Rust Garden
September 2, 2021–February 7, 2022

What does it mean to be Canadian in the 21st century? A new art installation at the Aga Khan Museum challenges audiences to express their own idea of what it means to be Canadian from the rusting — literally — remains of stories from the past.

Click here to visit Rust Garden in 3-D.


Rust Garden is a contemporary art installation by Matt Donovan and Hallie Siegel. It consists of more than 700,000 decaying low-carbon steel letters in a 5-by-7-metre sandbox. The assortment of letters isn’t random. Rather, they are a jumble of every letter that appears in Canadian writer Hugh Maclennan’s classic 1945 novel Two Solitudes.


Contemplate, create, communicate


Haven’t read Two Solitudes? Not a problem. Anyone, young or old, can participate in Rust Garden. In fact, audiences are invited to pick up letters and re-arrange them into a word or phrase representing your idea of what it means to be Canadian. Share a picture of your creation online or discuss it with other Museum-goers while sitting on one of the three park benches surrounding the sandbox.


Seeing the present through the past


Two Solitudes is a coming-of-age story about a young man, Paul Tallard, with a French-Canadian father and an English-Canadian mother, who struggles to reconcile his mixed cultural identity. Tallard’s plight is something that many present-day Canadians can relate to, regardless of the cultures and communities they straddle.


Eight decades after its publication, however, Maclennan’s most famous novel doesn’t mirror back Canadian identity as it exists today. Like many old stories we tell about ourselves, the idea of Canada it portrays is a rusting relic of the past: discarded and decaying but still part of our shared cultural landscape.


Rust Garden encourages audience members to pick up the pieces and use them to craft new, more representative stories about what it means to be Canadian. In keeping with the poem Maclennan inscribed in the opening pages of his novel — “Love consists in this: that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other” —  the work asks us to hold space for each other’s stories, honour each other’s differences, and celebrate the ties that bind us together.




Matt Donovan and Hallie Siegel are a Toronto-based arts collaborative who take the long view to explore the hopes and anxieties brought about by major technological disruptions. In blending 2D and 3D, text and sculpture, narrative and gesture, they create seamless hybrids that deconstruct material expectations and defy simple classification.


They make “slow art” that has materialized out of over 20 years of conversation at the interface of art and communication. Their approach is not one of juxtaposition, but rather of synthesis; they know that a work is complete when they can no longer distinguish where one discipline leaves off and another begins. 

Curator: Marianne Fenton

Supported by

Canada Council for the Arts New Chapter logo


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