Haliburton County’s lakes are now buzzing with the sound of summer traditions. Canoes glide lazily across sun-soaked bays dotted with swimmers or those enjoying a lakeside picnic.
At his upcoming Agnes Jamieson Art Gallery exhibit, Toronto-based artist John Notten wants to delve behind cottage country nostalgia.
Unpacking the Weekend opening at the Agnes Jamieson Art Gallery June 28 features canoes, floating docks, trees and rippling water. However, it’s not just a reflection on the gentle joys of summer leisure.
“I would like to celebrate that, but I don’t think my work should be regarded in a purely nostalgic way,” said Notten, known for his contemporary installations which challenge viewers to reconsider their relationships to well-known motifs, for example. He crafted a fabric cathedral with tents, invited people to duck into a tiny wooden fortress, and floated icebergs in Nathan Phillips Square.
“I want to use these objects – a canoe, a paddle, a Muskoka chair – to consider things we don’t normally consider about this ritual of ‘going up north’.”
For Notten, how people regard these objects speaks to how Canadians understand their natural environment and history.
Notten gives the example of a canoe: developed by indigenous people and used for hundreds of years as a vital way to quickly traverse broad swathes of Turtle Island.
When European settlers arrived, they quickly adapted the canoe as a way to travel the land. “Suddenly, with that canoe, the colonial settlers had this opportunity to access parts of the landscape they never had access to,” said Notten. “Thus beginning a relentless process of resource extraction that continues up until today.”
Whether the canoe or a floating dock sitting above a submerged secret, Notten’s sculptures often need a second glance before grasping their deeper meaning.
He hopes his work encourages the viewer to consider problematic aspects of beloved objects.
“I think the concept of the work is heightened when the location of the site is relevant to the meaning of the piece,” said Notten. “That makes Minden the perfect place for it.”
Notten will deliver an artist talk during the exhibit’s premiere July 9 at 3 p.m.