Fernandes was born in Trinidad. He came to Canada to art school in Montreal when he was 17yrs. old.
Initially a painter, Fernandes turned to installation and multimedia to create situations that actively solicit participation from the viewer. Fernandes' texts and interventions explore this intersection of private life with public space.
Fluxus suggested that everyday life should not be excluded from art. It encouraged a direct approach to creating work using the minimum amount of means required. Fernandes extends this approach to use everyday objects and experiences to provoke the viewer to make connections between the installation/performance and the spaces of the viewer's own life. It deliberately leaves room for the viewer to find their own approach to understanding the work, which can be uncomfortable for some.
In Growing Up Strong (1984) a large bamboo trunk leans against the gallery wall—a kitchen towel stuffed in its upper end. A title is painted low on the wall near the trunk. A transparent green rectangle covers a photograph of a young child standing in a backyard. A running tape deck is placed on a shelf nearby. The audio on the tape can only be heard if one's head is close to the bamboo. A deep male voice with a calypso accent chants :
a big car like Mum, tall like Mum, run fast like Mum, a big job like Mum, strong like Mum, feet like Mum, engineer like Mum, stubborn like Mum, careful like Mum, honest like Mum, independent like Mum, muscles like Mum, tough like Mum, healthy like Mum, cook like Mum, happy like Mum, just like Mum, etc.
It is tempting to imagine how Fernandes' personal experience as a Trinidadian transplanted to Canada informs this piece but the resulting thoughts have more to say about the viewer's experience than that of Fernandes himself. His approach has been compared to that of Jimmie Durham, David Medalla and David Hammons—all use wit and humour to illuminate attitudes and pre-conceptions based on ethnicity or race.
Fernandes has little interest in preserving objects for posterity or in meeting the viewer's expectations. He is more concerned with an 'ephemeral expressive situation'. The challenge to the viewer is to return from Fernandes' work to experience the artistic moment in the viewer's own life.
Michael Fernandes is an instructor in intermedia at NSCAD University. He has exhibited extensively nationally, notably at the Blackwood Gallery, Mercer Union, The Power Plant, and YYZ (Toronto,ON); C.I.A.C. (Montreal Biennale); Articule, and Mai, (Montreal, QB), Dunlop Art Gallery (Regina, SK); The National Gallery of Canada, and Saw Gallery (Ottawa, ON); Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Eye Level Gallery, and Mount Saint Vincent Art Gallery (Halifax, NS); and internationally at P.S.1 (New York, NY); Art Public Calaf (Barcelona, Spain); In The Context of Art Biennale (Warsaw, Poland). His work was included in Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada 1965-1980, the nationally touring exhibition.