by Isabelle Michaud

Exhibition essay by Lucia Wallace

La*Le/ç.son explores domesticity, maternal love, and the complexities of interspecies relationships; a queering of family and world building. Isabelle Michaud’s installation includes found audio, (re)woven textiles, collected stones and bark, and wearable watercolour paintings imbued with tenderness and curiosity. These gestures of making, which at first glance may seem surreal and absurd, highlight how earnest acts of care have become unfamiliar, even taboo. When the human relationship to the laying hens living onsite at Between Pheasants Contemporary is shifted from being a by-product of farming to a point of emotional connection, our understandings of our own bodies and modes of communication are also shifted. 

La*Le/ç.son consists of mixed media artworks displayed within and outside of the hen house. Wearable watercolour paintings are hung by their woven fabric straps salon-style along the interior walls. Remixed french audio and rhythmic music play throughout the coop. Woven ribbons created from recycled textiles and found natural objects decorate the hedges outside, engaging with the interior and exterior space of the coop simultaneously. The hens have been given French learning materials and ephemera to engage with. The material objects and artworks become catalysts for engagement with the hens in their home, which reaches beyond daily caretaking rituals. A celebration of and for the hens, this exhibition strives to communicate love through play, music and adornment. 

The show’s title, La*Le/ç.son, evokes a duality, a necessary undulation between knowledge creation and acquisition. << la leçon >> meaning “the lesson” and << le son >> meaning “sound”, speaks to broader modes of engagement and epistemologies. Rather than a prescribed outcome for the work and the hen’s engagement with it, the work strives to explore what can be learned from the hens themselves, and offers the exhibition as a visual, tactile, and auditory playground for the hens to explore freely. The work (re)locates orality, language, sound, and movement within and from the body. By creating paintings which are intended to be worn and activated through physical touch, Michaud interrupts the act of looking, inviting the viewer to become a part of the artmaking process, and inturn, to look towards/within their own bodies; the gaze is redirected towards the self. Through communal sound making and gestures of affection, Michaud, the hens, and caregivers become intertwined in localized, ephemeral acts of learning.  

As a Francophone artist, Isabelle Michaud’s work grapples with her own identity, and its accompanying colonial legacies and implications. The Francophone ‘ceinture fléchée’ is linked historically and visually to the Métis sash. Michaud’s repurposing of fibres from the ceinture fléchée is not meant to erase the colonial histories of so-called Canada. Rather, the work literally and metaphorically acknowledges the memory of the recycled wool which remains kinked and warped even after being incorporated into a new object. The woven ribbons pick up additional found materials – sticks, rocks, pieces of porcelain –becoming further connected to the landscape around her. Personal meaning is butted up against wider cultural understandings; to learn about one’s own history and lineage as a settler is to grapple with culpability and compassion, and to critically and self-reflexively understand one’s own presence in so-called Canada. 

The lesson of La*Le/ç.son is not Michaud teaching the hens French, rather it is the non-hierarchical and interspecies exchange bridging a connection between human and hen.  

The work embraces vulnerability and intimacy, striving to produce gestures of gratitude and affection. This is not an austere gallery space where one must be silent and contemplative, but a space filled with frenetic energy animated by the quotidian life of the hens. Ultimately, La*Le/ç.son underscores the difficulty of communicating love without a common verbal language, the messiness of making and of identity, and encourages the fostering of an ongoing relationship with others. 

Isabelle Michaud is a Francophone artist with an interest in local French history and museum aesthetics. She received her BFA from Algoma University where she is currently a French professor. She has exhibited and curated across Ontario, with recent solo shows at 180 Projects and Blind River Timber Village Museum.  Isabelle has received several artist grants from the Ontario Arts Council for personal and collaborative projects. Isabelle uses a mixed media approach to discover entanglements, strata, and parallels within historical, linguistic, and interspecies interactions.

Lucia Wallace is a queer artist/writer based in Toronto, Ontario, and recent graduate of OCAD University’s Contemporary Art, Design & New Media Art Histories master’s program (2021). This past spring, she presented her research on fragmentation and broken ceramic vessels at Radical (Re)worlding, the University of British Columbia’s 44th Annual Art History, Visual Art, and Theory Graduate Symposium. With a BFA in Drawing & Painting (2018), she has exhibited in Toronto, London, Ontario and Florence, Italy. She has written for XPACE Cultural Centre and Paperhouse Studio. Her studio and research practices span textiles, contemporary ceramics, creative writing, and painting. Focusing on tactility and materiality, she strives to intertwine her making and writing processes.

Using Format