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Talking Trash with MFA Student Marie-Soleil Provençal on Earth Day

Talking Trash with MFA Student Marie-Soleil Provençal on Earth Day
This #EarthDay, we looked into the practice of NSCAD grad student Marie-Soleil Provençal and her current thesis show exhibiting at the Anna, “REMAINS,” a physical and virtual collection of items which highlight the role that waste plays in our current environmental crisis. We sat down and chatted, or “talked trash” as Marie-Soleil would say, to learn more about her practice as an artist and what the exhibition is about.

Marie-Soleil came to NSCAD from Sherbrooke, Quebec which is between Montreal and the US border. Prior to NSCAD, she attended Bishop’s University in Quebec and attained her BFA with a specialization in sculpture. She has also completed the Master Composter Recycler program with the city of Halifax and works as a research assistant with Angela Henderson to develop alternative sustainable materials while attending NSCAD.

“NSCAD has proven to be an intense masters but still a very good experience. Although my time at NSCAD has been through the pandemic it doesn’t change the fact that I had amazing mentors and professors to help me through it.”

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your practice as an artist?

“What changed the most was the way I was working with material. I was used to working in a traditional way in reference to Roman and Greek sculpture and architecture. I was so used to constantly looking to antiquity, but I couldn’t find this at NSCAD. I chose NSCAD because I wanted to be challenged to use different materials and disciplines, like soft sculpture for example. It changed my practice! I started working with found materials and working outside of a regular studio. I started thinking of ways I could bring my work home or using the outdoors as my studio. I ended up working with trash because it was so easy to find amidst a time where materials were hard to source, and I had to think about how to work with the space and materials I had around me.”

Now that you’re working with trash, can you see yourself going back to your old practice?

“I cannot go back to my previous practice. Knowing what I know now –  I can’t go back. I’ve taken so many classes and have done so many projects related to the environment and learned that the more you learn about what’s going on, the more you feel the need to talk about it and work around it. In my own practice, I try to approach the subject in a positive way while still educating people. I like to focus on delivering hope to people, especially surrounding topics of waste and the environment which can be very intense and heavy. My main goal has been to find the perfect balance of happy and fun with serious and sad facts.”

Are there any courses at NSCAD that you found really resonated with you or informed your practice?

“There are actually three classes that really impacted my time at NSCAD:

Material and Process with Sarah Maloney, where you learn to figure out what you can do with what you have.

Installation Art with Kim Morgan, where you learn to do what you can with the space you’re given.

And Contemporary Issues in Art Education aka “Art and Environment” with Karin Cope. Marie-Soleil found this to be a challenging course – the subject matter can be hard hitting. But she found a lot of value in the content.

Two of these are actually undergrad classes and one is a masters class which undergrad students can still apply for and take with permission.

“These classes really opened up my eyes to just how far I can push my practice. NSCAD is very different because we’re constantly approaching things through a contemporary lens.”

What connection do REMAINS and Earth Day have?

“The show opening for Earth Day was a happy coincidence. Thinking about the theme, I think that in order to develop new technology we have to look to old technology and think about what people might have used before plastic for example. Old technology and old techniques, like being able to mend your own clothes so that they last longer, can be a better way to innovate than to invent something brand new. Look at the resources around you. What can we do with the things around us? What kind of expertise do we have around us in our peers, family, and friends?

Thinking about what I would like people to do for Earth Day, I think it’s the perfect occasion for a new resolution. Pick up trash on your hike, buy things with less plastic packaging. Where we can’t do large gatherings for garbage pick ups, individuals can instead change their habits. If every individual makes a resolution, it has the potential to be a long-term habit and have more impact than just taking one day to collectively pick up trash.

I also think that sharing your habits with someone else can influence them and if we can influence someone else to pick up a good habit, then we can create a big impact.”

Is there anything else you would like people to know about “REMAINS”?

“I’ve learned that the more you learn about discarded things, the more you don’t know. There’s so much to talk about when you start investigating deeper. The project has such longevity because there are always questions that open up more questions when it comes to waste. I want to keep expanding with local landfills, and possibly landfills around the world to compare what trash looks like in different locations at different times. What if the collection was made in a year in Norway? This would be very different from the local Halifax collection during a pandemic.

A quote that really resonates with me and my practice is one from anthropologist Margaret Mead, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’

To see Marie-Soleil’s latest work, visit her Instagram @mariesoleilprovencal, and to take a look at “REMAINS” at the following link: