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2024 Artist in Residence: Michelle Wilson

As one of the artists chosen to visit our region through ACWB’s Artist in Residence Programs, Michelle Wilson will be in residence in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo from April 30-May 17, 2024. She is an experienced arts facilitator, educator, and intermedia artist.


ACWB: Tell us about your connection to Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo and what excites you about being in residence here.


MW: I began learning about Wood Buffalo six years ago while researching my PhD dissertation. I was interested in telling the story of five bison calves captured in what is now known as Saskatchewan about 150 years ago and how their kin came to be the foundation of plains bison conservation herds on Turtle Island. This story led me to learn about the transfer of plains bison to Wood Buffalo National Park, which in turn got me interested in the park’s establishment and how it has operated ever since. I have spent a great deal of time looking at archival photos and reading documents, but I have never experienced being on the Land with the people who know and love this place. I am so excited to finally spend time in Wood Buffalo with the community after so many years of knowing it only through words on a page. 


ACWB: How did you get your start working as an intermedia artist and researcher? 


MW: From a very young age, it became apparent that I had a passion for creating art. Making things was the one thing that kept me excited and motivated. Initially, I focused on photography, but I eventually realized that I needed to find the medium that could best convey the stories I wanted to tell, so I became a jack-of-all-trades. Each medium has its unique way of connecting us to specific stories and relationships, and so by utilizing those built-in attributes, I was able to strengthen my work. I became a researcher because, in my own way, I am a storyteller. By listening to the voices of community members, biologists, more-than-human beings, or voices that now haunt archives, I can facilitate stories that are not just from my perspective but stories that bring together a chorus of voices.


ACWB: Tell us about what you plan to do during your residency. 


MW: I will invite community members to join me in two connected workshops during my residency. First, we will come together to record personal stories connected to the Land in Wood Buffalo; these can be funny, moving, or even scary stories. We will make audio recordings of these stories, and then, listening back, each participant will draw a “mind map” of the story. We will translate these drawings into a single textile map in the second workshop. I am excited to work with sewers, beaders, and needle felters of all ages and skill levels. Using conductive thread and microprocessors, I will show participants how the map becomes an interactive archive playing the associated stories when touched. Each workshop will also include a time to relax, eat and get to know one another, which I am especially looking forward to.

When I am not in these workshops, adding to the map, or editing audio, I plan to make my own new stories on the land.


ACWB: Community engagement will be a big aspect of your residency in Wood Buffalo. What do you hope to experience through this community engagement? 


MW: While I have built a big part of my planned residency around listening to the community stories, I am also excited about sharing my findings on how colonial governments have practiced conservation and how the archives reveal the Park’s connection to Canada’s attempted dispossession and assimilation of Indigenous peoples. These stories serve as a testament to how settler colonialism has attempted to sever Indigenous connections to the Land. However, through the stories shared during my residency, I hope we demonstrate how community resists this severing.


ACWB: What else do you look forward to experiencing during your time in Wood Buffalo? 


MW: The COVID-19 pandemic has put many things on hold for me, including my travel plans to be around bison again. I hope they grace me with their presence on my upcoming trip. I also enjoy sewing and learning from others, but it has been a while since I have participated in a sewing circle. I am most excited about the adventure of not knowing what to expect and seeing where things take me. Above all, I am thrilled to finally experience the Land that I have spent so long imagining.


ACWB: What would your advice be for aspiring and emerging artists? 


As an aspiring or emerging artist, my advice to you may seem contradictory, but here it is: listen deeply to those around you, but don’t ask permission. As artists and individuals striving to live justly in the world, we can benefit from listening without defensiveness to those around us. Listening with humility can help us find our path to doing work that is meaningful and valuable to us. However, we should not wait for others to give us permission or validate our work. Instead, we should work on a scale that is manageable with our resources, and not wait for that grant or opportunity. Even if we have limited resources, we can start making what matters to us with integrity and passion. If we do that, the support we need will eventually find us.


About Michelle 

Michelle Wilson (she/her) is a neurodivergent artist, researcher and mother who currently lives in London, Ontario. She is of settler descent and her intermedia practice focuses on confronting colonial knowledge systems and conservation regimes with criticality and care. She is an organizing and founding member of the Unsettling Conservation Collective, the Coves Collective, and the (Re)mediating Soils Collective. She recently completed her SSHRC-funded doctorate from the University of Western Ontario. Currently, Michelle is an instructor in the Faculty of Design at OCADU and a postdoctoral scholar working with the Conservation through Reconciliation Partnership at the University of Guelph.