“NEVER PRECIOUS” “IN SEARCH OF EXPO 67”
CHARLES H. SCOTT GALLERY, VANCOUVER
A reference to Nordic design immediately conjures an image: clean lines, organic materials, the all-important hygge factor. Other nationalities have similarly recognizable design characteristics: the pastel, ornate tendencies of the French; the embellished oak and rough tweed of the Brits. By contrast, Canadian design suggests, if not a void, then, at most, an absence. A consultant might argue that the industry suffers a branding problem. Yet for the summer months, the Charles H. Scott Gallery fought this erasure by filling the space with items of anonymous, though Canadian, origin. There were no constraints on the function of the various items, and the result was slightly ad hoc. There was a red and yellow plastic “Uke-a-tune” (a ukelele); tins of Rogers’ Golden Syrup; travel pennants collected at Canadian tourist spots, such as Penticton and Diefenbaker Lake; and a library’s worth of old Eaton’s catalogues among the odds and ends.
The effect was like stumbling into an immaculate garage sale. This sensibility seemed self-evident when looking over the list of objects in the show, where provenances are listed as, “Found at garage sale,” or “Craigslist.” But despite their mundanity, the ephemera are undeniably seductive. The catalogues, which constitute the backbone of the exhibition, make for fascinating—if not entirely illuminating—perusing. A natty floral loungewear set for $4.99 caught my eye, and left me wondering if I’d crossed the line from exhibition viewing to window-shopping.
What argument does the exhibition set out about Canadian design? Primarily, that it’s worth a closer look. On the whole, the objects are a little saccharine, and, unsurprisingly, the Eaton’s catalogues hardly offer a diverse look at Canadian life. Which is not to say that the ephemera aren’t enjoyable. Guest curated by Bonne Zabolotney, I began to feel, looking through the plates and appliances, that it was as much a portrait of an individual’s interests as it was a revision of history. —CAOIMHE MORGAN-FEIR
Various Canadian pennants (from family collection) COURTESY EMILY CARR UNIVERSITY OF ART AND DESIGN PHOTO TORI SCHEPEL