In Conversation: Michelle Sound
“Aunties Holding It Together” by Michelle Sound featured sculptural and photographic works from two ongoing series. The exhibition explored personal and familial narratives through a deep consideration of Indigenous artistic processes. Sound’s works contemplate cultural identities and histories, engaging traditional materials and concepts within a contemporary context. She stitches and adorns torn images, ripped to show the colonial violence that her family, and other Indigenous families, have experienced. Her works highlight acts of care and joy rooted within family and community.
Read on to learn more about Sound’s process and inspiration for her exhibition at BAF.
In Holding It Together, each family photograph is torn differently. I am wondering if there is any relation between these ripped areas and the content of these images? How calculated are your patterns? How much control were you able to have over the material?MS
Some of the rips that I start making are about taking out the things I don’t know or remember, certain people or words, and then deciding other rips based on how they work in the composition and being aware of spacing. Due to the warping and weight of the materials, beads especially, I try to space them out so it doesn’t collapse entirely. I try to keep the rips small or thin so the weight can be distributed more evenly. I do not always have control of the tearing but I do have control of the materials usually, depending on the spacing and weight and if the paper rips further because of that. I also have to maintain the tension of making sure the rips are always visible and never entirely filled in so that doesn’t look like it’s done on top of the image and decorative.
The exhibition text mentions that you destroy objects in order to repair them. How do you feel, thinking about colonialism while tearing your personal imagery? The result makes a strong statement, but this must be an emotionally complex process for you.MS
I think of the lived experience of what colonialism has done and taken from us and that is very difficult when thinking about its impact on my family and intergenerational trauma. I use personal images of my own family members and ripping and destroying their image is hard for me, especially when it’s of family members who have passed. I often talk to them while I’m working on it, apologizing and thanking them, and that is something that I have never done with any other artworks, so that process was very surprising and new to me.
In general, drums are instruments used for rhythms and sounds. Can you tell me the thought behind using these objects to depict your family and identity? What do drums mean to you, personally and culturally?MS
The drums I make cannot be played and I am not so much interested in the functionality of the drum, but what they symbolize. I was thinking about how deer hide drums are often painted and gifted to someone, created with specific and personal images to show connection and respect. I was thinking about how to honour the work and care of ancestors and family with drums that represent them or remind me of them and for me that was through clothing, certain clothes I remember from photos or touching or wanting. For me the process in sourcing the materials and the colour palette is based on memory.
To many, aunties are a source of warmth, joy, and care within families. How did your NDN Aunties series begin? Having now completed 80s Brat, are there yet more collections to come?MS
I had made a series of dyed rabbit fur drums in 2019-20 that was inspired by the rabbit traplines that my kokum and chapan had. I originally thought I would not continue that series because it was so specific to them but then I asked myself what the drums would look like if I made them to honour my mom and I immediately thought of a drum made from a corduroy jacket and a seventies aesthetic, and then I thought of a denim jacket drum for my aunties and sisters. From there I started sourcing the materials and experimenting with using clothing for the drums. I think in 2021 I made about 80 drums, and currently have five completed Auntie drum series and I am currently sourcing materials for more upcoming series.
Kinuso (2021) was used as a cover image for Billy-Ray Belcourt’s new book “A Minor Chorus.” How did this come to be? How did it feel to be asked to contribute to Billy-Ray’s work in this way?MS
I was contacted by his publisher and they showed me a cover mock-up and I was amazed by how great it looked. I loved the way the book designer, Kelly Hill, used the rips going through the title and text. I love that Kinuso was chosen for the cover as Northern Alberta is so important in the book. Billy-Ray’s reserve, Driftpile, is about a 15-minute drive from Kinuso, where my reserve Swan River is, so it feels very special to have our territory represented together in writing and art. My kokum would have loved it.
What is next for you? Any exciting upcoming projects you’d like to share about?MS
I have a public art piece, “Sipikiskisiw” (Remembers Far Back), being installed in Edmonton in December. It will be printed on aluminum and approximately 8 x 17 feet. I’m very excited to have a permanent art piece in Edmonton where I have such strong family connections and where I have always spent so much time. I also have a solo exhibition at the Alternator Gallery in Kelowna in 2023 that I’m excited about.
Michelle Sound’s exhibition, titled “Aunties Holding It Together” was on view at BAF from August 18 to October 22, 2022.