Movers and Shapers
At the Vancouver Museum until June 22
The Vancouver Museum has long struggled to build an identity around a far-flung collection that spans the city’s old neon signs, an Egyptian mummy, and an 80-year-old rental bathing suit from Kits Beach. But now it’s embarking on a four-year strategic plan to pull itself into the 21st century. With the connections it makes with Movers and Shapers, it’s off to a good start. What better way to go hip than to hook up with the city’s cool kids?
Those “cool kids” are the members of a truly cutting-edge design scene that gets a lot of recognition abroad but little at home (except, it must be said, in the pages of the Georgia Straight, which has profiled almost every one of them in recent years). Movers and Shapers spotlights innovative young talents working in architecture, fashion, interiors, marketing, and elsewhere. We’re talking everyone from the branding experts at Subplot Design to the jewellery makers at Pyrrha Design to the creators of clean-lined furniture at Nico Spacecraft. Curated and staged by the multimedia-design firm Cause+Affect, the exhibition series was created to raise the profile of our homegrown scene. It’s surfaced twice before, at the Vancouver Home and Interior Design Show, in 2004 and 2007.
The collaboration comes at an apt time for the pod-shaped landmark in Vanier Park, because it meets several of the institution’s new goals. The museum wants to make its shows more contemporary—in both content and presentation. It also wants to get away from the old model of in-house experts creating exhibits, and to look outside for guest curators who feel the pulse of the community.
Movers and Shapers, spread over two rooms, looks pretty spiffy in its new digs. In the first hall, each firm or designer is profiled amid a sleekly contemporary maze of white modular cubes. Below photos of designers and their projects are their works. These range from basic objects you can touch (Red Flag Design’s sturdy, cleverly deconstructed totes, crafted from recycled sailcloth) through to the artistic (Pyrrha’s museumlike display of its trademark, antique-looking wax seals, alongside the jewellery it makes from them) and the highly conceptual (ideas firm Burnkit’s metal Husky tool chest).
In the second, grander, high-ceilinged room, the objects receive a more dramatic, gallerylike showcase. The giant light fixtures draw the biggest wows: while Molo Design’s wavy white paper sculpture hangs like a huge glowing cloud at the entrance, Propellor’s dozens of illuminated wooden pendulums conjure a city skyline. At the other end of the room, Omer Arbel’s dangling cascades of crumpled forms almost demand you touch them to figure out if they’re fabric or glass; they’re more like porcelain. Other standouts are Hajnalka Mandula’s proof that clothing can be conceptual (a black deconstructed dress arbitrarily fastened with punky brass safety pins, which also appear on a pair of turn-of-the-century black shoes) and Lang Wilson Practice in Architecture Culture’s space-agey cabin models.
The Movers and Shapers series was never meant to serve as an exhaustive showcase of local talent, but to its credit, you’ll have difficulty coming up with names that either have been left out or didn’t deserve to be included.
Cause+Affect has pulled in the right players, but few displays provide enough details about what makes each designer so groundbreaking. For example, if you didn’t know that the durable, honeycombed paper Molo makes its furnishings out of allows pieces to be folded away or packed into easily shippable parcels, you would miss one of its chief innovations. All we’re told in one of many vague, jargony descriptions is that the company is “dedicated to materials research and an exploration of space making”. Similarly, unless you had prior knowledge, you wouldn’t know what materials or processes are used by lines like This Is It Design and Mono fashions.
Subplot Design’s interpretive text, with a big-screen iPod to illustrate, is one of the rare exceptions. Its display features a striking campaign for Ryders Eyewear, with an extreme close-up of a boarder’s face, wearing sunglasses, and a nose streaming blood. It makes more sense when you read a panel that explains the firm had to come up with a new way to project the hard-core cred of the sunglasses in a field full of clichéd shots of guys making cool jumps.
The museum deserves credit for showcasing the city’s design talent, but if it wants to forge an identity as a true cultural meeting place, it has to offer more in the way of discourse and context. Then again, maybe it’s fitting that in an industry that’s all about aesthetics, this show emphasizes style over substance.