Canadian Art - - Reviews -

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

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