‘no brighter in the middle’ – the interconnected works of Sébastien Aubin
“What I’m trying to do is work that pertains to our past and that will help for our future.” — Sébastien Aubin.
A resident of Montreal and a proud member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation of Manitoba, Sébastien Aubin has designed publications for many artists, organizations and art galleries.
As an accomplished graphic artist and the University of Manitoba’s first Indigenous Designer in Residence, Aubin shared his experiences of the last six months on campus, which conclude at the end of February. Working closely with students, faculty and the Manitoba Indigenous communities, Aubin started conversations to build and strengthen relationships, while also sharing culture, ideas and creative practices.
The culmination of these conversations is an exhibit of his original works, titled ‘no brighter in the middle’, which was created during his residency. The exhibit will be on display at the School of Art Gallery from Feb. 26 to April 13, while the opening reception will be held on Feb. 28 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
To further design as a broad and diverse field of practice, Daniel McCafferty, Assistant Professor in the School of Art, sought to create the opportunity for the university’s first Indigenous Designer in Residence.
“My experience as a practitioner and as an educator has consistently revealed that there is a diversity problem in design,” said McCafferty. “The knowledge, experiences, and methodologies that inform what design is, what it does, who it is for, often remain uncontested, thereby reinforcing a particular canon of design principles.”
The Indigenous Designer-in-Residence Program is one of 22 projects that were approved for funding from the Indigenous Initiatives Fund, which supports unit-based projects that further the University of Manitoba’s goals and priorities associated with Indigenous achievement.
Conversations and interconnectivity
From the beginning of his residency, Aubin started new conversations at the university; those conversations have continued to develop into new dialogues as well.
“At first it was trying to start a conversation, but now it’s about showing that the conversation should revolve around people, not around a subject matter,” said Aubin. “To have an opportunity for everybody that’s at university or not at university, Indigenous or non-Indigenous to have a conversation. To not be scared to talk and say the right words. We are all part of the same place really. We all feel the same pains. I find that if we get to talk to each other we are like synapses almost, and it’s only our distances between each other that is our interconnectivity.”
A welcomed new voice for School of Art community
During his residency Aubin shared his ideas about art and design, participated as a guest critic in studio critiques at BFA and MFA levels, attended faculty committee meetings, and was a panelist at conferences and symposia around Winnipeg. As a liaison between the School of Art and several local inner-city high schools, he also led design-centered workshops.
“It became obvious very, very early on in Sébastien’s residency, that students are hungry for new voices, as he really connected with them,” said McCafferty. “We all need to appreciate that our positions are positions of great privilege and that when we use them to help open spaces for good things to happen, everyone benefits.”
Throughout a very busy six months, Aubin has visited classes to give presentations on specific topics, areas of knowledge and expertise.
“Initially, Sébastien came to one of our classes for a typeface project,” said Germán Eduardo Lombana Ospino, third-year student in the School of Art. “My friend Joshua Wesey knew Sébastien and I was interested in speaking with him afterwards because I wanted to expand my typeface into a full alphabet. He would show us a lot of things to think about, and now Joshua and I are finishing up our project.”
In a mentorship role Aubin related many different experiences, such as his time as a freelancer, creating an Indigenous logo he made for a company, and creative design in a corporate environment.
“I’m sad to see him go,” said Ospino, “but I enjoyed the time I got to speak with him, because I learned a lot of things.”
Share a possible moment
Aubin has described his exhibit ‘no brighter in the middle’ as community oriented, providing the opportunity for youth and Elders, Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people, and even people who don’t typically go see art, to come and share a possible moment.
“‘no brighter in the middle’, means that one person that shines bright, like a star, needs the people around them to actually acknowledge them, and they in turn need to shine that light as well,” said Aubin. “The pieces in the exhibit will ask questions without necessarily defining answers. Hopefully, visually they will say something. That’s always the hard part.”
Aubin’s work shows collaboration with students, music, architecture, science, and many different programs within the university. It strives to show that a possible collaboration between peoples and communities is how collectively ”we will be able to move forward” according to Aubin.
Providing opportunities to engage in conversations
As part of the conversation Aubin has contributed to the university, he has also initiated and led collaborative public design projects between School of Art students and other university units. One such project has been mentoring several Indigenous students who are creating a vinyl mural for The Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning at 65 Dafoe (former Faculty of Music building). The mural is an opportunity to open doors for Indigenous graphic art students, while making the university more interesting and weaving Indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditions into the fabric of our University (people, programming, spaces).
“The students could have done anything they wanted,” said Aubin. “I was there to help out, but I never told them a direction. As the project developed, they ended up really on point and I didn’t have to do much.”
The mural will feature, ‘desire lines’ which are created by people as a collective experience and favour goals and the common interests of the community. As a metaphor for Indigenization, ‘desire lines’ evoke a certain type of unlearning and re-learning to orient individuals within a new framework of community- driven, user- focused, educational goals. The ‘desire lines’ featured in the mural are sourced from the Duckworth quadrangle, the central green space in the middle of the University of Manitoba campus. Juxtaposed over the ‘desire lines’ is a hoop dance formation designed to play with the positive and negative space that the hoop dance utilizes for storytelling narratives. When one story transitions into another, the viewer experiences the narrative as a continuum.
“The Centre is working hard to provide opportunities for connections between faculty and Indigenous knowledges and approaches within teaching and learning,” said Mark Torchia, Executive Director, Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. “Visual cues of such possible connectivity can be both inspiring and vehicles to open conversations that might not otherwise occur. The presence of this art welcoming everyone to The Centre provides an immediate and meaningful opportunity to engage in such conversations. And, the fact that this art was created by Indigenous University of Manitoba students further strengthens its meaning.”
Future Indigenous Designer in Residence
So what advice does Aubin have for future Indigenous Designer in Residence?
“Come here with an open mind,” said Aubin. “Come here with values of sharing. Stay with your protocols as an Indigenous person, but still open doors to the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Take advantage of every single resource that is available to you, every possible exchange, and up the bar every time.”
The University of Manitoba created the Indigenous Initiatives Fund to support unit-based projects that further the University’s goals and priorities associated with Indigenous achievement as stated in Taking Our Place, the U of M’s Strategic Plan, 2015-2020.