There is more to history than just one perspective” Minden Times

Artist John Notten talks about his biggest and most significant piece from the Minden show, Uncannyda. /DARREN LUM Staff

There’s more to the story than just one perspective

By Darren Lum
What you see is not the full scope of what it is for everyone who sees it.
That was the main takeaway from the opening of Unpack the weekendthe latest exhibition to open at the Agnes Jamieson Gallery in Minden.
Toronto installation artist John Notten sees things in a way that leads to questions, for himself, his role as an activist artist, for society, and for others who have a different perspective. He takes everyday objects and reinvents them into new creations to intrigue and challenge conventional thinking. Notten was in Minden to open his show and spoke to a small but captivated crowd about his work and exhibition at the Minden Cultural Center on Saturday July 9.
As noted on the cultural center’s website, “This multimedia and interactive show explores the holiday routine of ‘heading north’, reimagining mundane countryside objects and the colonial narratives commonly associated with them.” It examines the assumptions that lie at the heart of the “North” and the impact that the power and privilege of the weekend ritual has had on Canadian history, culture and identity.
Notten, who grew up in Orillia, has an affinity for the outdoors, loving camping and exploring by canoe. He acknowledges that there are different perceptions when it comes to something like canoeing, which can represent escape and connection to nature. However, for others, these pieces of equipment can be something else entirely. There is a physical balance paddling his canoe on the water and a symbolic balance from what the canoe is to him as an escape vehicle to how it was used by Europeans to extract resources during the colonization of Canada. Where he finds joy in using the canoe, there is also pain for the indigenous people.
Along with camping, his tent represents a temporary shelter where he feels at peace and allows him to escape the modern world to strengthen his connection with nature, which is different from the way refugees, who have escaped conflict and difficulties and see the tent as a temporary structure. and hope for a transition to something permanent.
This is Notten’s second appearance at the Agnes Jamieson Gallery, made possible by former gallery curator Laurie Carmount, who appreciated her work. The 20-piece exhibition was contracted over a year ago. In 2017 Notten presented his work with “The Tent Project”.
Notten acknowledges that his development as an artist led him to see the world a little differently than when he first started creating art.
What gave the impetus to his early work was summed up by Andy Warhol’s quote: “You must let the little things that would normally annoy you move you.”
An example he presented during his presentation to illustrate this was how he saw the potential and aesthetic beauty of a trash can with a hinged lid. This led him to use dozens of cans to create a scaled-down version of a cathedral, which had the architectural elements of the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Or how he saw the potential of a wheelbarrow, which he transformed into a self-contained planter where it not only provided people with produce, but also an outdoor place to rest in downtown Toronto.
His motivation for his work has evolved and now includes the quote from DMR Bentley, who said, “You have to let the little things that were once ‘intimate – comfortable, familiar and comforting – become the opposite – strange, mysterious and disconcerting’.

Art lovers and anyone who appreciates creativity will enjoy the Unpacking the Weekend exhibit. See more of Notten’s art on Instagram at @johnnotten and on his website at /DARREN LUM Staff

When he talks about his biggest and most significant piece in the Minden exhibition, Uncannyda, which is a visual account of the many experiences he has had with his canoe, he wants people to think.
“So I’m showing it to you at the end of my presentation, because I think it kind of sums up this balance or the struggle that I’m having between these emotions. And for anyone who might think for a moment, ‘Oh , are you saying maybe I should feel guilty when I get in my canoe or sit on my dock? No, but I think you should think about where you’re sitting on this earth where we find ourselves right now and privileged to be here and in our cabins and in our homes or in our canoes and so I will continue to canoe but when I canoe I canoe with a different knowledge with a different understanding just because I looked at the story,” he said.
The Unpacking the Weekend exhibition is in place until August 24. The Minden Hills Cultural Center is located at 176 Bobcaygeon Road in Minden. The center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Admission is by donation. See more of Notten’s artwork on Instagram at @johnnotten and on his website at
For more information, visit the Township of Minden Hills website at


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