An elk in a field near a forest

2019-20 Showcase Artist Michael Wilson

On how natural history influences his work

Published11/08/2019 , by Michael Wilson

As an Anishinaabe person, I have spent a great deal of time involved in seasonal harvesting and have been educated in our own relationship based school of science. For example, nets are set after the spring frogs are heard, an observed signal that the ambient temperature is rising and frogs are preparing to engage in reproduction. This seasonal signifier also happens to be cotemporal with the start of the fish spawn and the male fish are beginning to move towards the spawning grounds. It is through traditional methods such as this that Ojibwe culture is not only informed by environmental science and environmental sound, but is inseparable from it.

My current work is grounded in Musique Concrète and is based on field recordings gathered from sites selected both for their proximity to traditional cultural use areas as well as being receptive environments for signifier species. These recordings are then placed into an imagined potential future where human beings are placed into a position where they must reconcile their actions with the animal nations that they have displaced. It is through this process that I create a space that allows me to navigate my own thoughts and feelings about human driven processes such as climate change and habitat loss, and communicate these internal processes to other human beings.

As an example, the composition “Elcrys” imagines a future in which scientists are trying to coax what they hope is the last known breeding coterie of elk down from the mountains using recordings of mating calls to collect samples in an attempt to manage the herds future via genetic engineering, artificial breeding programs, etc. The Anishinaabe worldview in this piece is projected onto the elk, who do not come down from the mountains—at least not on the day represented in the piece, but rather choose to place their fate into the hands of natural law rather than laws of man and science. Of course, all this assumes there are members of the elk nation left in the mountains at all in this imagined future where a sighting has not been reported in decades, and only rumors or elk seem to continue to exist.

Wilson is a Bell 2019-20 showcase artist whose work will be featured at our November After Hours.