Trapped in the Franken Forest

Don Maynard’s latest exhibit provokes exploration of the complex relationship between species loss and replacement

Interpretations of nature get a disturbing twist in Don Maynard’s latest exhibit at Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Franken Forest.
Interpretations of nature get a disturbing twist in Don Maynard’s latest exhibit at Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Franken Forest.
Credit: 
Supplied photo by Chris Miner
Maynard’s exhibit alludes to genetically engineered crops and nano-technology through the manipulation of everday materials like glass, nails, laminate flooring and Christmas lights.
Maynard’s exhibit alludes to genetically engineered crops and nano-technology through the manipulation of everday materials like glass, nails, laminate flooring and Christmas lights.
Credit: 
Supplied photo by Chris Miner

In typical Kingston fashion, the day I set out in my floral summer dress to visit Don Maynard’s newest exhibit at the Agnes Etherington Art Gallery, the sun was replaced by a rain that drenched the city. So I arrived for my tour drenched, with squeaky shoes, and a dripping notebook in hand.

Franken Forest is Kingston-based artist Maynard’s new exhibit and consists of three separate works examining the relationship between nature and humans.

The first work, Bird in the House, is a simple white house placed in the center of the room. The house is lit up from the inside with a bird flying around, making shadows on the stark white walls and floor. My tour guide helpfully informed me that it is an Eastern European myth that if a bird gets stuck in a house and manages to get out, it means good things are to come. If the bird gets stuck inside the house and can’t escape, it means death is coming.

Maynard’s bird is trapped in the house and entrapment seems to be the tying link between all three works of the exhibit. In the next room, Franken Forest, there are a series of trees in various sizes, all trapped in some form of encasement.

One tree is beautifully trapped in sand cast glass and another tree is entangled with Christmas lights – like a Christmas tree on steroids.

One of the most interesting trees is also the most easily ignored – it is the smallest tree and the only one not placed on a platform. It appears to be a bent arm or knee and is peach in colour.

At first glance the tree looks like it’s supposed to be a body part, but upon closer inspection one realizes that its peach colour comes from the individual band-aids that cover the tree. The tree also has deep gashes in it, like it has been brutally attacked and the band-aids are attempting to cover the scars.

This is the most fascinating aspect of this exhibit. From far away there is a peace and serenity to each piece, but upon closer inspection that beauty morphs into an extremely damaged piece of nature.

This is especially true in the last piece, Flock, where light reflecting off the installation causes each viewer to see the art as something different. My tour guide said some people see the sculpture as birds in flight, fighter jets in formation, or even a group of kites. However, when the viewer steps closer you realize that the installation is actually comprised of paper airplane-esque aluminum pieces pierced into the wall.

It is jolting to see what appeared so beautiful from far away, almost like pieces of glass, to actually be sharp pieces of aluminum trapped in the wall. Once again this beautiful piece of art morphs into a slightly disturbing view of nature.

I asked my tour guide what is the meaning behind the exhibit and she said that there is no meaning, it is not meant to be didactic. Maynard wants the space to be a source of inspiration, where people find their own meaning from the work.

This means that what I found beautifully disturbing, to others may be a place of peace. Whatever you think about the exhibit, it certainly makes you re-examine the interactions between humans and nature.

Franken Forest is overtly ambiguous and causes deep contemplation. My advice is to ask for a guided tour as the tour guides can explain the best way to experience the exhibit and fun little facts about the art, like how the videos installed in some of the trees in Franken Forest are not actually videos, but still photographs put together.

Maynard's Franken Forest is at the Agnes Etherington Art Callery in the Contemporary Feature and Davies Foundation Gallery until August 8, open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1-5 p.m.

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