February 2010

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on February 25, 2010 at 4:41 pm

In March 2005, Vancouver-based graphic designer Jan Halvarson launched Poppytalk, an influential design blog followed internationally by design enthusiasts and shelter-magazine editors alike.

A prolific curator of all things “handmade, decayed, and beautiful,” Halvarson has been at the forefront of contemporary arts and crafts trends, spotting new talent here and abroad. In conversation with MOV, she shares her thoughts on the revival of craft, how the Vancouver scene is evolving, and the local artists she’s following now.

What inspired Poppytalk?
Back in the day, I was studying graphic design and was using the blog to catalogue inspiration, never realizing or even thinking of a readership.

Poppytalk Handmade was added in 2007. It was hard to find quality work to write about and I was spending an incredible amount of time online looking for inspiration. Etsy was very new and I had started an “Etsy Pick of the Day.” It got so popular that I created a blog just for it, and people started sending me submissions to write about them. I realized there was a need for these artists to be seen and heard, and I loved the idea of giving them a venue to showcase their work. As it was also difficult to find these artists in the sea of shops online, I realized it must be hard for buyers and retailers to find as well. I started curating all this talent and realized that when I did post about their work, people were buying their wares. Hence Poppytalk Handmade, a curated online virtual arts and crafts fair, launched thanks to my husband and partner Earl Einarson, who built the site.

How has craft and the handmade world changed since then?
It’s totally bloomed! People have realized the importance of handmade for so many reasons, which in turn has created a new and positive economic model. So many more artists and designers are able to quit their day jobs and can support themselves selling their work than they were able to in the past, and this is probably due to their online presence with blogs, virtual marketplaces, social networking sites, etc.

The online and local community is also very supportive these days, making it easier to learn how to create a handmade business from the arts. And the general public is more socially aware of the benefits of buying handmade, and how it helps the environment, the economy, and people’s quality of life vs. purchasing mass-produced items made in sweatshops overseas that are sold in big-box stores.

Through our current exhibit Art of Craft we’ve observed a schism between, let’s call them traditional craft artists and emerging craft artists. The traditional crafters seem to take a more formal approach to their work. They have a strict definition of their audience and how and where their work should be shown. Emerging craft artists seem to draw influences from a wider sphere; there’s a social aspect to their work, too. Have you observed something similar?
I think in the past it was much harder to support oneself in the arts and people never took you seriously unless you had some sort of formal education or training. That might be part of what you are talking about. I don’t know, it’s a tough call. I don’t focus on that at all, as I’m more interested in the beauty and meaning of one’s work and how it affects the lives around us.

Why do you think handmade arts and crafts are experiencing such a revival?
I think it goes back to social awareness and genuineness. We want to be good to the earth, we want to create and support community, we want meaningful things in our lives; items that are unique, one-of-a-kind, recycled, and beautiful.

How would you characterize Vancouver’s craft scene?
I think it’s amazing. We have some of the most amazing talent here out there. There’s a sense of Canadiana present in many of their works, from woodland forest inspirations to pieces made from locally found or reclaimed wood to pieces from one’s own unique heritage. I think the scene here is really alive and thriving. It’s probably one of the more established scenes and is also supported by great schools here such as Emily Carr.

Which Vancouver artists do you follow?
Local artists here keep popping up and it’s so exciting. A few come to mind. There’s a collective called Hob Snobs. I also love following student work. There’s Kate Beckett, a ceramic student from Emily Carr, and Alanna Scott, a recent graduate of their communication design program. There are so many little clusters everywhere, it’s hard to mention them all.

Image credit: Poppytalk

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on February 24, 2010 at 11:36 am

Who knew an exhibit on taxidermy would be such a hit?

As much as we loved the ideas explored in Ravishing Beasts, and the opportunity to reveal all the animals and species we’d been hoarding in our basement for decades, we were surprised by the crowds and media interest it sustained these past few months (some of the press coverage is linked here). Credit guest curator Rachel Poliquin for seeing beyond the stale narratives of taxidermy—hunting, conquest, decay—and telling a contemporary, even surprising, story. In so many ways, she’s given this strange, disparate collection an afterlife.

Of course, taxidermy had gained a new generation of admirers long before Ravishing Beasts came along. Last July, the New York Times posted a stunning slideshow capturing the “New Vintage.” The movement involves a new generation of antiques collectors seeking Victorian oddities like taxidermy, liqueurs, and apothecary items. The New Vintage aesthetic is all over New York City’s once-gritty-now-trendy Lower East Side neighbourhood. Boutique hotels—ever-the-arbiter of the latest design trends—have embraced it. See: The Bowery Hotel and the Ace Hotel’s New York location.

It all seems a reaction to the minimal, contemporary aesthetic that’s dominated the design world for well over a decade now, and a return to the rare and one-of-a-kind. This new breed of collectors finds beauty in ignored, even ugly, animals and objects; in painstakingly curated clutter. The contents of their apartments can’t be replicated by a quick trip to Crate and Barrel and that’s entirely the point. Hollister Hovey, one of the collectors interviewed in the story that ran with the slideshow, writes a blog on the New Vintage movement; it’s definitely worth a scan.

The popularity of Ravishing Beasts may indicate there’s a similar movement afoot in Vancouver, where new construction dominates the skyline, and stark, contemporary design reigned long before it was fashionable everywhere else. But more than a desire to see something different, we think people came the museum to see a side of Vancouver’s history that deviates from the established, self-aggrandizing tale of the city at one with nature. Look closer, and you see a history of questionable colonial acquisitions and of nature tamed—just like anywhere else.

The exhibit draws to a close this Sunday, February 28. We now have a limited number of exhibit catalogues available for purchase at our visitor services desk ($15 a piece). Thanks to everyone who visited.

Image credit: cabin + cub

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on February 18, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Internationally acclaimed artist Ed Pien arrived in Vancouver a few weeks ago carrying his work Tracing Night in two suitcases. Created in 2004, it’s now part of his personal collection and, he says, representative of 20 years of pushing the act of drawing into three dimensions.

The idea to create art you have to walk—sometimes crawl—into to fully explore first occurred to him at a showing of his paintings in 1985. Looking back at the canvases as they hung on the gallery wall, he saw only the depth of the stretchers. “They [the paintings] seemed dead to me,” he told an audience at a recent MOV talk. “I wanted to come up with a way to engage viewers more thoroughly, and keep them engaged for longer periods. That was really the beginning of my three-dimensional installation work.”

Pien calls himself a “drawing-based artist” but concedes it’s hard to define drawing precisely. “We have sentimental ideas that drive the definition of drawing. Drawing to me is what it doesn’t have to be.” With early installations, like this one, Pien focused on painted drawing. More recent works feature elaborate paper cut-outs. He’s now working with rope to achieve a three-dimension quality to the lines of the drawings themselves. Another layer, another dimension.

He begins building his pieces by first wrinkling sheets of glassine paper he buys in five-foot-wide by 300 ft.-long tubes. The paper starts to lose its tinny sound, he explains, and begins to stretch. “I change the sound, and the paper takes on an elastic quality, like skin… Once I have an idea and a sense of the space [the piece will be installed in], I’ll sketch and walk through it in my head.” The actual drawing and building happens a mere two months before a show opening. The tight timeline is the only way for him to commit, he explains, “Or it would roll around in my head forever.”

Tracing Night has an ethereal, ghostly appearance—an appropriate form for the story it tells. Picture a long subtly curved paper cave suspended from metal tubes from the rafters and hovering a few inches off from the floor. At first glance, it looks weightless, even effortless, and Pien likes it that way—even though there’s up to four layers of deeply saturated colour worked into the surface.
Tracing Night is covered with richly detailed drawings and painted surfaces that tell the story of night through the Rabbit Girl, a character Pien learned of studying Inuit folklore. She recurs throughout the piece, alongside other mythical, nocturnal creatures. Some are a few feet long, while others are scarcely a few centimetres and lurking down spyholes built into the paper.

The supernatural is a recurring interest of the artist. “Some may find my work scary, but I’m hoping that it’s not so dark that people can’t see the work itself… What I’m interested in is ghosts. Whether they’re real or not, it’s interesting how they impact us.”

“We’re complete opposites,” he continues. “They’re not here, where we are. When we enter their realm, we’re the other.”

Tracing Night is view now through April 11.

Image credits: John Armstrong. A slideshow of images is available on

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on February 17, 2010 at 5:11 pm


We’re not even halfway through the Olympics, but in some circles the conversation is already shifting to a post-Games analysis—that is, aside from the bad press, particularly from cities that have hosted the Games (see a story from Utah’s Daily Herald newspaper here) or are set to (coverage from London here). What’s that about?

There are several local events and fora in the offing to examine the impact the event had on the city, their legacy (get used to hearing thatword), and where we’re headed more generally without a massive deadline or international audience to steer our efforts. Vancouverites who lived through Expo 86 must experiencing profound sense of deja vu.

An article in Fast Company magazine posted online last week described the governing principle of Vancouver’s Olympics as “leave no trace.” Full story here. We won’t have a Bird’s Nest stadium to look to like Beijing, nor will Vancouver become a major winter sports training hub like Calgary became after ‘88 (though Whistler is certainly and rightfully poised to). From the outset, VANOC and City Hall’s long-term vision for the city involved green condos and facilities that could be repurposed into stunning community centres that were already needed. The Olympic Village just received LEED Platinum certification making it officially the greenest neighbourhood in the world; current—and more widely read—headlines about the malfunctioning zamboni and fenced-off cauldron, et al, seem pretty useless in this context. And at the risk of getting into this further, why do we seem to care so much about what a reporter from the Times says about us? I highly doubt Londoners will scrutize our coverage of their Olympics so closely. Good on them.

Back to 2050. Busby Perkins + Will and Concord Pacific recently launched Shape Vancouver, a website/poll that allows users to manipulate the existing downtown skyline to see how increasing building density leads to a more sustainable city, reducing carbon emissions, taking cars off the street, etc. An amalgamation of all 4,840 users’ skylines is now on the site. Click here to see it.

There’s also a panel discussion on the future of arts and culture here planned for April 24 at the Arts Club Revue Stage on Granville Island. Entitled “Vancouver 2050: A Creative City!” it will feature addresses by Vancouver Symphony’s Maestro Bramwell Tovey and PuSH Festival’s Norman Armour, and will be moderated by Max Wyman. A few more details about it here.

We also hear that the B.C. chapter of the Urban Land Institute will be hosting an ongoing series of events on what Vancouver will look like in 2050. We’ll post further details as they emerge.

Our role? To be the memory of the time, collecting everything from notable media coverage to programs to protest signs—all the ephemera that gets so easily lost but drives the story. Please do keep an eye peeled for flyers, banners, buttons, hats, and other objects of potential significance. Collect it, and carefully attach a note stating its provenance (where, when, who, and why). After the Games rush is over, get in touch with Wendy Nichols, our curator of collections at 604-730-5312 or send her an e-mail at

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on February 15, 2010 at 8:25 pm



This is less a piece of writing than a working list of our favourite things to come out of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. A caveat: many of these things aren’t directly linked to the Olympics, but may have been accelerated by them.

Favourite transit project: So many column inches have been written about streetcars in Vancouver—why we took them off city streets so many years ago, why we don’t add one down the old Arbutus rail corridor, why we didn’t build a grid of streetcars instead of a subway line. Vancouverites—or maybe it’s just reporters?—are obsessed with the things. So when the (also) much-written about streetcar line between Granville Island and the Olympic Village Canada Line station was reopened for the Games as part of a demonstration project years in the planning—and with free fares to boot—it was something of a miracle. The length of the line is akin to Seattle’s monorail system (read: short) but it’s a needed connection to an under-served area, and fun to ride. More details on the project linked here.

Favourite Games spin-off at MOV: There are many. Hosting a binational craft show with a section devoted to the work of local craftspeople and artists ranks highly. The B.C./Yukon section of the exhibit was curated by Kirsti Wakelin and Darren Carcary of Resolve Design (read more about them in this January post), who produced four lovely short films of artists at work in their studios. One of the films is posted on the design section of Wakelin’s website here. We’ll post the videos to the multimedia section of this website soon, too.

Another of our favourite Games projects has been working with artist Ed Pien, whose installation Tracing Night opened here two weeks ago. As a city museum, we don’t often host works of this nature. It was one of those rare cultural opportunities that come along with the Olympics and we were thrilled to have it. Working with an artist of Pien’s calibre has been an absolute pleasure. I’ll post my notes on his recent curator’s talk in the coming days.



Favourite souvenir: Everyone has the red mittens with maple leafs on the palms (us too). Not everyone has one of these beautifully designed, limited edition, graphic umbrellas. Sold for $20 at Vancouver Special (3612 Main St.), they feature a street grid of Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside with venues and events highlighted in red. Proceeds benefit the Bright Light public art project.

Favourite flash mob: We’re just not used to seeing this kind of thing in Vancouver. Which isn’t to say we’re a sullen lot, we’re just not typically so… gregarious. On the weekend, a crowd of hundreds who’d been rehearsing a dance routine set to Martha and the Vandellas’s “Dancing in the Street” descended on Robson Street to perform it. Many videos of the shenanigans are found on YouTube here. It was fun, frosh-week-esque, and we can’t stop watching it.

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on February 14, 2010 at 10:35 pm

So much going on it’s hard to keep up! There’s too much to write; we’ll post more over the coming days.

It’s too early to get into the Games, but so far we’ve been fascinated by—among many, many other things—all the reporting and essays coming out about Vancouver and Canada. Three must-reads so far.

—From today’s New York Times“Crib Notes on Canada, From a Canadian” by Bruce Headlam. For a smart, humorous summary of our nation’s history and character, look no further.

—In Saturday’s Globe and Mail, architecture critic Lisa Rochon has written on Vancouver’s Southeast False Creek neighbourhood—currently home to 3,000 Olympic athletes, and still looking much like a construction zone. No matter. Rochon, who has written critically of the dearth of notable buildings here, hails the area as an urban accomplishment: “It will do for Vancouver what the St. Lawrence neighbourhood did for Toronto in the 1970s—catapult the city as a test zone of urban daring.” The feature story is linked here.

—Gary Stephen Ross’ essay in the current issue of The Walrus magazine. Called “A Tale of Two Cities” it’s a thorough, beautifully written overview of the contemporary history and culture of the city.

How do you think the Games are going now that they’re finally here? And if you’ve come across any great analysis on Vancouver these days, please post a link to it in the comment section below.

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on February 4, 2010 at 10:55 am

Quick post—and an invitation: Tonight, the Vectorial Elevation light show goes live over English Bay. There’s been a bit of buzz about this Cultural Olympiad installation (hosted as part of CODE, their digital program).

In a nutshell, Vectorial Elevation is an audience-generated laser-light show (the rendering pictured at left doesn’t really do it justice). A series of 10,000-watt “robotic searchlights” have been set up along Vanier Park and Sunset Beach. Once goes live at noon today, users from here and around the world can design their own light patterns, creating a spectacular, evolving, massive interactive display that will be visible as far as Richmond and the peaks of Grouse and Cypress. There are some parameters in the program to keep the lights aiming skyward, so nix any plans to align the beams into a single condo unit.)

Though created by prolific Montreal-based artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and shown in cities like Dublin, Mexico City, and Lyon, this is the first time it’s been seen in Canada. It runs until February 28.

Bonus: Vectorial Elevation premieres at dusk tonight, and we’re hosting a curator’s talk with Ed Pien here at 7 p.m. (free with admission; details here). Come see the show from our perfectly positioned galleries, and take in some art and culture.

Image credit: Vectorial Vancouver

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on February 3, 2010 at 11:39 am

Tonight marks the opening Tracing Night, the second exhibit MOV is hosting as part of the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad, and on view until April 11. The launch party starts at 7 p.m.; tickets available here or at the door.

Tracing Night defies easy classification: it’s an installation piece that serves as a stand-alone exhibit; it’s art layered with history, mythology, and psychology; it’s an elaborate drawing that needs to be entered into to be understood, and one heightened by video projection and a humming, eerie sound scape. In many respects, it’s an unusual choice for a city museum, but its location is somehow fitting, occupying a cavernous 1,000-square-foot gallery wedged between our permanent history galleries and Art of Craft, a binational survey of pieces from Canada and Korea (and our second Cultural Olympiad show).

Tracing Night was among Ed Pien’s early immersive works, and now, several years after its completion, it remains deeply personal to him. In an interview with Amanda Gibbs, MOV’s director of audience engagement, Pien described his intention to explore or recreate a child’s fear of, and fascination with, being in the dark. He researched different mythological interpretations of night and darkness, centering on the Rabbit Girl found in Inuit lore. She serves as the heroine of the piece.

“The mood is not meant to be that of a haunted house,” says Pien, “but a seductive experience where you’re drawn into the space… It keys on the possible darkness of the human soul, but it is ultimately a creative and joyful exploration—there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Pien is based on Toronto and represented by several galleries; the Pierre-Francois Ouellette Art Contemporain gallery in Montreal has an thorough description of his work and images of it. Click here for details.

On Thursday night at 7 p.m., Ed Pien will lead a discussion of Tracing Night (event details here), focusing on its references to Inuit culture and the compelling work of artist Irene Avaalaaqiaq; I’ll post an update accordingly.

Image credit: