Artist hopes to inspire others for change
by Darren Lum
Published Aug. 1, 2017
Talking about our trash is how change begins, said Haliburton School of Art and Design’s reclaim artist in residence.
Toronto-based multidisciplinary artist Jennifer Norman is concerned for our world and inspired to protect it. She has travelled extensively and seen the positive effect of the exchange of ideas.
Her work isn’t about telling people what to do so much as getting people to talk.
“When people come to my studio to talk, I get all these great ideas, so that’s what we need to keep rolling instead of negative [thoughts],” she said.
The Reclaim Artist Residency is a partnership between Fleming College and the Municipality of Dysart et al. It is the only residency in the province that provides established artists with the opportunity to access and work within a municipal landfill, and in turn, educate the community on the impact of the landfill, according to a HSAD press release.
Norman graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design in drawing and painting and has a master’s of fine arts from the University of Ottawa. She has exhibited her work in Canada, Scotland, Italy, the United States and South Korea. She was most recently the international artist in residence at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art earlier this year.
She said she believes this community is in a constant state of transition, from the influx of seasonal residents in the summer to their inevitable departure in the autumn and how the full-time residents then become the only inhabitants after.
Norman said examining the things communities throw away has grown organically for her and has fostered important discussion. She collects refuse on the streets wherever she goes, whether it’s New York City or small town Newfoundland, to create thought-provoking pieces. She laughs about how her sister is embarrassed to walk down the street with her because of her tendency to pick up trash. The avid traveller has noticed that the debris left in the street is unique to an area. In Newfoundland, there were many fishing related items and in New York it was easy to find more than a thousand coffee cup lids in a short time, which she used to make a “veil” large enough to project videos on.
In Haliburton, she’s using repurposed items and what she finds in the landfill along with branches to create “prosthetic tree limbs.”
This concept of the limbs came two years ago. She soon noticed they took on characteristics of creatures. Norman also completes detailed drawings, which act as portraits of the limbs and give permanence to an impermanent creation; the small sculptures are left outside, attached to trees to draw the attention to the playful creations.
“They act like interruptions to the landscape. They’re very ephemeral just like a real branch or anything else left in the wild, but the idea you can stumble upon one of these and you don’t know anything about it is a strange thing. It can make you pause and think twice about why it’s there and these really common objects that are easily thrown away are being used and repurposed, creating something totally new,” she said.
It’s a subtle way to get people to think about the world around them by looking at the prosthetic tree limbs, which depict a metaphorical healing.
Norman is also working on a larger sculpture that revolves around a tree stump with protruding roots, which is expected to be suspended from the ceiling from the A-frame building where she works on campus.
She is drawn to items with texture, particularly made from wood, and contrasts those with items such as brightly coloured children’s toys, construction tools, fishing rods and tiles.
A date hasn’t been set for the showcase in Haliburton, but Norman expects to leave a few of the small sculptures in Glebe Park and hopes for an open house to feature her largest sculpture. Some of her work will also be exhibited at the Karsh-Masson Gallery in Ottawa in 2018.
Rather than get depressed about spending time at the landfill, Norman is inspired and sees hope.
“There’s potential here. All the ideas that start rolling through my head things that could be done for my work, for conversation, for businesses. There’s so much. I’ve travelled a lot in the world. I’ve seen companies that are reusing, building and raising the profile of repurposed stuff and making it more appealing to everyone else. The economy doesn’t have to suffer with any environmental help. It can actually be bolstered if we are creative,” she said.
While walking through the landfill, she has noticed vegetation has grown over and through refuse. She said seeing this has also given her hope for the future.
Getting to travel throughout Canada in the past was something she will never forget. She was in awe of its beauty. When she broke her back riding a horse close to 15 years ago she was left immobilized in a body-cast and was bedridden for a year. That year provided her a profound perspective on life and how much of a responsibility people have in preserving the natural beauty of Canada, whether through our own actions or within the corporate world. She believes in the power of discussion.
“The only way to make some changes and find alternatives is to have conversations. If you lecture people or you try to force people to recycle or reuse or think about what they’re doing with their garbage, no one likes being told what to do. But we all have conversations. Talk about it as just people who share this space and this garbage. I think interesting stuff comes from that ... it’s where all the innovative stuff happens,” she said.
See Norman’s work at her website jnorman.art or follow her on Instagram @sanfmut with #catchandrelease.