The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast

Episode 2: Art, Accessibility, & MCS with Michel Dumont

May 03, 2022 Episode 2
The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast
Episode 2: Art, Accessibility, & MCS with Michel Dumont
The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode, Aaron speaks with Michel Dumont.

Michel is a queer, two-spirited, disabled, Métis artist who lives and works with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). He resides in Thunder Bay in northern Ontario, Canada.

A lot of Michel's art involves what he calls ‘faux taxidermy.'  He makes beautiful, colourful animal objects — bears are some of his favourites — with found taxidermy and covers them over with discarded vintage tile. The results are fabulous mosaic pieces. Michel also creates wearable art using packing tape, mylar, cellophane and LED lights. His work has been exhibited at galleries across Canada. 

In  this podcast chat, Michel speaks about how he uses materials that are safer for him as a person with MCS, and that sometimes he’s been judged for his choices. He also talks about the challenges of exhibiting art as someone with MCS, how he draws on his Indigenous and Métis roots, and how his mother’s experiences as a survivor of the Indian Residential School System influence his creative practices.

The Canadian government and a number of churches removed and separated Indigenous children from their families and communities and forced them to attend residential schools. Most of the 139 Indian Residential Schools stopped operating by the mid-1970s, but the last federally-run school closed in the late 1990s. In recent years, the remains of hundreds of children have been found on the sites of former Indian Residential Schools. 

Part of this episode deals with traumatic memories of past abuse. If you are a survivor of the Residential School System, you can call the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line anytime. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

Thank you for listening!


Michel Dumont on Instagram

On Tokenization, Funding and Being an Indigenous Artist who is Differently Abled

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The Chemical Sensitivity and its associated website are made possible with grant funds awarded to Aaron Goodman by Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) under the KPU 0.6% Faculty PD Fund. With the exception of Aaron Goodman as the creator of the Podcast, neither KPU, its directors, officers and employees operate, control, are responsible for, or necessarily endorse The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast and associated website. The content, opinions, findings, statements, and recommendations expressed in The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast and associated website do not necessarily reflect the official views of KPU or the students of KPU.

Aaron Goodman  00:05

Welcome to the Chemical Sensitivity Podcast. It's a podcast that amplifies the voices of people with MCS and highlights emerging research about the illness. 


Aaron Goodman  00:14

In this episode, I'm speaking with Michel Dumont. Michel is a queer, Metis, two spirited artist who has multiple chemical sensitivity. He currently resides in Thunder Bay in northern Ontario. A lot of his art involves what he calls faux taxidermy. He makes beautiful, colorful animal objects--bears are one of his favorites--with found taxidermy and covers them over with discarded vintage tile, making them into fabulous mosaic pieces. 


Aaron Goodman  00:15

Michel also works with wearable art, using packing tape, mylar, cellophane, and LED lights. His work has been exhibited at galleries across Canada. In our conversation, Michel speaks about how he chooses materials that are safer for him as a person with MCS, and that sometimes he's been judged for his choices. 


Aaron Goodman  00:58

He also talks about the challenges of exhibiting his art as someone with MCS, and how he draws on his indigenous Metis roots and his mother's experiences as a survivor of the Indian residential school system in his creative practices. For decades, the Canadian government and a number of churches removed and separated indigenous children from their families and communities, forcing them to attend residential schools. Most of 139 Indian residential schools stopped operating by the mid 1970s. But the last federally run school closed in the late 1990s. In the past couple of years, the remains of hundreds of children have been found on the sites of former Indian residential schools. Since part of our conversation deals with traumatic memories of past abuse, if you're a survivor of the Indian residential school system, you can call the National Indian residential school crisis line, the number is 1-866-925-4419. That's 1-866-925-4419. And thank you for listening. 


Aaron Goodman  02:03

Michel Dumont. Thanks so much for joining me on the podcast. 


Michel Dumont  02:07

Hi, there. Well, thank you for having me, Aaron. 


Aaron Goodman  02:08

Yeah, it's really amazing. I'm really been looking forward to talking with you. And I've been exploring your artwork, and some of your writing. And so it's, it's amazing to have a chance to talk with you. So folks will have heard me read the bio that you shared, but would you like to let people know a little bit about yourself? 


Michel Dumont  02:26

Well, um, so my name is Michel Dumont, I'm a queer, Metis, two spirited, disabled artist from Thunder Bay, Ontario. So from the Robertson superior treaty, I am Ojibwe and Metis, Sorry, French. And so I became a multiple chemical sensitive about eight years ago, and I had to adapt my artistic medium to deal with non-toxic materials, or I wouldn't have a career.


Aaron Goodman  02:56

Right, I hear you, and I really want to invite you to share more about that. And, and thank you for introducing yourself. And you've talked about multiple identities. And I wanted to ask just off the top, are there any of your multiple identities that you identify with the most? Or do they--does it depend on the situation? Or the day? And how do they come together? Like either do they? Do they come together in your artwork?


Michel Dumont  03:24

Well, I mean, the intersections, you know, are sort of ever present. Right? And so, and, and realistically, you know, it's because of those intersections that I have appeal to more people, like, when I realized that, to get personal, I became more universal. That was something I had to like, come to understand. And then so everything, you know, my--all my identities, you know, they factor into everything I work with, so my Chemical Sensitivity, you know, is paramount in line materials. 


Michel Dumont  04:01

And it is, you know, why I explore, you know, non toxic materials that I can breathe with low VOCs right. And so, when I'm making dresses for runway collections, you know, I'm making it of materials that are not going to give me a headache, right, or make me dizzy. And then when I'm making sculptures, or installation art, it's, you know, exploring, you know, traditionally, you know, there are certain, you know, materials that, you know, consider for fine arts, right, you know, oil paints, and, you know, like things like this, and, of course, I have, I am limited, but I'm also freed of, you know, certain, you know, conventions of what is, you know, fine art. 


Michel Dumont  04:46

And luckily, you know, the rest of the world is sort of, you know, coming to terms with that, that, you know, craft can be, you know, level to the level of art and fine art. And so, I've been, you know, playing with uh, you know, ceramics and ceramic studio when I get the chance, and just having fun, you know, and, and realistically speaking, we have had this history of, you know, art supplies that are non toxic for children. Yes, you want some permanence, you know, but what--why does toxicity have to deem its profession--that it's professional? And so, yeah, I mean, I take unconventional materials, and I turn them into costumes, and I turn them into installation art. 


Aaron Goodman  05:33

Yeah. And I want to talk more about the materials and the choices and the challenges and the reception. Most people will be listening to you--listening to you, as opposed to seeing you. Could you talk a little bit about the work that you do, you've mentioned you do fashion design. I'm really interested in hearing you talk about your, what you call faux taxidermy, and how the Metis and First Nations influences your work, what are the major kind of types of art that you that you do that you create?


Michel Dumont  06:10

So a few years ago, I was really fortunate to have stumbled into a local antique store and and find some vintage taxidermy forms. The owner of the antique store, when I told him that I would love to see--I would love to buy them, he had 25 more animals in the basement, and they were all taxidermy forms from the 1980s. So they were polyurethane, but most of them had outgassed. And that was extremely important, that this material was vintage, that it was not fresh polyurethane, because fresh polyurethane can be, you know, really aromatic still it can be sort of like a vinyl, right.


Michel Dumont  06:52

And, and then I also had to learn about you know, having the right adhesives that would adhere ceramic to, you know, polyurethane, and fortunately I, you know, stumbled upon a hot glue that I could use, I mean, some hot glues are stronger than others and, you know, have a really bad odor. And so, the ta--like I told him, if he gave me a deal, I would make a career out of it. And so he's been following my career as I get, you know, nominated for certain awards across the country and I exhibit outside of the country now. 


Michel Dumont  07:22

But I, so I, what I do is I carve ceramic tile. And so I--I've been playing with, you know, mosaics for years, and I used to use really harsh adhesives like silicone glues, and I would, you know, get massive headaches, about--starting about eight, nine years ago. And there were times when I was using a gas mask while I was, you know, protecting myself from the silicon glue not realizing I was becoming a multiple chemical sensitive. And so that process of becoming, you know, a multiple chemical sensitive, I had to retreat from, you know, established, you know, patterns that I had in my process and my work. 


Michel Dumont  08:03

And so, you know, learning for--learning to find substitutes, right and, and in some, some of the polyurethane, you know, taxidermy forms, even after 40 years, they still have an odor like, I, I tried to have a whole collection inside the house, before they were, you know, decorated with, you know, tile and with grout. And I was starting to get massive headaches, and I'm like, oh, these can't be inside the house. So I had to put them outside. And it was trial and error, I brought one or two into the house that I could work on. And I could tolerate, you know, their presence, but then I found that certain poly, some polyurethanes are the, the foams were still supple, and they were still very odorific. 


Michel Dumont  08:51

And I realized, okay, I can only work with them, you know, in a well ventilated area. It was through trial and error that I realized that as soon as I started covering them with, you know, carved tile and with, you know, grout, I was locking in the scent. And so by the time I started working, like, you know, two thirds or like, halfway through the piece, I wouldn't be able to tolerate it inside my house. And so--I know. It was, it's been trial and error to work with this medium. But the older the taxidermy form, like on eBay, the better it is for me to, you know, breathe in. I keep them, you know, all still out in the garage. 


Aaron Goodman  09:31

You found this collection of taxidermy animals. You brought them home, and you started realizing they're toxic, and then you covered them over with grout and tile. Why did you do this? 


Michel Dumont  09:47

So these forms are the naked forms that you would hav--you would--the taxidermist, traditional taxidermists would buy the form, they would pin the fur onto the form and stretch it out and then they would heat it under a heat lamp to sort of shrink wrap it onto the platform. What I realized--I was a mosaicist. And I really wanted to make, you know, instead of just like a two dimensional flat surface, which I have done and many mosaicists do, I wanted to do something three dimensional and, and really I am Bear Clan, right? So I'm a Ojibwe and Bear Clan is a protector clan. And so I've been taking in, you know, teenagers for years, you know, my son I, I adopted him, you know, kept him in the family, he was my second cousin. And so I've always, you know, did this privately in my own--my own personal life was you know, get teenagers back home to their parents and stuff, right. 


Michel Dumont  10:48

And so seeing these taxidermy forms in these animals in the--it, just it was limitless, like I had five bears in the collection, some deer and I had--even had a beaver form. And I knew that it spoke to me because of the native clan system, you know, for how we identify ourselves spiritually. And so I knew that I could tell a story and I come from an oral tradition. 


Michel Dumont  11:20

And so telling a story in tile, you know, was the next step. So these animals became stories unto themselves. Right. And so, my first bear was a two spirited rainbow bear. So the intersections of my queer, you know, bearness, you know, in the gay community, and then, you know, being, you know, Indigenous and Bear Clan, right, it's sort of--it married the two so well, and so each piece, like one deer is a dancing doe. And it's, it's a jingle dress deer, with stylized jingles on the body of the doe. And it's to honor the the, the--the women in my family who could never wear a jingle dress, you know, that was stripped to them, that identity was stripped to that--of them by Indian Day School and Residential School. And so I'm--have a chance to tell a story. And I'm able to honor you know, my, my intersections and tell a story in tile  on my animals. 


Aaron Goodman  12:19

And so you talk about your process of learning, as someone who has Chemical Sensitivity, that the traditional and traditional is probably not the right word, but maybe the conventional materials that a lot of other artists work with don't work with you, because of your illness, you're not able to work with these. So you've had this process of discovering and you write that you went sort of back to your Indigenous roots, if I'm not wrong, right to use, how would you describe it natural materials or products that are that First Nations artists used to use? Is that something you've experimented with? 


Michel Dumont  12:59

So I guess I should say that, you know, right now, there's this resurgence of hide tanning , and I really want to go to a hide tanning camp because they're outdoors, but I'm going to have to stay away from the fire, I have to stay away from the smoke, I'm going to have to, you know, protect myself from the smudging. But I want to be a part of that experience. 


Michel Dumont  13:19

And so luckily, my local community, they know me, and so I'll be able to stand six feet away and still be able to talk and learn. But, you know, some of the experiences and making deer hide is very odorific. And I can't be around, right, like, the smoke will, you know, give me too much of a headache. But, so what I have done and when I can is to use materials like birch bark, and we call it wiigwaas, right, in Ojibwe. 


Michel Dumont  13:48

And when I can--I can strip wiigwaas off a tree, keep the tree you know healthy and just take off some outer layers of bark and then I can introduce that into, you know, collage or into my work and it's, you know, getting that traditional, you know, material but finding that there's non toxicity even within the indigenous world right and in the natural world, eventually I would love to be a you know, a land artist and I would love to be able to make mounds of dirt and you know piles of stones and you know, a mark that can erode with time, however, I mean, I have a bad back as well and so there's only--I'm limited to what I can do in my hands you know daily, because I also suffer from chronic pain. 


Michel Dumont  14:32

And so that also means I work with a lightweight material like packing tape and cellophane. My mother used to make all these paper flowers and plastic flowers for weddings, you know, all the family weddings, my mother and my sister and I when we were children, we'd be making all these Kleenex flowers for all the you know, cars in the wedding party. And I have that sort of, you know, tradition of you know, keeping my hands busy right and and right now I'm just making dresses out of this lightweight cellophane and packing tape that has a low toxicity to it. It's adhesive. And I first saw it on Pinterest about eight years ago or seven years ago. And it was this Halloween packing tape ghost, you know, I just went, Oh, packing tape, how like, you know, like, and I saw the transparency, I saw a light being shot through it, you know, ghost at Halloween, I thought, okay, I can do that. 


Michel Dumont  15:26

So I did it, I found packing tape that I could breathe in, it was fine. And I played with cellophane, of course, I had this love of cellophane, from when I was a little boy, normally, you would get you know, our pastry packages that were cardboard, and then you'd have a little cellophane window. And I used to think that was magical. Looking into the pastry, you didn't have these big plastic containers that we now currently have that are littering the planet, right. And I tried to incorporate some of that, you know, reused, you know, plastics into my process now. So I took packing tape and cellophane and I started playing with it. 


Michel Dumont  16:00

And I realized that you can make textile out of it, that with enough layers, you can make a leather and then once you make a textile leather, you can do anything out of it. And with that transparency, you can shoot light through it. And that just you know, opened up, you know, so many possibilities. And I just, you know, went with it. And now, you know, I'm on one of the biggest runways in the country with all these international indigenous designers from, you know, New Zealand, Greenland, you know, South America, it's just so amazing. 


Aaron Goodman  16:31

Yeah, and the cellophane fashion design also is influenced from your First Nations origins and queer identity? 


Michel Dumont  16:42

Oh, yeah, definitely. It's, it's, it's bright and shiny. But then I've also played with making Ojibwe flower prints, right, like the woodland flower print petals, and I use reflective paper that had, you know, millions of glass beads on top of it. And then I put a cellophane, you know, layer on top of it to make it flash different colors. And so I play with materials that are frequently found at estate sales and auctions, you know, that--that are going to be you know, I find them in secondhand stores, right. And so, frequently, things that have offgassed for a long period of time are like perfect fodder for my, you know, installation art or for my creativity. So I'm always combing the antique stores and, you know, the secondhand thrift shops. 


Aaron Goodman  17:34

Yes, that makes sense. I hear you. And, you know, I wonder if you know, because you're quite vocal about your experiences with Chemical Sensitivity. Is that something that you're intentional about? Is your intention to counter ableism? And you told me in an earlier discussion, "If you admire my artwork, you can't divorce that from my disability." Or maybe you wrote that, I'm not sure. So how do you view those things? 


Michel Dumont  18:05

 There was sort of a attitude to, you know, dismiss, you know, my disability and just focus on the art. And I, you know, found that very grating because my artwork is informed by my disability, it--you can't, you know, have one without the other. I frequently discuss, you know, and I'm very public about, you know, my trials and tribulations in traveling. I mean, traveling with MCS, there's so many people who have MCS who refuse to travel because trying to find safe harbor in other cities is extremely difficult. As you well know, I'm sure. 


Aaron Goodman  18:47

You're sought after, galleries want to exhibit your work, you're being invited all over the place. And yet, I'm hearing you saying that that's actually pretty challenging for you with, with--with MCS, right, to travel, to get on a plane, to find hotels, and I can just imagine opening reception, you know, being in a crowded space with all the fragrances that can be--must be really challenging.


Michel Dumont  19:11

I'm lucky that--that Art Galleries are big, open spaces, that helps. When rooms are really small, and then when there's a lot of perfume on opening night. Yes, that's difficult. So I mean, I've had various experiences, right? Like, I mean, most of the places I go to like they'll inform me, if there's going to be smudging, then I can just step out, wait for it to happen and come back, you know, 5-10 minutes later. 


Aaron Goodman  19:33

Michel, you talk about you know, having to adapt the materials you work with to make it safe for yourself. You also have written about that you've encountered some judgment from galleries, critics, other artists, the public, what kind of judgment have you faced and how have you dealt with that? 


Michel Dumont  19:52

I think disability can sometimes be weaponized against you. And so if you--if you say you have, you know, you need these accommodations and you have these difficulties. There's there are times when you know gallerists and curators can say, well, we can have someone else stepping in your shoes. Right. And so there's always that fear. I had one curator, you know, telling me that I should probably just leave the event, you know, because of the smudging. And I just said, no, I need to, you know, just step out for 5 to 10 minutes. And then when it's done, I have--I can come back in. There are times when commerce meets art, and commerce can sometimes trump you know, the artists.


Michel Dumont  20:11

 I mean, there are times when accommodation is merely lip service. And there are times when galleries really want to try, but then you have to educate. You know, what does accommodation for someone who has MCS, really mean? Right? I mean, it's a safe accommodation, it means a safety plan. You know, like, if I get a toxic exposure, all of a sudden, I need to know where the exits are, so I can get some fresh air, right. And so there are things that galleries can do better. 


Aaron Goodman  20:56

Right. And it's also, you know, the type of the products right, like when people evaluate your work or judge your work, you've, I think you've noted, can sometimes be viewed as lesser value, or less prestigious, less worthy of being displayed, because did you say that they think you're using children's materials?


Michel Dumont  21:20

Realistically speaking, that that's an older group of curators and gallerists in this country who still have this, you know, sort of antiquated idea of what fine art is, you know, sculpture. painting, you know, drawing there, it's like, you know, thats, yes, thankfully, there's a younger breed of curator who understands multimedia, who understands fine art, disability arts, I have to say, has come a long way in our country, more curators are getting educated about disability arts. And so when you're evaluating, you know, a person's work who say, came out of an institution, and they work with non traditional materials, they get work with materials that were brought to them to the hospital, or whatever it was you then you get this fantastic, you know, textile art, you get this fantastic, original thing. 


Michel Dumont  22:04

And so I think the intersection of art and disability you factor in here, I work with such a lightweight material, I work with a non toxic material. And then I action light installations. And I have made a runway collection that's now International. And so it's--it's wonderful to be embraced. And hopefully just, it'll happen more and more often that we open our minds up to what is beautiful. 


Aaron Goodman  22:28

And safe, right? And safe for more people. That's good, to hear. And so I wanted to ask you, you know, going back to when you--your early days, as an artist, did you always have an interest in the connection between your creative expression in the environment, I was discovered on your Instagram, you write about standing on the beach, your first art show? Where you were making a statement about medical waste showing up on New York state beaches? Do you want to talk a little bit about about that? Have you always had an interest in the environment and--even before you had MCS?


Michel Dumont  23:00

The environmental medical waste that was washing up in New York bases like I guess it was a barge that had tipped over and so all these needles, etc, had washed up on New York beaches. I remember that story like it was yesterday. And I thought a day at the beach should not be--you shouldn't be worried about syringe pokes. I took this vinyl beach ball. And I had to play with adhesives. 


Michel Dumont  23:25

There was some question of whether or not it was safe enough to have, so I didn't put the syringes on I just put the plungers onto the ball. These were from like a veterinarian clinic and I told people it's only gonna be dangerous to your dogs or cats. And yeah, I guess I have been interested in the environment as you put--put it. It's you know, we have to live here and I worked with a plastics residency in Banff just this last summer and it was a virtual residency with scientists from around the world and--and artists and it was eye opening. I learned about plastic nurdles, you know in the lower Great Lakes from a scientist who was studying it and then you know, levels of you know microplastics etc. 


Michel Dumont  23:25

That was--that was an essay in adhesives because strong adhesives for the hard plastic plunger for the syringe needle would eat through the vinyl. And so I had to figure out what adhesives would work I was working with all these toxic materials at that time, I was trying, not very well, I was probably had, you know, low tolerance for toxicity even then, like you know, years before it really presented itself and so I put an extra strip of double sided--the vinyl sided tape, which I would probably never be able to work with now. And then and, and then I glued some contact cement or something onto each you know double sided vinyl tape because I was--the glues were eating through the vinyl. So I made them like a porcupine with these ridges of needles sticking out of the ball. 


Michel Dumont  24:57

And so, I live on Lake Superior which is one of the cleanest lakes, but we do have one nurdle site on the whole lake. And that's from a train car that went into the lake. And they're still you know, 10 years later still, you can still find the plastic nurdles, which are dangerous to sea animals, etc. So I'm learning to, you know, and--and the thing is with, with artists, we can't avoid certain materials like, like paints behind me, they're, they're toxic. 


Michel Dumont  25:26

The thing is, we can't avoid it. However, we can treat our materials like precious materials, right. And so we can reuse, we can recycle, I'm learning to incorporate. But I always have done this, I've always have reused previous costumes and use the components to build another costume. And then what I'm really doing is taking a single use plastic, and I'm reusing it again and again. So my performers, you know, wear their--their outfits again and again, but I'm also learning not to treat it with like precious material that I'm not going to waste it. And as artists, we have to be cognizant of our material and its place in, you know, the future, like, is it going to be on the planet forever. 


Aaron Goodman  26:06

I want to just to circle back to an art project that you made in which you made MCS really visible to the public, right? Do you want to talk a little bit about that? It's a project about a shape of a body and you're showing like how the nervous system works was that around MCS, can you talk us through a little bit about that project. 


Michel Dumont  26:27

So that was my chronic pain chart. And so my invisible disabled man, it can sort of deal with, you know, multiple chemi--chemical sensitivity because it deals with invisible disabilities. Right. And so my chronic pain chart, I spent years circling where it hurts on the doctors charts for many specialists and many doctors who I've seen over the last 25 years of my--my injury. And so I decided that I was going to celebrate invisible disability by making a see-through three dimensional man. And in that I did nerve endings in red Mylar, like from balloons from Party City, and I threaded them through the whole body. So really invisible disabilities, people deal with them all the--all the time. and my chronic pain and my MCS you don't necessarily see that. However, it's there. It's there. When I have to sit down, it's there. When I'm getting a splitting headache, and I have to run outside to get fresh air. 


Aaron Goodman  27:23

I wanted to talk about two other specific art pieces or projects that you've created. The first is a traditional button blanket coat made with rainbow colors. It's really beautiful. What is the place of pearl buttons in indigenous culture? And you've put your own spin on that right, in this design? Can you describe this project for us? 


Michel Dumont  27:46

Well, firstly, I was--I was gifted th--the this vintage button collection from a dear friend's mother who was a seamstress. And she spent her years making clothes for her family and for the community right and taking in mending and making things and so she had had this collection for 60 years. And so there were buttons from World War One, but she stored them in her laundry room in pickle jars. And so all these beautiful vintage buttons from WW1 to the 80s. All were extremely scented, not just of the pickle, but of the vinegar. It was the laundry room and they were all super sweet smelling. 


Michel Dumont  28:28

So I was trying to figure out ways I could reuse them. I told her if she gave me her collection, I would use it in art, I would reuse them they would find another home instead of just being thrown out. No one in her family wanted them and I'm like, I'll use them you know and I put my hand up I'm like, please give it to me Adele. Then I found out how she had stored them. And so that meant I had to like figure out you know, coffee grounds I had to try to figure it out in charcoal. What would sort of leach the scent out. And so that sent me to the groups on Facebook and the Internet. Like how can I fix these things. 


Michel Dumont  28:59

And what it was, was I took some charcoal aquarium filters and charcoal from aquar--I bought all the charcoal aquarium filters in our local city. And I put them inside each jar. That worked for a few months, but only knocked it down only so much. But then eventually last spring I put them out on these big cardboard flats in the sun--UV rays are gonna do the job. And so I baked them for several weeks flipping them. We have such a dry summer, spring last year. So I was able to flip the buttons--and my backyard was full of buttons. People would come over and are like 'is that a button?' and I'm like 'Yeah, those are buttons.' So some of the buttons were like leather and the sun really damaged them and I'm like oops, I didn't know they make leather buttons. Just preparing the wonderful gifts to make it so I could handle them you know I had to bake them with UV rays. However UV rays do the trick. 


Aaron Goodman  29:54

What is the meaning of the button blanket in First Nations culture because that's what you're building on in your work. Yeah. 


Michel Dumont  30:03

Right and that's more of a West Coast thing. And and the thing is I decided that I was going to honor that tradition by reusing her buttons right and so I made a mentee sash with a rainbow sort of motif like the rainbow colors and then I sort of like a Christie Belcourt you know, makeshift design with the dot paintings that she does like with the florals and vines, I decided that the mother of pearl buttons that are vintage and beautiful, and they come in baby size buttons and they go all the way to these big ornate buttons. 


Michel Dumont  30:34

I know I now belong to all these button groups online and I've learned so much I found this vintage men's flight coat so it's a pilots Air Canada coat that I--the first day the--after the lockdown last year, the thrift stores were open, I went in, found a jacket that fit me, and I decided to decorate it with all these beautiful buttons and so they're finding a new life and, and the thing is like reusing these materials, people--they are collected, you can find them in every thrift store across the country. And so instead of just having them thrown out there's--there's ways to reuse them right and upcycle your garments and, and that--that one post was you know, well received on--online because it's a beautiful use of upcycling. 


Aaron Goodman  31:14

Yeah, so you're using products there was--it sounds like a bit of a process that make them manageable for you. And the end product is the coat as you describe with a sash multicolored. Is there an LGBTQ+  rainbow woven into it? 


Michel Dumont  31:34

Rainbow sash is made out of the rainbow colors. And so I had purple buttons alongside blue green. So I use the rainbow into the Metis sash. And it just it felt right for that piece because it personifies who I am. I incorporate symbols that were used to--for assimilation. But sometimes I, you know, I decolonize some of these materials. 


Aaron Goodman  31:56

And I wanted to talk a little bit about the project you made in connection to First Nations Residential Schools, you made a collage using photograph. Do you want to talk a little bit about that project? 


Michel Dumont  32:09

One of the photos I grew up with was my mother's Indian Day School photo from 1955. She's like five or six years old in it and my aunt and my other aunts and uncle are in this one room classroom from 1955 that was on the Lake Helen Indian reserve here just outside of Thunder Bay. We took the 1955 photograph and we sent it off to a printer who had iron oxide ink. And so that iron oxide ink photograph was transferred onto this wax paper that had iron oxide ink. And then I rolled out porcelain tile, porcelain clay made it into tile, we pre baked it and then we then took the deckle I wiped it onto the ceramic tile pieces. And then we cook that on with a glaze. So I had the whole photograph in segments and tiles and ceramic tiles in the kiln. 


Michel Dumont  32:09

And so what came out was a beautiful recreation of the classroom photo. And in the classroom photo sadly all their hair is cut off, there is no one smiling the process of killing the Indian in the child was at place in these schools in the day schools and the residential schools. That is why I speak really good English. My mother beat English into my sister and I, something she learned in school, you know that English was paramount that we couldn't sound Ojibwe, like, like she spoke. We couldn't you know, she barely tolerated French.


Michel Dumont  32:09

That legacy of intergenerational trauma I really wanted to explore. I was given the opportunity just before the pandemic to have a performance and break that tile. And then to read out the names at--what I chose to do was read out the names of each children because I still have these connections to the families in that photograph because I come from a small town and I knew these people's families. And I talked to the Elders who were in this school with my mother, and they gave me all the names of everyone. I then read out the names as I struck a hammer and broke each tile and during the pandemic. I had the time and the piece in place to be able to heal the tile and put it back together with a Japanese art of Kintsugi and take a gold adhesive--and finding gold adhesive--that took months, to find a non toxic golden adhesive that I could work with. And so I used a gold pigment with Mod Podge because it's a white glue. It worked. It did the trick it doesn't--like it was already adhered with hot glue, like all the pieces put back together. 


Michel Dumont  32:09

And really what I needed to show was the beauty in the broken. That these families still transmitted culture, despite of what had happened to them, that they they transmitted what they could. And so there's a certain degree of resiliency. When I put that photo on Facebook, after my mother passed, several descendants of that school system recognize their family members, their their mothers or their grandfathers in that image. It was fascinating. 


Michel Dumont  32:09

One of the local artists here, she's a remarkable artist. Her name's Cree Stevens. She's from my mother's reserve. Her father was sitting behind my mother in the classroom photo, she told me she had previously had never seen a childhood photo of her father before the age of 22. And so it was a gift to see her father as a child. The comments--some of them were very bittersweet because the grandchildren and children knew of the abuse that happened, they understood intergenerational trauma what my sister and I had experienced with our mother was not isolated, that was a kind of a healing, you know, thing to be able to understand we're not alone, that you know, these are shared experiences to become stronger and heal from it was they understood that what I was doing was, you know, right, that piece, you know, along with the summer in Kamloops and the discovery of you know, children's bodies being buried, you know, unceremoniously in unmarked graves across the country, we're finding that in school yards now.


Aaron Goodman  32:09

And I wanted to just perhaps ask one more question. You know, you talked about your photograph and collage work bringing people together around survivors of intergenerational trauma and the Indian residential school system. And I think I heard you say, making people feel less alone. And I wanted to ask, you know, Michel, in your own experiences as an artist with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, do you feel alone? Or do you feel connected to others? Because sometimes we with invisible illness, we can feel alone, right? And you talked about some of the challenges you face of just making fun showing it can be really tough? Do you feel alone? Or do you feel supported by others, are there others in your artistic community who get it?  


Michel Dumont  32:09

I started making my regalia bear, which is a protector bear. And he was always going to be a protective bear. But then I realized last summer, when I was coming to choose his coat that he needed to be Orange, and he needed to reflect the Every Child Matters movement. And so I had people, pilgrimaging to my garage studio from all over the province to see the process as I was building, and I was really honored that people felt comfortable in my open air garage to come and see my work. It's currently in Winnipeg, you know, with my solo show, and, and it'll be in a Thunder Bay show this summer, which will be nice. 


Michel Dumont  32:46

We find a way. And I don't feel alone, because of these internet groups, that can be really great resources, I have an Austin air filter, and it has saved my life and my career. And it's helped me work, you know, with more things in my life. And the thing is, I need to have materials like, there are some people with MCS who keep stripped of everything in their home because they have to limit everything, my air purifiers allow me to have more of a bit of a burden around because I have my materials like I can even handle acrylic paint, if it's sealed up really well. Which, you know, is surprising that I can do that because at one time I couldn't. But now with the good filter system in my house, I can tolerate certain mediums. 


Aaron Goodman  38:09

Michel, thank you so much for sharing everything you've shared. I think a lot of artists probably come to a point if they have chemical sensitivity, where they may question 'Is this something I can pursue?' And I think some folks will probably benefit a lot hearing from you, and just learning about how resourceful you've been, some of the things you do to make it work for you. And also recognize that it's not easy. So I appreciate everything you do. And again, thanks so much for taking time to speak on the podcast.


Michel Dumont  38:38

 It was my pleasure, Aaron, thank you so much for inviting me. I know what works for me doesn't necessarily mean it's universal for other people. It's trial and error, right? We learn as we go. One thing about the pandemic, it forced a lot of society to adapt and to understand disabilities. And I hope there's going to be more understanding about MCS in the future. 


Aaron Goodman  38:59

That brings us to the end of this episode of the chemical sensitivity podcast. And thank you very much to Michel Dumont for joining me. The podcast is produced by me Aaron Goodman and Dani Penaloza. To learn more about the podcast and to hear more episodes, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Leave a review and follow the podcast on social media. Just search for the chemical sensitivity podcast, or podcasting MCS. Get in touch, email me at info@chemical I'll definitely respond. And thanks so much for listening.

Aaron introduces the podcast and episode.
Michel introduces himself.
Michel discusses the intersections of his identity.
Michel describes the process of creating his faux taxidermy and finding materials that work for him.
Michel details the inspirations behind his faux taxidermy.
Michel recounts the process of finding non-toxic materials he can work with.
Michel emphasizes that his art is informed by his disability.
Michel notes some of the aspects of galleries that work for MCS.
Michel details some of the inaccessibility he has encountered in galleries.
Michel discusses the developing understanding of disability arts in the fine arts scene.
Michel describes his first art show and his interest in the environment.
Michel explains his chronic pain chart piece.
Michel talks about the creation of his button coat.
Michel discusses the influences of his button coat.
Michel talks about the project he made in connection to First Nations residential schools.
Michel touches upon ways he stays connected.
Aaron concludes the episode.