Michelle McAuliffe

Washington, D.C. | by March 26, 2011

I first met Michelle while par­tic­i­pat­ing in a group exhi­bi­tion at The Butcher’s Daugh­ter Gallery in Detroit, MI. Well, I met her work actu­ally… I had made it out there for the artist’s talk, yet Michelle, who has a rig­or­ous teach­ing sched­ule at Gal­laudet Uni­ver­sity, wasn’t able to make the trip.

I was imme­di­ately drawn to her work for its abil­ity to cap­ture and pre­serve every day moments. Upon enter­ing the gallery, I was faced with a large-​​format pho­to­graph of a woman walk­ing with a group of men on a beach. Michelle later explained the story to me. Her friend asked a group of men to have their photo taken with her and in return, she would reward them with a round of beers. The men in the photo are smil­ing and fol­low­ing behind her in a way that seems chore­o­graphed like a music video. The photo was accom­pa­nied by a mini-​​installation that included a bag of Dori­tos, a six pack of beer, and other beach-​​day sun­dries. This exhi­bi­tion dealt with archiv­ing mem­o­ries and I admired Michelle’s choice of a fun, fleet­ing moment.

Another cap­ti­vat­ing piece I saw in Detroit was enti­tled ‘First Crush’. In this piece, Michelle gath­ered tales on her cam­corder. She asked friends and strangers in bars, their homes, and park­ing lots to recount their first crush. That in itself would make for a fun ‘This Amer­i­can Life’ style piece. But Michelle’s take was dif­fer­ent. Michelle relies on lip read­ing and hear­ing aids to weave her way through the sto­ries she recorded. Back in the stu­dio, she added sub­ti­tles to the film where she could. When she was unable to under­stand the sub­jects’ words, she not only left sub­ti­tles out, but muted the subject’s voice. The out­come is an expe­ri­en­tial video that gives the viewer a sense of the sep­a­ra­tion and dis­joint­ed­ness she expe­ri­ences in her daily life. You can watch the video here.


I caught up with Michelle in DC as soon as we both got our sched­ules aligned. Her stu­dio takes up a good por­tion of her Capi­tol Hill apart­ment. In one area, she works on mixed media pho­tog­ra­phy and col­lage while the other side is devoted to dig­i­tal media and video work. I was also impressed with her col­lec­tion of cool vin­tage fur­ni­ture along with a rad bike that leaned against the man­tle. Michelle and I chat­ted awhile about our expe­ri­ences as artists liv­ing in DC.
Michelle is from the San Fran­cisco Bay Area of Cal­i­for­nia, and has lived in and out of DC for about 13 years. She grad­u­ated from George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity with an MFA in pho­tog­ra­phy. Upon grad­u­at­ing, she was selected for Con­ner Contemporary’s annual ‘Acad­emy’ show, which is a roundup of the finest tal­ent emerg­ing from regional art pro­grams. She has been work­ing as an Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Art and Media Tech­nol­ogy at Gal­laudet for the past three years.

We both talked about how hard it is to bal­ance your ‘day job’ with your per­sonal prac­tice. Michelle finds sat­is­fac­tion in work­ing with her stu­dents and bring­ing out their artis­tic voices. She also explained how teach­ing is a nice way to re-​​visit the fun­da­men­tals of her own art prac­tice. The aca­d­e­mic sched­ule is also con­ducive — hav­ing sum­mers and hol­i­days off gives her time to con­cen­trate on her work and a chance to travel, which is also part of Michelle’s cre­ative process. As a pro­fes­sor at Gal­laudet, Michelle strives to bridge the gap between her stu­dents and the DC art com­mu­nity. She’s made an ini­tia­tive to show more DC artists at the University’s Art Gallery, and encour­ages them to attend area art events and openings.

Michelle showed me some recent projects she had on dis­play in her stu­dio. One project she has been work­ing on is a series of hun­dreds of pho­tographs for an instal­la­tion called ‘Thin Edges’ which spanned a 9’ x 27’ wall dur­ing her MFA the­sis instal­la­tion at George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity. The images are all dip­tychs stitched together with a sewing machine. She showed me some pho­tos of the mas­sive instal­la­tion. Michelle had shot and sliced up images from her trav­els, daily life, art­work, texts, sur­round­ings and metic­u­lously sliced and re-​​assembled them to cre­ate a sin­gu­lar piece which reads like a con­tem­po­rary epic quilt when dis­played en masse. These stitched fis­sures in each photo symoblize the line that Michelle con­stantly crosses over in her life between the world of hear­ing peo­ple and the world of the deaf.

Michelle’s work is not a doc­u­men­ta­tion of this strug­gle, but rather an explo­ration of divi­sions and bound­aries — and it is done in a way that I feel is relat­able to all. She is cur­rently work­ing on a new video that will be com­prised of footage and clips she has taken and col­lected over the past few years. She also recently orga­nized an exhi­bi­tion at the University’s art gallery fea­tur­ing women artists work­ing in DC. It opened on March 22, 2011 with a recep­tion and talk on April 5.
Find out more about Michelle on her web site here: http://www.michellemcauliffe.com


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