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The Art of Learning

Installation artist Michèle Karch-Ackerman has a magical way of weaving together threads of history, literature, human experience and emotion.

Trent University students had the opportunity in January to work alongside Michèle and learn about her innovative work. During this time Ms. Karch-Ackerman served as artist-in-residence at Champlain College for a two-week period, along with her husband, photographer Martin Ackerman.

Part sculptor, part textile artist, part new media master, Ms. Karch-Ackerman’s exhibits defy traditional explanation. She often uses xerographic transfers from historic photographs to illustrate children in her work, and affixes these to hand-sewn dolls or dresses. These images become part of the greater piece, as they are juxtaposed with natural objects (dirt, twigs, flowers, bird nests, honeycomb), text (themed pieces of literature sewn or glued into various elements) and things like dresses, travel backpacks and fabrics such as organza and antique cotton. Symbolism is very important in this work, which often centres around the themes of childhood, death, parental loss, grief and healing.

Ms. Karch-Ackerman first became connected to Trent seven years ago, when Professor Stephen Brown first asked Michèle to visit as an artist-in-residence. Since then she has been back on several occasions, and enjoys interacting with Trent students.

"This time, I’ve been working in the Great Hall," explained Ms. Karch-Ackerman. "I set up some of my work at one of the tables and students can come and observe and talk with me, and even help out, scrubbing paper off some of the dolls I’m working with."

Ms. Karch-Ackerman is preparing for her fifth major show, which will deal, in part, with the writings of St. Teresa and the experiences of the Dionne quintuplets. "In the end, I think it’s about the healing of the Dionnes and about being alive," she said, adding, "I tend to get spiritual, profound reactions to my work. It’s often seen to create a sacred place that honours things like life and childhood and grief. I think it’s accessible because there’s often knitting, sewing and things like trees in my work. It touches a lot on history and literature… it’s more like theatre in a way."

Photo: Michèle Karch-Ackerman, an installation artist who served as artist-in-residence at Champlain College in January, worked in the Great Hall for two weeks. She was often accompanied, and assisted, by her six-year-old daughter, Astrid. Michèle’s 11-year-old son Alex and her husband, photographer Martin Ackerman, also participated in the residency.

Posted February 3, 2003

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Last updated February 19, 2003