Sweetly the Pilgrim Slowly the Way

I was commissioned to create work examining the relationship between Back-to-the-Landers and their homes for the show Doing Our Own Thing: Back-to-the-Land in Eastern Canada co-curated by Amish Morrell and Pan Wendt at the Confederation Arts Centre in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. The project involved interviews and documentation of homes in both Prince Edward Island and my own home community of Pictou County, Nova Scotia. I became interested in taking photographs of interior spaces most important to the people living in their homes, while recording memories of the home and whether they identified with the back-to-the-land movement.The challenge was created by what emerged. It was a malleable and imprecise history. I wanted a document that connected myself with the past, a document capable of addressing the back-to-the-land movement as a complex and conflicted conversation between the land, the culture, and the people. Something unexpected occurred, despite my initial attempts, or desires, to create a corrective to the idealized way I saw this history of back-to-the-land being remembered and told.

My first attempt at documentation was through images. I hoped they would reveal the subjective story within the objective framework of photography. From those images language emerged as an equal. This led to a question: how does one have language without image attached? Blank pages became the way to make space for the stories absent of image. A larger idea emerged, blank spaces as a place of re-imagining the story and connections between stories.

The telling of a history is a much more humbling process than I imagined, requiring fiction, images, and blank spaces. I realized that I had to approach the creation of the past, as Patricia Hampl states, as a traveller who “…goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places. Moving through it all faithfully, not so much as a survivor with a harrowing tale to tell as a pilgrim seeking, wondering.” (Hampl 21)

You must leave room for the story that is yet to come, the one that you have not heard. I now realize every history book should have a few blank pages -- for the history yet to be told.

Artist book Sweetly the Pilgrim Slowly the Way

Photographs from My Feet Walking

Eryn Foster organized a week long residency for seven artists on Pictou Island in July 2014.  Pictou Island Portage residency was invitation to walk, think and create while traversing the 9.5 kilometer long island on a daily basis.

I approached the act of walking as a process photograph. Each morning I strapped photo paper to my feet and walked on the paper, while pushing a line of chalk down the road to the end of the island. The photo paper was developed at the end of the day and washed in the ocean. Each day has two pieces of photo paper, one for each foot.

Build Your Altar to this Moment

Installation in progress at Enjoy Public Art Gallery, 2013. View of windows which were used for exposure as photo studio in late 19th to mid 20th century.

Installation in progress at Enjoy Public Art Gallery, 2013. View of windows which were used for exposure as photo studio in late 19th to mid 20th century.

Build Your Altar to this Moment looked at the previous history of the Enjoy gallery space -- as photographic studio in the late 19th to mid 20th century. In the early 2000’s, glass plate negatives were discovered in the ceiling of the building during renovations. These negatives, now in the Te Papa collection, were images of New Zealand families, many of soldiers departing for WWI. These images opened a portal through time. I became curious about the backdrops, which were drawn by hand and referenced European ideals of architecture. I also became aware of the room itself, as a vessel for transporting the subject to another time/place, through the photograph. I equated this with the experience of a gallery, which promises transcendent experience through viewing of art. The room remained constant through all inhabitations. Light, essential to the photographic process, also remained constant over time. I used the light as unit of measure, letting it transcribe itself through the windows onto cyanotype coated paper one early morning in May. The finished work became a hybrid of the re-printed backdrops and light. Human presence was alluded to by the wrinkles and lines visible in the backdrops, with erased figures -- as well as the presence of the viewer in front of the re-created panels. Olivia Collinson, who wrote the essay for the show states, “Occupying the very space and light used to create the portraits all those years ago, these embodied souvenirs offer a unique visual portal to the past.” Also present in this show was a video of my hand rubbing the light on the wall. Posters stating ‘Build Your Altar’ were free for the taking. The show provided an opportunity to consider the potential for pulling past into present while allowing the performative gesture, in this case light, to act as an axis through time.

This work was created specific to the location of Enjoy and with the encouragement of curator Claudia Arozqueta. Thank you to the Canada Council for the Arts and Denison University Research Funding for assistance with travel.  Thank you to Willough MacFarlane and Massey University for help with cyanotype images.

Link to essay by Olivia Collinson,
"In the Presence of Presence: The Embodied Souvenir in Sheilah Wilson's Build Your Altar to this Moment."

a line drawn continuously and without looking while telling of an out of body experience

‘a line drawn continuously and without looking while telling of an out of body experience’ solicits people who have had an out of body experience, asking them to draw while they tell their story. Participants were not allowed to look at the line while drawing, just perform the line while telling the story. This line was then retraced in the darkroom onto mylar, and printed as document of an ineffable experience. The resulting fiber prints are inverses of the original mark, a translation that allows the story to be seen as solitary white line; a contingent cosmos.

Memory Translation Machine

Memory Translation Machine further investigates the role of performance in photography. 

In this body of work I have taken one memory submitted by a woman in Columbus, and then slept directly on thememory and a roll of color film. After a nights sleep the color film is processed, scanned, printed and matched with portions of the memory. 

you are my favorite photograph

you are my favorite photograph explores the body and photograph relationship, as first articulated through spiritual photography in the late 19th and early 20th century. The practice of spiritual photography was initially conceived as a way for people to speak with the dead, but in my case, I re-enacted the physical translation of memory and photographic object in a contemporary context. I developed a practice of collecting written memories from people of their favorite images. I then proceeded to ritualistically sleep on photo paper laid on top of the written description. When I woke in the morning I moved the exposed paper from under the sheet to light tight containers. These documents were then developed, revealing various degrees of light that touched the photo paper over the course of the night. The wrinkles and creases became part of the work, as well as the variations in exposure.The work is presented as an unframed grid, allowing the viewer to see the marks of the body and passage of time. The lightbox you are my favorite photograph was displayed as a glowing embodiment of the interface between body and photograph.

Link to video of me sleeping on/exposing photo paper and memory at Herndon Gallery, Antioch College, August 2012. 

Show presented at Denison University (2010), Herndon Gallery, Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio (2012).

Catalogue associated with the show If Becoming This at Antioch College with essays by Cyndi Conn, Stephen Horne and Angela Belt Farris.

this is only one of the possible redemptions

this is only one of the possible redemptions creates a new mythology which offers a raw, homemade poetry of image, light and text. The works adhere to a vaguely recognizable, yet indiscernible, logic of place. I use self portraiture to speak to the autonomy of personal voice as creator of the image, and also to situate the work in reference to artists who have used self portraiture as a way of critiquing, and offering alternatives, to often limited depictions of individuality, gender and environment.  By placing myself in various environments I both assert and erase a new past/present hypothesis of person and place.

In a humorously crude and grandiose style I offer large scale lightboxes which are lyrical meditations on what it is to be an artist, to belong to a place, and articulate presence. Using four lightboxes and four panels of illuminated text, I explore the potential of light for its relationship to the filmic image, as a carrier of commercial messages and the potential of a glowing image to transfix. this is only one of the possible redemptions speaks to the tenuous nature of human existence and how we forge identity in the world.

flight 2004...2008

flight (2005-7) is a series of images which explore the desire and futility of my attempts to lift from the earth. Yolanda Monroy assisted with many of these images.