When you walk into “Fossa” a forest of small white pines leads you back to a hut. When you walk into that hut, a reverberation of airy whispers, breaths and sounds bounce off the walls.
Those sounds are apart of the newest exhibition at Santa Fe's SITE gallery, a collaboration between Emily Wells and artist Amy Cutler. Wells’ contribution was the breaths bouncing off the walls.
Cutler invited her to develop the auditory installation to pair with her visual work, all centered around exploring the idea of burden.
“The person whose burdens I kept coming back to were my father’s,” says Wells when we reached her via phone in February.
Wells went to family members and friends asking about their own personal burdens. She then distilled the recordings so the only things left were the breaths, cries, and sighs between words.
“That was derived from conversations I had with people that I love, asking them to describe their burdens,” says Wells. “So then I took from those conversations only the breaths.”
The connection to her father has been on Wells’ mind a lot recently; it's highlighted on her newest album Promise — something created after thinking about family over the last three years.
Wells, who graduated from Pike High School in Indy, recalls when she was 17. She had just come out as queer. Shortly after, her father came out as well.
“It is tough for me to tell his story, I can really only say my side of things,” says Wells. “He was really figuring out his own place in the world and I happened to also be figuring mine out. I think there was a camaraderie in that, and still is … It was strange and shocking.”
She went onto explain how close she and her father are, and how gender dynamics have always strayed a bit from the “norm” in her family. The idea of family can be heard throughout the entire album. Much of it was inspired by the artwork that Wells’ girlfriend makes, based around family and sexuality.
“My girlfriend is a painter and a video artist,” says Wells. “She is always turning me onto so much and to making work that delves into that reality. I am always so amazed and influenced by her, especially during the making of this record.”
During the demo writing process she kept coming back to the idea of a chosen family.
“I really believe in a commitment to friendship. We have such a culture of the nuclear family being the number one relationship, says Wells. I was really exploring the idea of what it means to be committed to our friends in a lot of the songs. I was thinking a lot about what it means to take risks — thinking a lot about the state of the planet. To me, those things, the more they start to become part of our lives, and ourselves, and people we love, that’s how anything is going to change.”
For Wells the relationship to the planet and how we approach our interactions with it came through in the lyrics when she first started recording for Promise.
“The idea of climate change seems so foreign, so I am trying to bring it into the personal,” says Wells. “Thinking about a new lexicon, how do we talk about it, how do we make it real?”
Wells will return to Indy for a hometown show at the Hi-Fi on Thursday. For her, it’s a nostalgic return to where music made a pivotal change in her life.
“[Coming back to Indy] doesn't feel like home because neither of my parents live there anymore, but it’s really comforting in a lot of ways,” says Wells. “You are just flooded with memories. Mostly I get there and I think, ‘Okay how long until I get to go to the Chatterbox?'
Wells confessed that she was underage when she used to go there, order a coffee and sit and listen to jazz. (It was our cover story on her that blew her cover. Sorry about that, Wells.)
“It was my first experience with live music that wasn't classical, that had nothing to do with my older brother’s interest in music,” says Wells. “It was mine.”