A review by Flora Gordon, B.Des. C.G.D.
Roots features work by accomplished furniture designers Brent Comber, Sabina Hill, Meredith Nicole, Jeff Trigg and Meagan Schafer and is curated by Meredith Nicole of Oden Gallery. While their intentions behind creating each piece of fine furniture varied significantly, (from Schafer’s trying to complement an existing space, to Trigg’s experimenting with wood materials reacting to light), each of them is obviously dedicated to fine craftsmanship and the creation of an object of lasting value. I began to wonder in what contexts – other than in a high-end furniture store, art gallery, or estate sale – one would encounter such pieces together. Roots presents them as future heirlooms. It asks viewers what would give objects in their lives lasting value. By showing a variety of examples, it gives more chances for the viewer to connect with a particular piece, rather than providing a strictly unified collection.
Some of the pieces in Roots may read more as art, such as Hill’s Ovoid Table and Comber’s T-Cup, while others are more in the realm of functional furniture (Schafer, Trigg, Nicole). For instance, Comber’s T-Cup and Drum, while breathtaking in their use of materials, seem more suitable for an art gallery than a home. The way one could see the unique characteristics of the wood, such as the rings and knots, allowed the materials to speak. This juxtaposition of art and function brought up the distinctions between the two – how does one decide what to use on a daily basis, and what to keep protected. I also considered the concept of surplus value (Marx1) where a worker gains profit above the cost of his own needs, and can therefore afford more than the basic necessities. In the context of Vancouver, where residents spend nearly seventy per cent of their disposable income on housing (MacLean’s2), one could argue that there is little left for purchases outside the basic necessities. This means many residents drive to Richmond to purchase furnishings from the newly expanded IKEA or hunt through the thousands of used pieces on Craigslist. Roots therefore serves as a reminder of the power of bringing warmth and expressing identity in one’s living space through furnishings, even if this may be out of reach for many.
Schafer’s fawn stool was very effective in the context of Roots because of its understated details and elegance in dark wood were readily examined; in its original context stated by the artist – under a kitchen island, it may not be as easily appreciated. Trigg’s lamps gave a warm and inviting glow to the small gallery space. I paused to marvel at how he was able to create such dramatically curved shapes out of wood, and how the lighting affected the mood of the space and helped create cohesion with the other pieces in the show. Hill’s Ovoid Table combined two- and three-dimensional design elements, using both positive and negative shapes to express a Northwest Coast design concept deeply based on tradition, with obvious respect for materials. The reflective and protective glass gave it a more contemporary feeling.
Roots also examines the potential of pieces having long-term value because of high quality materials, fine craftsmanship, and in some cases, personal meaning. For instance, Nicole’s tank table, with its intricate inlaid design based on a World War II remembrance theme, has the potential to accompany a person’s story that is passed from generation to generation, with the table as a tangible reminder. The dialogue about heirlooms is particularly timely as Canada’s baby boomer population ages, and many adult children are faced with deciding what furnishings and mementos they will keep as they help their parents downsize, or deal with an inheritance.