British Columbia·Photos

Cabin fever takes over Vancouver Art Gallery

Models, installations, and images offer a look through the history of the cabin as an architectural form and a cultural construct in three categories: shelter, utopia and porn.

From hipster heaven to transcendentalist refuge, the exhibit covers the many iterations of cabins

Cabin in Bracebridge, Ont., 2016. The new exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery explores the evolution of architecture and culture of cabins. (Sam Barkwell)

From canoeing on the lake to hanging out in the woods, the idea of the "cabin" is a big part of the Canadian psyche.

The new exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery Cabin Fever wants to expand our view of the rustic abode.

Models, installations, and images offer a look through the history of the cabin as an architectural form and a cultural construct in three categories: shelter, utopia and porn.

In its earliest forms, curator Jennifer Volland said the cabin as shelter is tied to western expansion and European settlement in North America.

"When we see those ideas we have to look at the flipside of that, that the cabin is really a form of colonization and displacement of indigenous cultures as well," Vollard told CBC producer Margaret Gallagher.

The late American photographer Dorothea Lange. Home of rural rehabilitation client, Tulare County, California Farm Security Administration (Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress)

The exhibit features an installation of two replica cabins by artist James Benning.

Benning emulated the cabins built by the American philosopher and poet Henry David Thoreau, and by Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, a survivalist who lived in the Montana woods and who, between 1978 and 1995, mailed bombs to universities and airlines, killing three and injuring 23.

"The cabin has these different sides to it and I think that's what's so fascinating… we think it's this beautiful architectural object in nature… but actually there's this whole other side to our history where cabins were used as a site of oppression,... slavery,... workers' housing where they segregate people, and a site of horror," Volland said.

Ice Hut #556, Cochrane, Ghost Lake, Alta., Canada, 2011 (Richard Johnson)

The idea of a cabin evolves beyond shelter into a more romantic idea of escaping into nature, she said.

In the category "Utopia" the exhibit displays 17 models to demonstrate the shift in culture and design.

Henrik Bull, Flender Residence, Stowe, Vermont, 1953 (Henrik Bull Collection, Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley, CA)

Through social media, branding and outdoor photography, the cabin becomes a desirable image rather than an actual object, Volland said.

A wall of "Cabin Porn" shows a curated "aesthetic of ruggedness" that viewers might relate to in ads from brands like Sitka, Roots, Hershel or LL Bean.

MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects Limited, Cliff House, Tomlee Head, Nova Scotia,, 2010 ( Greg Richardson, Courtesy MacKayLyons Sweetapple Architects Limited)

Volland said these images offer a daydream that many Vancouverites indulge in as housing affordability pushes the reality of owning a cabin further away.

"Which I think is why we have that imperative to look at all of these images online… using this term porn as this visual stimuli that ties into our desires for things."

The exhibit Cabin Fever will be open from June 9 to Sept 30 at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

To hear the full interview listen to media below:

With files from The Early Edition

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