An interview with artist Michele Goulette

The words “Michele Goulette DOWNRIVER curated by Nadja Pelkey” are painted on the exhibition wall in black text, with curved black waves that run in the background.

This interview was part of a Spring 2022 course at the University of Windsor’s School of Creative Arts taught by Nadja Pelkey. Students began by reading essays and articles written about Michele Goulette’s work, and watching the videos included in Downriver. They co-created questions to ask in an in-class interview.
After reflecting on the first interview, students worked on a final set of questions. Courtney Ells and Megan Andrews conducted the final interview with Michelle Goulette in the Spring of 2022.

MEGAN: Hi everybody. Today we’re here with Michele Goulette, and I’m Megan Andrews. And I’m also with —

COURTNEY: Courtney Ells, we’re both fourth-year BFA students at the University of Windsor. And we’re having a conversation today with Michele. So, we’ll let her introduce herself.

MICHELE: Hello, my name is Michele Goulette, and I’m happy to be here today with Courtney and Megan to talk about the exhibit that’s on at [Art Windsor-Essex] right now: Michele Goulette: Downriver, curated by Nadja Pelkey. And yeah, looking very much forward to talking with you.

MEGAN: Perfect. First question is, can you describe the way that you work? How do things go from an idea to finished work for you?

MICHELE: The way I approach my work depends on the idea that I begin with in the first place. Some of my videos actually begin with the text first, and then they develop from there. I have written a number of short poems, and sometimes they become the basis for the work. Sometimes it’s just spontaneous walking around and seeing something, like the video Surface Sunset, it came from 11 seconds of video, that happened by chance, as I came across the water at sunset, and I wanted to play with it. And my focus for that one was just a purely visual thing, just the pleasure of playing with it in an abstract way. A couple of the other videos that are in the exhibit — one called Winter Window, I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a train from Windsor to Toronto and back, but it can be pretty boring. My phone was with me, and on this particular trip, the weather…the atmosphere of the snow and then the sun, and the trees that were going by…I took a lot of video. And when I got home, when I looked at it, I really liked the play of the surface of what was going on on the surface of the glass in relation to what was outside of the window. I just use that in Subterranean which was also in the exhibit. It was earlier on that I tried this because it was just as I was learning how to use video. I also had done this two-by-six-foot digital collage. And it was a still image, and I thought “I wonder if I can make it move”. So, I took these still photos and turned them into a video, it was fun to see. It was an image I really liked. And I wanted to see if I could bring it to life. So that was my approach for that one. I’ll just share one more, there’s a video called Snake Dream that’s in the exhibit. It’s actually a dream that I had that I wanted to bring to life. So, I’ve been recording my dream since the 1980s, and it does inform my work. What I did with that one is I just used the text from the dream and used it to do the video. It is rather spontaneous and based on things that come across, but some of them do actually start with an idea. So, I just go back and forth between those two different approaches.

A monitor shows several snakes peering their heads out from beneath a boulder.

COURTNEY: So, the next one we have here is, what makes you feel interested in filming something and what do you notice about it?

MICHELE: I can never predict what it’s going to be, and sometimes I’m only able to articulate afterward what it was that made me interested in one particular thing. It’s something that’s difficult to anticipate, I just come across something, I moved to record it. I don’t even know at the time, when or even if something that I’ve recorded that I’ll decide to explore further. And again, just an example of Surface Sunset, I just thought “oh, that’s cool.” And then, you know, months later came across and said I want to play with it. So that’s, I don’t know. I gotta say there are things that we're drawn to that we just don’t really know why and then we just have to trust and follow. I’m thinking about my video Bird and the one time entitled Insects that are in the exhibit. I think it’s quite odd and I have no reason why I like to photograph dead birds and insects. I find it weird, but I do. So I just find them beautiful. I’m compelled to do it. And then I’m interested enough in the image to take it further. So that’s just a few things that I can think of it’s to respond to that.

COURTNEY: Great.

A person watches a projection of a series of trees in the winter.

MEGAN: So, what camera technology do you use? And how does it contribute to the work that you make?

MICHELE: I think that because my art practice began — like burst — with drawing and painting and things like printmaking. It affects what I choose to use when I make work because I’ve always done layering and mixing and matching of things. So it carries over to when I started doing video. I go back and forth in my videos between really finely detailed areas that really require clarity and really good quality. But also, there are areas that are very amorphous, and that you might call like, more painterly or abstract. So I guess that’s a preface to saying, I’m not averse to using the best technologies available. And sometimes my work demands hyper clarity and detail. I did buy a really high-quality digital video camera, and I was enthusiastic at the time to explore what I could do with it. Some of us are better than others at being disciplined enough to navigate how we use a professional camera. But when I get a professional camera, what happens to me is a lot of the things are the immediacy of the moment. And that takes over. And it’s like, “if I don’t take this right away, I’m gonna miss it” kind of thing. So most of my images are taken with my iPhone, I just take the best images that I can with my iPhone, and I use the raw material. And I put it into Adobe Premiere Pro Creative Suite, which is like, endless possibilities. I think of it in terms of it’s like an ocean of a program. It’s like a huge, and I’m like, I just stuck my toe in the Detroit River as far as things that I use in that particular program, because it’s just, ah! But the thing is, what I love about it is, as I’m making the work, and I decide how I want it to look and how I want it to feel, I think of the program as ‘necessity is the mother of invention’: if there’s something that I really want to do, I figure it out through the program, because I know, whatever it is that I want to change, or I want to accomplish, I can figure out how to do with that program. So, a lot of the things that I might miss with a professional camera, I don’t really miss because, of course, you can’t do anything with not what’s not there in the first place. But you do what you can do. That’s fine.

An installation of 18 stills of an outdoor landscape are mounted on the wall. Two benches sit in front of the installation.

COURTNEY: All right. So, the next one I have here is a lot of your work feels very personal and vulnerable. So how do you get comfortable with sharing that work in public? So in particular, the work Bark feels extremely emotional. And some of the students describe feeling very intense anxiety while watching it. What was it like to sit with that work as you made it?

MICHELE: I think it’s true that I don’t ever really get completely comfortable with sharing some of my videos in public. But I also think that my strongest works are the works in which I go to those difficult places, and those are the works that I think elicit the strongest response in people that see them. So for me, not always, but often artists about going to those difficult places. Some of my works are not that, but a great number of them are. And I think that disturbing equilibrium and being uncomfortable is actually the point. My past has been in art and in education, and I think that both of them if they’re done right — and they [aren’t always] — but it causes us to question and grow. It challenges our assumptions and our perspectives, and it encourages us to see things in a different way. Both art and education are both change. And this change I think necessarily brings us to what can be an uncomfortable place or an uncomfortable struggle within ourselves. So if you’re in that place, you know that something is changing and that’s a good thing. But one thing I will say about sharing the work is one thing that I do prior to going public with the video that I go, “Oh my god, am I really going out there?”, I share it with a few trusted people that I know, will provide me with some honest feedback, which, you know, cuts the anxiety a little bit. And sometimes it’s nice to have reinforcement or enforcement that what you’re doing, what you’re intending is actually what people experience from it. So that’s a good way to know whether it should go into the world or not. Bark? Yes, it was actually a very difficult video to make. And it represents exactly how I was feeling at that time in my life. I was really compelled to make it, I wanted to share how it felt. I’ll tell you, it was like really painful to keep reliving it as I was editing it, I mean —

COURTNEY: Yeah.

MICHELE: And there’s, there are other videos and images that I’ve made through the years that I feel exactly the same way about and I expect I’m gonna continue to make that same kind of video when I feel that there’s something some particular situation that’s prompt me to do it.

MEGAN: So the next question is; you’ve talked about work intuitively. What does it mean for you? And how does it help you in making work?

MICHELE: If I’m drawn to something, I don’t have to understand it, I just have to trust it. I just gravitate towards what excites me or what moves me or what I consider to be important, or what just like, gives me pleasure. So just go to those places, you know, something just pops up, the more something resonates with me, the more it’s going to resonate with people who experience the works. So sometimes I will sense exactly where I want to go, and sometimes my intent is very clear. But there’s no predicting where I’m going to end up, and a lot of times, it’s not where I expected. It’s like, “oh! I didn’t… that surprised me, but that’s where it took me”. So I remember, when I was younger, that I want to do work, but I find myself sitting there unable to do a thing. Because I didn’t know what I wanted to say. I had no idea where to start. So I would just sit there or just go do something else. And it took me a long time to learn that when I feel this way, the thing to do is just to start anyway, just the act of being alone with yourself wanting to do something, even if nothing concrete comes is a start, and then just do anything. Even if you have no sense of what it is or where it’s going to go. And then you’ll find that just the process of doing something, you just eventually come across something that’s going to get you beyond that moment where you just don’t know what you’re doing, or what you want to do.

We catch a glimpse of the translucent, bluish glow beneath the ocean’s surface.

COURTNEY: Okay, a lot of your work features imagery that repeats or becomes a kind of theme in your larger practice. What do you notice emerging in your work?

MICHELE: I do notice that I’m writing more, and that some of my videos have become longer, they’ve become more sequential and narrative and focused, and more responding to the world, or a story kind of thing. I find myself prioritizing more and honing in and making decisions on what to pursue and what is actually valuable to devote my time on. And just clarifying that for myself, trying to be a little more mindful, because it is easy to fall into that play. And that’s fine. But I take a closer look at the things that I have on my list that I want to do and pick the ones that I think have more value to them. There are a couple that I’m working on right now. Because it was July 2020 when I was particularly really obsessed, I found myself sitting there lots. So the video so far, the name of it is called July 2020, view from the couch, corporeal politics and love. All these people talking about what’s happening in the world. The thing that I wanted to glom on to is like, “Great, okay, I’m sitting here, but what can I be doing? And what are they suggesting that is a way to respond to it?”

COURTNEY: Yeah. And then the second part of this that we have here is that, throughout your practice, you’ve worked in many different ways. So how do you develop a sort of confidence in trying new things and ways of working?

MICHELE: I mean, we create ourselves, right, we decide what we do in each moment of our lives. It’s ours to choose whatever medium, whatever approach, whatever tool, I found that quite overwhelming. And the thing about it is not only our choices, like, expansive, we, but they’re always changing. Process is everything. It informs what I decide to do next…And the only way not to fail is not to do anything. It’s not to try anything. So you have to just keep trying something and just go where it takes you. What I do that helps, when something is finished, or it’s almost finished, I put some time between what I’ve done. And then I go back later, and you end up coming back to your own work as if someone else made it, you’ve got a more objective perspective, that that comes into play with being able to let something go and it helps.

COURTNEY: Alright, awesome. This was a great conversation. Michele, thank you for taking the time to speak with us and allow us to ask you some questions and answer them.

MICHELE: Thank you very much. I really enjoyed it. And thank you.

Several different coloured stills of a person’s face overlap in this artwork, held on the wall by a black rectangular frame.

Interview credits

Interviewers:
Courtney Ells & Megan Andrews

Audio Editing:
Emma Sorell

Audio Transcription:
Jackson Pijl

Research and Questions:
James Pham
Madeleine Marentette
Jennifer Fraser
Megan Andrews
Ostoro Petahtegoose
Jackson Pijl
Emma Sorrell
Trevor Pallisco
Courtney Ells
Alexa Zhang
Sydney Garrod

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Art Windsor-Essex

Art Windsor-Essex

Art Windsor-Essex (AWE) is a non-profit public art gallery that uses the power of art to open hearts and minds to new ideas. Change happens here.