplored aspects of the understanding of our own humanity.” – Tim Ingold, What Is an Animal?
Combining photography and sculpture with research in the field of animal studies, I am building a bridge to the animal I am, as a way of understanding the Other within and without. There is a literal animal self, intertwined with what we consider to be our humanity: our conscious, rational language based being. Recognition of this ‘animal’ aspect of our being, regardless of how opaque it may be, could facilitate a redefining of our ethical relationships to animals.
Anima, a body of work spanning the last two years of my studio production, consists of three main components; colour photographs, displayed in light-boxes, that depict handmade interspecial creatures placed in outdoor landscapes; black and white photographs of animal fetuses; and wax replicas of those same fetuses. These individual series will come together in an overall installation, which will disrupt the expectation of distance between viewer and artwork by putting the viewer in the physical realm of the figures, facilitating a phenomenological exchange with the sculptures and photographs.
In Anima, I challenge the ‘truism’ of a distinct boundary between species, specifically between human-animals and non-human animals. An empathetic exchange with the figures in this body of work makes apparent our fraught position in their world. This position shifts in the face of the light-box images, at time benign and at times menacing. The perspective offered alternates between the scientific and personal with the fetal photographs or sculptures respectively. The creatures depicted in both the black and white photographs and light-boxes are simultaneously real and imagined, animate and inanimate, seeing and blind. The medium of photography facilitates a distance, which permits the suspension of disbelief, allowing these dichotomies to exist within the work.
The sculptural figures are developed through a physical investment that mirrors the bodily closeness and hours of care that establish the cross-species relationships in my life. Many of the creatures are simultaneously fetus and animal and speak of the unknowable that is intuited within us. They express our fraught need to have interspecies relationships, even if those incursions infantilize the animal in question, leaving it in an incredibly vulnerable nether region between species. Through size, fragility and corporeality, they viscerally question what we carry within us, and how unnerving the ineffable connection to the animal within can be.
Seen as an entire corpus, the overall body of work of Anima, its layers and multiple messages, has come to represent my negotiation with the animal, its body and my fraught relationship to it.
Born in 1982, Michelle Wilson spent most of her formative ears in southern Ontario. There she spent seven years studying art and photography at several post secondary institutions including the University of Ottawa and the School of Photographic Arts: Ottawa. Primarily a photo-based artist, Wilson has been creating intimate, narrative-based works for over a decade. Her work has been shown nationally, internationally and is part of numerous public and private collections. After working as an artists and educator in Taiwan for several years, Wilson returned to Canada to pursue her MFA at the University of Manitoba. She will complete her thesis exploring interspecies connections in June. She currently teaches at the University of Manitoba, Art City as well as at the Winnipeg Art Gallery studio.