Interview by Tess Martens
Tait Wilman grew up on the prairies and by the sea of the West Coast. Tess Martens and Tait Wilman pursued their Masters of Fine Art at the University of Waterloo together between 2016-2018. They were half of the 2018 Fine Arts Master’s cohort at the University of Waterloo. They were also roommates in their first year of their MFA and both discovered and involved performance art in their thesis through the influence of professor, Bojana Videkanic. Summer 2018, Wilman worked for the University of Waterloo with their Student Art Innovation Laboratory. After that summer, she was accepted into Conestoga for Women in Skilled Trades. As well as doing trades, she participates in craft and art markets locally in Kitchener-Waterloo and out West in British Columbia. Martens and Wilman are both on the CAFKA (Contemporary Art Forum, Kitchener & Area) programming committee. Wilman is part of the group show at Idea Exchange, Show .19.
Martens: Alright Tait, welcome to The Front Room Gallery. (laughs)
Wilman: (laughs) Thanks Tess.
Martens: First off, let’s talk about Drake and how he inspires you in life and art.
Wilman: That’s a good question. The fascination with Drake started with his music. I also really think he’s really hot. I joke he’s my hall pass. He kind of became an icon for my thesis practice. A way to separate him from something so serious. I think that is why I am so drawn to him and I had subtle references to him. It was Bojana [Videkanic] that really pointed out that he is this idol and icon for this new Canadiana, multicultural, multiracial and someone who has this celebrity that is Canadian and doesn’t try to be American. Obviously, he has a house in California and probably lives there and he also pretends he lives in Toronto. He represents this place. He revamped the Raptors. I don’t think they had much of a fanbase so revitalizing the city. Representing Canadians as a whole new genre.
Martens:When it comes to Canada, you represent your body and the land. Especially with your rock figures. What does that stem from?
Wilman: That all stemmed from when I first moved to Ontario. Whenever you move to a new place there is an adjustment period. I felt like it was extended. I feel like now, I still don’t really feel like it’s a space I would call home. A lot of it stems from I have no idea what direction I am going at any point especially in Waterloo. Whereas, where I am from, you can always see the mountains and where is West and you can figure out the rest. And they are very much like water but they are very grounding. And how diverse the landscape is where I am from. You can go an hour into the mountains and you can go an hour into the prairies, you can go into the Valley, it used to be a desert. I felt a strong connection to a landscape that I think I never felt before until I left it. It was all about exploring this new space. Exploring this notion of landscape as a commodity and used as a way to sell Canada. Beer commercials, mountains, hockey on the lake, travel to Banff on the train are always used as a selling point and attractions and what that means, what that is, what does that connection mean. And I think I am still trying to figure that out. Coming from a white colonial background, landscape feels like home but is not my home and dealing with all those questions.
Martens: What made you stay in Waterloo after your Master’s?
Wilman: Really good question. I told myself I wanted to stay for another year for sure because I built a community here. I think the community, even though it’s small, it’s quite vast and very supportive which I wasn’t really expecting. I think Toronto is a lot more competitive in the arts community and I don’t find that vibe in Waterloo. I feel that people are very welcoming and supportive. I wanted to stick it out for sure. This has become a place where I have new friends and connections. Stick it out and it happened to work in my favour, school wise.
M: Tell me about your program at Conestoga.
Wilman: So, I very last minute, applied to the Women in Skills Trade program. In my art practice, I was using unconventional ways of art making. At the University of Waterloo, I really enjoyed the welding and metal work that we could do. I always liked working in the woodshop. I’d always done that with my dad growing up, helping him with renos, projects. Anything that I ever wanted, we tried to build it before we would buy it. I have always been interested in the trades but was always intimidated by how overtly masculine it is and I’m a small female. So when I heard of this program of all women it gives me the opportunity to try it. It is funded by the province so why not? It is less than a year. So go for it. It was really last minute. I was wrapping things up with S.A.I.L [Student Art Innovation Laboratory] at UW. Within less than a week and a half, I had applied, gone and done a test, done an interview. Yeah, they accepted me into the program.
Martens: What is your definition between art, craft and construction?
Wilman: Yeah, I have always found it difficult to categorize what I do and what other work is. Because I have done a lot of all three. My background is a lot of people would consider my mom a craft artist and even working in my undergrad , the craft discipline is fiber and jewelry which is metalwork which are two kinds of things that I also viewed as art in general. Same as construction, I think they are all ways of making. It’s just what you are making. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what it is whether it is considered craft, art or construction. I think all involve creative problem solving and they involve working with your hands, and being willing to experiment and take some risks. I think that’s why I enjoy all three of them and combining all three of them. I see a lot of overlap between all three. Especially things with commercial displays which I have done before that involves building construction wise and also building an experience for someone, like installation art. Then, construction, even if it is a residential space, the things that you are doing you are being creative in the making. It’s just the end results may look different than what you might conventionally call art.
Martens: Yeah. I was also thinking within those lines. When you think of the stereotype of who does each, they are very distinct. The construction worker is the person with the hard hat. The craft is done by an elderly lady and the mom. I don’t necessarily believe in them. The artist is someone who is starving and free spirited. That’s nice that you are blurring those lines because that is not reality. That is not always reality.
Wilman: I am really drawn to attire for different reasons. You know this. The things you would wear to do construction. Whatever that artist persona is or the crafter, boho chic. It is like you put on a persona. They are very different. In construction, if you are doing metal, you are in fireproof wear. When you are doing construction, you have a tool belt, this persona and costume on. I think that is something I have always been drawn to. It allows for escape from self and not to overthink things and life in general. That is something that I drew from it. You feel very bad ass when you have a tool belt on, banging a wall, swinging a hammer. That might come back to those stereotypes but kind of portraying them and putting them on their head is what I like to do.
Martens: I was also going to touch upon your Etsy shop and your way of expressing yourself with fashion. Would you like to talk about that?
Wilman: Yeah, my Etsy shop started when I was doing my undergrad. I was doing a lot of embroidered badges that were puns or taking pride in something and making fun of you. People just really enjoyed them and wanted to purchase them. It kind of grew from there as an escape where I was able to create but didn’t have to think so conceptually about it or worry about the intentions behind it. Except it is sweet, fun, unique and plays with images that I really like. They are all accessories for your life, for your home and for you. To embellish how you already portray yourself. Like your denim jackets. It can be very campy, punk or heavy metal. There are many different connotations that come with the patch and badge. Yeah, just exploring that, that’s similar to a persona and outfit. Dealing with certain employment or whatever that might be. Fashion is similar, you dress a certain way based on how you feel and alter it. What you can put together allows you to accentuate different aspects of yourself.
Martens: What concepts of your art are you now exploring?
Wilman: Very good question, Tess! I haven’t veered too far away from what I was doing in my MFA work. I am learning a bit on Illustrator and doing things digitally because I am really bad at it. Right now, I am taking the metal shapes, the silhouettes of landscapes in my thesis show and turning them more into illustrative pieces. More of a challenge to myself than anything. To try something new. There are still the same facets that fascinate me. And I think it will be interesting to see as I develop my skills in construction, what I am able to do. Taking things that I can do on a smaller scale to a larger scale. Combining it or possibly developing a new persona or character that deals more with the male dominated trade. Or even looking at certain aspects of trade that are more female dominated or more female sought after like drywall tapers and mudders. It comes down to detail. It may be interesting to explore those. There are a lot of negative connotations that come with the trades, and people that do them, which I think is a shame.
Martens: You are very proficient with materials and you use your body as material with performance. Do you think you will do more performance art? I see a link between you being a doer and performance art being about the process instead of the final outcome.
Wilman: For sure. Especially since what I am studying in the trades is very physical. It’s also really exciting to take time lapse videos in my classes to see what I am doing. And the whole process of it is really interesting. I don’t know what it could be, but there is something that can come out of that. There is something about the very macho culture about it, taking that on but in a different way. The trucks and tools. It is dirty, gritty and sweaty. Playing with all those notions. I haven’t figured out what that could be.
Martens: I think you are aware of the art piece with the two lesbian park rangers. It makes me think of that in a way. I think that is all. Anything else you want to add?
Wilman: No, I don’t think so. Thanks Tess.
Wilman: You gave me a lot to think about!
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You can spot Tess Martens performing with all her heart during karaoke night because she has to compensate for her singing voice or cracking jokes at a music open mic night. She is a performance artist and painter that exploits her vulnerabilities and humour. When she is not doing art, she is working with seniors. She recently received her Masters of Fine Art at the University of Waterloo. She now resides in Waterloo, Ontario. Follow Tess on Instagram.