Guest Artists Emilie Gossiaux and Nathan Abbe

Kaleigh James
March 10, 2016

Collaborators Emilie Gossiaux and Nathan Abbe took a multisensory approach to Interlochen Arts Academy's annual theme of light to create their unique recent exhibition Unfixtures.  They challenged the visual artists to take a similar approach to their own work in a weeklong multisensory workshop here on campus.

In February the Arts Academy Visual Arts department played host to visiting artists and collaborators Emilie Gossiaux and Nathan Abbe, who came to campus to install their exhibition Unfixtures and to work with the Visual Arts students in a series of workshops over the course of the week. Emilie, who has been the focus of two RadioLab interviews as well as a featured New York Times artist, has limited hearing due to a degenerative condition, and lost her sight in a terrible accident during her undergraduate studies at The Cooper Union in New York City. Emilie, a lifelong artist who attended high school at Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, Florida, was forced by her life experiences to rethink her approach to visual arts in order to continue her studio practice. As a result, she embraced ceramics and three-dimensional media as a way to experience artworks through senses beyond sight: touch, smell, sound, taste. This multisensory approach to the visual arts informs her current practice and was the driving force behind her workshops for students here on campus.

Emilie and Nathan Abbe, whose formal training is in architecture, share studio space in New York and worked together to create 14 wax "lamp" sculptures for their collaborative exhibition, Unfixtures, currently on display in the Dow Center for Visual Arts gallery space here on campus. In their artist lecture, Nathan said he challenged Emilie to work in a larger scale than she was accustomed to, and the two said they would consider future collaborations as well.  The sculptures, installed on custom pedestals, are each under a heat lamp designed to melt the wax throughout the show and slowly expose a metal core within each. The show has a unique approach to light - the only light comes from the heat lamps, so the light is both seen as a red glow and felt as soon as a viewer enters the gallery. The smell of the parafin wax is also stimulating to the senses, "like crayons melting in the sun" as Nathan observed at the artist lecture given here on campus.

Throughout the week of their visit (Feb. 19-27) Emilie and Nathan and Emilie's guide dog London—worked with Arts Academy students in a series of workshops.

These included:

  • A two day art history workshop where students were required to describe paintings in great detail using their senses to extrapolate on smell, taste, touch, wonder, etc.
  • A weeklong blind contour drawing workshop where students were blindfolded and given an object which they had to draw without seeing, subsequently turning their drawings into three-dimensional sculptures.
  • A weeklong multisensory workshop where students were asked to create works that were experienced using more than one sense.

The resulting projects included installations of balloons filled with perfume in a darkened room where viewers walked around with pins for popping, drawings in slabs of clay where the lines could be felt by observers, and wind chimes made of orange peels and cafeteria forks that could be both smelt and heard.

We were honored and privileged to have Emilie and Nathan on campus. Their work and coaching forced the students to consider their own artistic creations in a new context, and to consider all art objects from a sensory standpoint.  We are grateful for their guidance and mentorship with the students, and for their wonderful installation in the gallery

You can listen to Emilie's first RadioLab, about her accident, here.  A follow-up RadioLab story about her experiences with the brainport device can be found here.  You can also check out this online feature about Emile's experiences, as well as her recent feature in the New York Times.  Emile's website with image of her work can be found here, Nathan's website is available here.