Michelle Day is an artist currently based in Canberra, Australia and completing her MFA at Chiang Mai University. Dealing with ideas of interconnection, intimacy, and proximity through material exploration, Day’s work offers unlikely moments of intuitive connection through objects. Taking particular moments and questions, from the feeling of someone’s recent presence in a space to visceral sensations translated through sight, these flashes of energy are translated into her careful, and often delicate, sculptures.
Gracelee Lawrence: I first happened upon your work by visiting the CMU Art Center when I had just arrived in Chiang Mai. I felt as though materially and experientially there were things happening in your work that moved well beyond purely formal language into a tactile articulation that excited me. From your background in textiles, how has the evolution of your making pushed you into a more sculptural direction?
Michelle Day: While studying in textiles I wanted the textiles that I was making to have some kind of structure and to be more three dimensional, but they never taught that in textiles which was incredibly frustrating. When I finished my undergraduate and was constantly banging my head against all of the 2D weaving and dying, I decided to do honors (in Australia this is a one year addition an undergraduate degree) and changed my focus to sculpture. I did mold making and welding courses and then went crazy with welding, making big sculptures with welded elements and textiles.
GL: I also came to sculpture through a combination of sewing and welding, I love that overlap.
MD: Isn’t welding amazing? The only part I don’t like are the fumes, but they even have a nostalgic feeling. Because I was quite insecure coming from textiles and they were rougher in sculpture I felt like I needed to prove myself and worked hard to learn the tools really well.
GL: You feel like the delineations between media were held high?
MD: Oh yes, particularly because Canberra is a bit more of a craft centered town. There is a lot of focus on wood, silver smithing, and glassblowing. I was mostly focused on metal and fabric during honors, also looking at the context of growth. They were mostly furniture style elements with organic additions that grew into a use of silicon skins to create more delicate forms. This also continued in working with light.
GL: You think about light as a material and object? How do you situate light in the context of your practice?
MD: I do see it as material and that is now how I write it on my material lists. You can say electrical elements but it’s not the same as light. I’ve just recently decided that is it a material in my work. I see the light as being symbolic of life, especially because many of my things look forgotten or dead and the light bring them back to this cusp of being alive and not alive.
GL: Give me a short recap of what your work is doing right now.
MD: I’m trying to capture the feeling that you have when somebody has recently left a room and you feel their recent presence, you know that they’ve left but you don’t empirically know. It changes depending on who they are, it is a sense of life or energy. Energy is appropriate but not because of how it’s been used in a hippie context. I think about it in a scientific context as well, people leaving their warmth, disturbed air, a resonance of sound behind. Since my father is a research chemist I am led to consider the rational side as well. I’m trying to create a sensory, sensual, experience.
GL: An experience that is dealing with one’s senses fully or in a shifted context?
MD: In terms of the works that people look into, I feel like they deal with an imagined sensory experience which blots out our real senses. I put smell in them, but I’m not sure that is necessary. Visuals often create imagined smells anyways.
GL: This can be a little of a used up question, perhaps a bit trite, but I’m always interested to know if being a mother has changed the way that you make. I’m so often talking to artists and reading interviews about how having kids changes what people make or how they think. Is this true for you?
MD: When Chester was first born it changed it quite a bit as I could only make in short stints and couldn’t afford a studio. I had to make in the domestic space which altered it, although every space alters your work in some way. It hasn’t changed into being more saleable or anything like that. Mentally it hasn’t changed my worldview, but in terms of practicality it has changed what materials I can use around him.
GL: Logistics have shifted but conceptually your work kept an even keel.