Meet the Artist:
Marie LeBlanc is a Canadian photo-based artist broadening out to projections onto structures. She grew up in a small northern Manitoba town where her love of photography began. Marie is a self-taught performance artist/street photographer, writer and poet inspired by the world around her. She moved to Winnipeg in 1984 where she completed her Bachelor of Arts (Advanced Major) Degree in Human Geography and Sociology from the University of Manitoba. Marie is a graduate of Artbeat Studio Artist In Residency Program and Martha Street Studio Making Our Mark II mentorship program.
Marie explains that her dis-“abilities”, namely multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), and electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) allow her to see things from a different perspective; one which she chooses to communicate primarily through the lens of the camera. Without her dis-“abilities” she explains she may not have discovered her calling (hidden ability) to communicate through art. Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is part of Environmental Sensitivities. Environmental Illness/Environmental Sensitivities is a medical condition where people experience adverse reactions to things in our everyday environment such as fragrance, cleaning chemicals, building supplies, smoke, mold, wifi, electrical devices to name a few. It can be totally disabling, affecting multiple organ systems and lead to a life of isolation similar to a life of quarantine with little to no access to adequately trained medical professionals, housing, food, public spaces, transportation and so much more. They lose their jobs, friends and family. It is not gender, race, or class of citizen specific. Adequate affordable housing is a critical factor in their survival. MCS (multiple chemical sensitivity), EHS (electromagnetic hypersensitivity) and mold exposure are some of the names referred to as ES/EI.
Living with MCS has created a need for Marie to free herself with art, by visualizing and exploring the surreal world of nature; capturing faces, shapes, landscapes, along with shadows and reflections creating natural layered effects often superimposing her own reflection that define the world around her. Marie often includes elements of health and the beauty of the present moment; embracing aspects of the ethereal world. Because MCS is still an unrecognized and misunderstood diagnosis, it is very important for her to self-advocate and advocate for others with MCS through her photography as well. Marie’s most important project to date is “WHO says we need fresh air?!” in which she projected quotes from others suffering from environmental illnesses such as multiple chemical sensitivity, electromagnetic hypersensitivity, Lyme disease and mold exposure onto structures or screens, along with photographs that actually express what life is like for her living with an environmental illness. This exhibition has been on display across Canada including at The Forks during Nuit Blanche Winnipeg in September 2017, WOW! Manitou (Wonder of Words) Festival at Little Manitou Art Gallery in Saskatchewan August 2019, the Jasper Community Habitat for the Arts in Alberta Feb and March 2020. And since May of 2018 The Jasper Community Habitat for the Arts has displayed some of the photos.
Marie has exhibited extensively throughout Manitoba, and has won various awards of recognition for her art, and her work has been published in the Jasper Fitzhugh, MCS Aware – in the UK, The Watrous Manitou newspaper in SK, The Lanigan Newspaper in SK, Opasquia Times Newspaper in The Pas, MB, GEEZ magazine, Community News Commons, Understorey magazine, The Metro and the Wolseley Leaf. Marie’s photography and her journey as a person with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity has been featured on CTV News Winnipeg, CKUW 95.9 FM Radio and CBC Radio. Marie also donates her art to various charitable organizations.
“Air on the Side of Caution” examines both my experiences with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) and air pollution. As a person with MCS I experience a life of fight or flight in a world of chemicals and pollution. Cautiously choosing a safe environment I often find it is hard to find a place that is free from toxins. I am living with an inconvenient disability in a modern world.
There is so much air pollution from airplane and car emissions, scents and large buildings and factories in major cities that I am often not able to be in or around these cities without adverse reactions. This means that I am often isolated and homeless as most built environments cause me to be ill. With the Covid-19 pandemic social distancing and isolation has now become common practice. For me, I have lived a life of social distancing and isolation as a result of my illness. My images reflect this isolation which more people than ever will be able to connect with as we all try to isolate to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Those living with MCS live a lifetime of isolation.
The first presentation of “Air on the Side of Caution” will occur in May 2020 which is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Awareness Month. I purposely decide to begin exhibiting in May to coincide with this event. This exhibition is important because environmental illnesses such as MCS is still an unrecognized controversial diagnosis. As a result, those who live with MCS are often passed along from doctor to doctor unable to figure out what ails them.
I chose these pieces of work to represent some of my journey and the journey of many others. Photography and digitally enhancing and layering the images represent my life. My life is full of complicated layers. It is difficult to show the many layers. When I layer images in my art, I am attempting communicating how I see things from so many different perspectives on how I experience and see the world. I am encouraging people to see everyday objects and situations from multiple perspectives/layers they may not have otherwise considered.