Student Success

Artist wears her heart, and her accomplishments, on her sleeve

Art is often used as a form of expression, to share thoughts, emotions, and even accomplishments. For University of Lethbridge Fine Arts student Michelle Sylvestre, art has become a way to literally wear her heart on her sleeve – or in this case, her accomplishments on her dress.

Inspired by the artistic process of data physicalization and wearable art, Sylvestre took on a challenge at the beginning of the semester, one that paired her inspirations with her personal goals.

Michelle Sylvestre has worn this dress every day since she began her unique art project.

“I started thinking about the devices we’re using today to track our own lives,” explains Sylvestre. “Social media has become the output for tracking small and large successes and accomplishments. I wanted to use data physicalization and wearable art to outwardly show these same accomplishments.”

At the beginning of the project Sylvestre wrote a list of goals to work through.

“Some goals are as generic and mundane as drinking eight glasses of water a day, or getting more than six hours of sleep,” laughs Sylvestre. “Others are more personal to me: handing in assignments on time, writing a successful grant application, getting an A, getting a positive compliment from a mentor.”

The accomplishments became physical when Sylvestre would hand sew each ‘accomplishment’, represented by blue or red fabric objects which are then attached to the dress which she wears daily. The red objects represent physical accomplishments, while the blue are intellectual accomplishments.

Physicalizing the data is more than just creating art, but about celebrating the accomplishment.

“The devices we use to share our lives are so immediate,” continues Sylvestre. “I wanted to spend time with each accomplishment, doing something labouress so I can spend time reflecting on each one.”

Sylvestre is already getting more out of the wearable art project than anticipated. As many people know, we are more likely to accomplish goals if we write them down, and even better if we have a reporting structure to keep us accountable.

“Personally, the project has helped me realize what is important, what I want to accomplish in my time at the University of Lethbridge, and beyond,” shares Sylvestre. “I spent two weeks writing the goals and had to be completely honest with myself and not be afraid to write it down because writing it down makes it real. It has helped me focus on what I want to learn and accomplish before I’m done here, which was kind of a surprise to me.”

As an artist, Sylvestre admits to going through different stages throughout the process.

“In the beginning it was really exciting, trying to accomplish lots of goals each day. Then it went through a stage of burden – the act of putting the dress on every day, pushing through the work of not only accomplishing the goals but the work of hand sewing each accomplishment.”

The dress itself became a burden, especially as it got bigger.

“I can’t see my notebook, and it’s getting harder to put on a seatbelt or jacket,” laughs Sylvestre.

Sylvestre exhibited her dress for final critique in early December, sharing photos of the progress throughout the semester, sharing the data physicalization chart that tracked the progress and displaying the end result of the dress.

“Within the studio class there’s discussion about whether or not knowing the goals and accomplishments are integral to understanding the project,” says Sylvestre.

In the end, by not sharing the artists' own personal goals, it allows the viewers to reflect on their own ideas and goals. They don’t need to know what it means to appreciate the hard work in accomplishing any goal.

As the semester comes to an end, Sylvestre says she’s not ready to finish the project just because the class is ending.

“I want the idea to get to the point that I’m happy ending that way,” expands Sylvestre. “People who know me hope I won’t wear it over Christmas because people stare and they feel uncomfortable."

After final critic, Sylvestre said she was going to keep wearing it until the dress was full.