Aylan Couchie in her workspace.

Aylan Couchie in her workspace.

Sweat Lodge 86” diameter X 4’ height Acrylic, plaster, nylon taffeta, light/mirrors, speaker/iPod 2013

Sweat Lodge 86” diameter X 4’ height Acrylic, plaster, nylon taffeta, light/mirrors, speaker/iPod 2013

By Kelly Anne Smith

A Nipissing First Nation sculptor has been awarded the prestigious International Sculpture Center’s Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award for 2015.

Aylan Couchie recently graduated from Georgian College with Honours in the Fine Arts Advanced program.

Her sculpture is Sweat Lodge, an interactive piece with music piping through speakers in the “fire pit.”  The music activates mirrors that reflect the pattern of the music onto the tarp. People engage with the visuals of the native drumming music.

Couchie explains Sweat Lodge. “I created a sweat lodge that was made completely out of man-made materials: plastics, plaster, acrylic rock, and nylon cloth. In traditional medicine there are sweat lodge healings. They are typically made with warm natural coverings. Nowadays, a lot of our healing is done in hospitals, which can be cold, sterile places. So what I did was hybridize both places of healing to make a statement about contemporary medicine versus traditional. ”

She fondly talks of her grandfather Tom Couchie as having been a huge influence on her art. He went to Garnier Residential School in Spanish, Ontario and often told Aylan about his experiences.

“Most of my work delves into the relationship I had with my grandfather, and the legacy he passed on to me. I grew up tagging along with him whether he was fishing or foraging in the bushes.”

In the sunroom where Couchie works is another piece that is darkly intriguing called Aggressive Assimilation.  It is a 5 foot tall sculpture made of steel, wood and found objects. Those objects are rulers or yard sticks Aylan embedded in the walls of the building like piece to show the corporal punishment the children endured in the residential school system. “In looking at the structure of the school, there are bars on the windows. The children were locked in at night. The school was a jail. I minimized it, and abstracted it with the steeple on the bottom.”

With the recognition of Sweat Lodge, Couchie’s future is bright. She insists on giving recognition to Nipissing First Nation.

“It took me a few years to get funding. I decided to try to pay for it. I started the first year of Art Design Fundamentals at Georgian College. Then right before second semester I wound up with a car issue. And that took my savings for the next semester’s tuition away. I called up Wendy Lariviere at Nipissing First Nation. At that point I had a 94% average. I explained my financials to Wendy and she said “I’ll see what I can do.” Well, she soon called me back with great news saying I had gotten fully funded. It has been nice having that support from the band office.”

Aylan has been accepted to NSCAD University in Halifax where she expects to complete her undergraduate degree by 2016.

First, the sculptor will compete against 17 students for the opportunity to do a fully funded residency in Switzerland for 4-6 weeks.

Next she exhibits her winning sculpture Sweat Lodge in a six month show in New Jersey. Couchie can hardly wait for the opening night.