Arts & Culture

The creep factor: Peer deeper into Patti Normand’s unsettling ‘gothic’-inspired dioramas

So, what exactly is Canadian Gothic?

Well, there is a sub-genre of literature known as Southern Ontario Gothic, which has been embraced by such authors as Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Eden Robinson, and many others. Works by Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan and the late painter Alex Colville also fall into this category. This genre includes products that are somewhat off-kilter; that have an unsettling creep factor; and that contain dark narratives in which happy endings are elusive.

Add to the Canadian Gothic canon Ottawa artist Patti Normand, who makes small, glass-enclosed, table-top dioramas of such miniaturized scenes as campers in the country, a woman sunbathing, or a man with an antlered moose head walking at night. At first blush, the scenes look ordinary, even cute or humorous. But look more closely — something terrible is about to happen. Those unsuspecting, campers are in danger of being mauled by a nearby bear; a leering man seems ready to pounce on the oblivious, sunbather, and the man with the moose head is prowling those darkened streets surely on a macabre mission.

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Patti Normand

Normand has also started experimenting with photographs of her dioramas. The camera is able to zero on in troubling details you might not immediately spot in the table-top scenes. The moose head man, in close up, looks even more malevolent. The creep factor increases, at least in part because the photographs look like pictures of real – not miniature – houses, streets, and forests. In essence, Normand is creating reality from fiction, and reality is always creepier.

An exhibition of Normand’s work, appropriately titled Canadian Gothic, opens Oct. 13 at Wall Space Gallery (358 Richmond Rd.) and continues until Oct. 30. She will be exhibiting both her dioramas and the photographic prints of details from the dioramas.

Normand’s dioramas seem like a logical extension of her many years designing models for exhibits in the Children’s Museum inside the then Canadian Museum of Civilization. But her post-museum dioramas are not necessarily child friendly. They are not from the world of Mother Goose, but rather from Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

“I love the creepy side of things,” Normand says during an interview in her studio near Little Italy. And when told that her photographs are even creepier than the dioramas, Normand says: “I hope so.”

Vienna’s Double Take

Every year (well, almost), the four photographers who comprise the Ottawa collective, Studio 255, travel to a different foreign city, and whilst in London or Moscow or Vienna (the latter being this year’s city) each member heads off alone in the morning, with camera in hand, to capture a unique take on the city.

By the end of the day, the four photographers, all accomplished women in previous careers, reconnoitre in their hotel for a glass of wine and recount that day’s adventures. Later, back home, there are exhibitions, sometimes photo books, and the beginning of plans for next year.

04 Leopoldine Wing, Hofburg Imperial Palace, Vienna 2016 by Patricia Wallace
Leopoldine Wing, Hofburg Imperial Palace, Vienna, 2016, Patricia Wallace

This year’s joint exhibition, Vienna Spin, opens Oct. 13 and runs until Nov. 22 at Exposure Gallery atop Thyme and Again food emporium (1255 Wellington St. W.).

The four members of Studio 255 – Barbara Bolton, Abigail Gossage, Leslie Hossack, and Patricia Wallace – are all protégés of Michael Tardioli, founding director of the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa.

01 Habsburgergasse, Vienna 2016 by Barbara Bolton
Habsburgergasse, Vienna, 2016, Barbara Bolton

“Celebrating their 10-year collaboration in 2016, the Ottawa-based photographers chose Vienna as the destination for their fifth collective trip,” according to a statement from the group. “Rich in centuries of culture, music, fine arts, intellect and architecture, Vienna was seen as the perfect city to unleash their visual expression.

“By wandering the streets, Bolton coaxed the windows of Vienna to yield a double take on the city’s facades and mysterious inhabitants. Gossage presents images that reflect not only the scores of one of the most important composers of this city of music, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but her personal experiences with his music. Hossack reveals Dr. Sigmund Freud’s consulting rooms at Berggasse 19, where he lived and worked in the heart of Vienna for almost 50 years before fleeing to London. Wallace features garden facades of palaces from the splendid Baroque period of architecture known as ‘Vienna Gloriosa,’ which began in the mid–1600s and lasted until the mid–1700s.”

02 Mozart Requiem by Abigail Gossage
Mozart Requiem, Vienna, 2016, Abigail Gossage

Also this month:

See Melanie Authier’s latest abstract paintings in the touring exhibition Contrarieties & Counterpoints at the Ottawa Art Gallery from Oct. 7 to Jan. 2, 2017.

Visit Lisa Cresky’s ceramic paean to hometown Buckingham, Que. and its boxing hero Gaetan Hart at Art-Image in Gatineau until Oct. 23. This is one of the most jaw-dropping exhibitions to hit the national capital region this year.

Prepare to be startled and moved while viewing Herd, the exhibition by the ever-inventive Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft at the Shenkman Arts Centre. Sculptures and images of deformed horses stand in for disabled people. Until Nov. 13.

Enjoy Isabelle Gauvreau’s latest exploration of the divine feminine at Galerie St. Laurent + Hill from Oct. 13 to 26.

Catch the work of two Ottawa painters, Norman Takeuchi and Katherine McNenly, in the exhibition, Of Two Minds, at Cube, from Oct. 7 to Nov. 6.