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Why I Design - Q&A with Barbara Alink

Why do you design?
I design because I am curious, when I recognize a problem, I try to understand it from all angles and then want to translate it into a solution.  I care about people, I design because it is my way of serving our human community, designing allows me to express my vision. It is not the design itself, but how it makes you feel, what it can do. The design is never for me but for the user. 

What is your design background?
I am a trained woodworker and architect (restoration). As a kid I always sculpted creatures in clay, built windmills from spare parts, built 'different' pens for my rabbits. For years (1993-1999) I designed and built one off pieces of furniture and kitchen rebuilds for people, specifically for them and their space. While working in Afghanistan I designed large woodwork commissions like the library in the new Afghan Embassy in Tokyo.

What were the most important elements you considered in the conceptualization and design of the Alinker?
The isolation and stigma people with disabilities experience with the use of traditional mobility aids. I can go to the bike shop and choose the coolest bike for 5000$ or choose a city bike for 400$, but the moment I have a disability, there are no cool things to choose from. Mobility aids are a technical solution for a body with a problem, it focuses on the problem and creates social awkwardness. I wanted to make something so cool, that it would overcome the discomfort other people have with disabilities by focusing on possibilities and create inclusion. Recently Alinkers were used on the runway of the LA Fashion Week and in Moscow during the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in events from Bezgraniz Couture who designs cool and wearABLE clothing for people with disabilities. That is where we can bridge and build inclusion, showing that disability does not mean that you can't be cool anymore. John Perry Barlow said, using the Alinker since his legs got paralyzed:' I never cared to be cool, until i was not cool anymore'. 

When will we see the Alinker on the streets in Vancouver?
There are already a few Alinker users in Vancouver and I hope soon many more. We have a new website with an online shop now. It is a new product and it takes time, it takes exposure and as a start up we have limited resources and cannot be everywhere at the same time. Modeling at events what the Alinker can do is important, liaising with the right partners, building a community of inclusion. For the early adopters, people who have a vision for themselves, who want to stay active no matter what, see it, want it and it changes their lives. Each time it is incredible to hear the stories they share with us how much it impacts their health and social lives. It impacts me emotionally and motivates me to do what we need to do in this seemingly impossible task of bringing a completely new product to market.

Meet Barbara Alink and see a demonstration of her innovative creation at Why I Design: Friday, November 4.

The Alinker was featured in this show during the recent Russian Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week:

Bezgraniz Couture- Spring/Summer 2017 from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Rus on Vimeo.

 

MOVments from the week: Vancouver falls behind, Grandview Park divides, and a 220 sq. ft. house inspires

 

A weekly round up of the local news, events, and cultural happenings we’re tracking.

The answer to Vancouver’s real estate crunch might just be the stackable modular house pictured left. The innovative 220 sq. ft. structure, called L41 (a play on “all for one”), was created by architect Michael Katz and designer Janet Corne. It was previously on view on the Concord Pacific site downtown and is now at 550 Great Northern Way. A typical laneway house of 500 sq. ft. seems capacious by comparison. (Globe and Mail)

Gentrification or neglect? A group of Commercial Drive residents hosted a block party in Grandview Park last weekend to express their opposition to aspects of park’s redesign. The $1.5-million project will take a year to complete and the park will be closed to the public during that time. According to Parks Board documents, another group called the Friends of Grandview Park led the redevelopment out of safety concerns for themselves and their kids. So, are The Drive’s sky-high real estate prices taking the proudly bohemian neighbourhood in a new direction? For so many years the neighbourhood lament was that West Side parks and amenities received preferential treatment. Where’s the line between infrastucture upgrades and gentrification? (Vancouver Courier)

Too pretty to be smart? The Canadian Council on Learning released their 2010 Composite Learning Index scores this week and Vancouver… did not fare so well. Among other things, our high-school dropout rate is above the national average, while our “exposure to reading” and “availability of workplace training” is below it. Our composite score was lower than all other major Canadian cities, including Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, and Victoria—which topped the rankings with an overall score of 95% (!). We need to turn this ship around. An interactive map with all the scores is here.

How to learn the city’s history in a pinch. Love these “Year in Five Minutes” pieces from re:place magazine that are based on Chuck Davis’ popular History of Vancouver timelineIn the latest installment—1970—there’s a terrific archival picture of Fox & Fluevog Shoes’ old Gastown store. Wonder what happened to that awning? (re:place)

As I post this, we’re in the midst of A Night at MOV with Conor Holler, a live talk show presented by Vancouver is Awesome and hosted in our 200+ seat theatre. Did you attend? We’d love your feedback. Side note: Staff-led tours of Fox, Fluevog & Friends commence June 1 and will be on offer thrice-weekly throughout the exhibition. See our Audience Engagement calendar for  up-to-date information. Happy weekend.

Image credit: Simon Scott for The Globe and Mail

From ‘Flueseum’ to Museum: A preview of Fox, Fluevog & Friends

 

 

Has there ever been such a pun-friendly name as Fluevog? In the 40 years that John Fluevog has been in the shoe business, he’s certainly played off of it, using it as a noun, adjective, and verb—see his chatty website for a sample—all the while building a colourful, forward-thinking, and innovative business that’s only partly about shoes.

From the outset, both the store and Fox’s designs pushed traditional (read: safe) shoes aside in favour of bold, unconventional silhouettes and dramatic detailing. Picture fur-collared ankle boots, multi-hued platform heels, or handmade wooden clogs (the handiwork of their collaborator Ken Rice). In short: Shoes made by risk-takers, for risk-takers. Celebrities like Robert Altman and Julie Christie were fans; others just didn’t get it (Fluevog recalls people walking past the store windows exclaiming “Who would wear these?!”).

In a feature MOV exhibition that opens Thursday night, curator Joan Seidl has traced the Vancouver company back to 1970, when a men’s shoe store named Fox & Fluevog opened at 2 Powell St. in Gastown. With $13,500 borrowed from his dad, then-22-year-old Fluevog and business partner/mentor Peter Fox aimed to build off their retail experience at the venerable Evans Sheppard shoe store on Hastings Street. Peter Fox, a London native, was also working on his own shoe designs which reflected his interest in art history and Carnaby Street’s emerging modish aesthetic.

 

Fox and Fluevog parted amicably in 1981. Fox moved to New York to focus on his own label; Fluevog took over Fox & Fluevog running it as “just another shoe store” until competition from big chains forced him to rethink his business model—and to take the leap into designing himself. Though his work shares Fox’s unselfconscious design philosophy, it is his skill at branding that has pushed him into new and interesting territory, and earned him a cult-like following.

Working with local illustrator and creative director Dave Webber of Webbervision in Gastown, the two have established a brand that is urban, worldly, off-beat, acerbic, gently subversive, and an attempt to “above all… avoid anything that smacks of being ‘just advertising’.” Old Fluevog catalogues featured in the exhibition comment on such topics as religion, consumerism, and human nature. They feature incredible shoes, too.

 

In an interview on CBC Radio that aired this morning (click here to hear it), Fox and Fluevog said they didn’t know they were breaking new ground so much as doing things that interested them and designing shoes they couldn’t find elsewhere. Over 3,500 square feet of gallery space has been turned over to a selection of their work. Some 150 pairs of shoes appear alongside photographs, catalogues, press, and ephemera, and yet it’s only a glimpse of their work and its impact to date. There’s most definitely more to come.

Image descriptions, from top to bottom:
A Fox and Fluevog clog from the mid-1970s.
A sketch by Peter Fox.
A selection of John Fluevog shoes designed between 1980 to 2000.

All images by  Kirsti Wakelin.

MOVments from the week and a look at what’s ahead

 

A weekly round up of the news and cultural happenings we’re following. Off we go:

Remember the Bixi bike trial the city hosted one weekend last summer? (Bixi being the public bike-share program that’s been successfully implemented in Ottawa and Montreal, and modeled after similar programs in Paris and Copenhagen.) Where’s that at? Looks like Dublin’s the latest city to embrace the idea and it’s described in this article as a “spectacular triumph.” Even better: They’ve launched a bike-to-work tax incentive program where employes can buy bikes and sell them to workers tax-free, “reducing the price by about 40%.” (Global Post)

City Hall’s new rental scheme going over like a lead balloon: There were stories in the local press this week about growing (and unexpected) opposition to city council’s Short-Term Incentives for Rental Housing program. In a nutshell: The plan gives developers incentives to build rental units instead of condos. Seems the first projects announced under the scheme aren’t being well-received by some West End residents because, among other reasons, the new units will rent for market rates. Gordon Price, the long-time voice of the West End and director of the SFU City Program, offers a nice summary of the issues on his blog—click the link. (Price Tags)

And speaking of the SFU City Program… On April 28, they’ll host a discussion entitled, “Post-Game Analysis: How Vancouver, Richmond and Whistler planned for the Olympics.” Six panelists, including Brent Toderian, Vancouver’s director of planning and Whistler’s Mayor Ken Melamed, will discuss how they pulled off the Games, and lessons learned. (SFU City Program)

“Quick Homes,” smart designs: Following on the success of the city’s Housing-First strategy, the local chapter of Architecture for Humanity is hosting a design super-challenge tomorrow night to “generate a series of viable [housing] concepts that are ready for prototyping and implementation.” It’s too late to register for that session, unfortunately, but you can follow the event on Facebook and/or attend the live-jury session this Saturday. Click the link for details. (Architecture for Humanity)

SHOES! Fox, Fluevog & Friends: The story behind the shoes opens in mere weeks and we’ve got shoes on our mind. Next Wednesday, the storied Army & Navy store on Hastings hosts their legendary, crazy-popular shoe sale. It’s one of those events every Vancouverite should attend at least once. Doors open at 8 a.m. (Army & Navy)

As it happens, the Museum of London is also hosting a program devoted to shoes. Tomorrow, there’s a object-handling session featuring items from their leatherworking collection. Among them: handmade leather shoes excavated from the banks of the River Thames. Some things are just made to last. (Museum of London)

And… special thanks to everyone who attended, sponsored, or just perused last Friday night’s DIY@MOV2. Over 300 people attended, and the feedback was stellar. Thanks for making it such a fun and lively night. Happy weekend.

MOVments from the past week and a look ahead

 

Our weekly round up of the news and cultural happenings we followed this week—and what’s coming up at MOV.

Think Velo-City-meets-Art of Craft: Last summer, we introduced our new look and mission with Velo-City: Vancouver and the Bicycle Revolution, an exhibit on the rise of local cycling culture. This summer, New York’s Museum of Arts and Design hosts Bespoke: The Handbuilt Bicycle, focusing on “the designs of six internationally renowned bicycle builders whose work in metal, as well as graphics and artifacts, elucidate this refined, intricate and deeply individual craft.” (Museum of Arts and Design)

Better in the ‘burbs? Vancouver’s not the only city trying to create a green businesses hub. This week, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts “added clean-energy companies to the list of business that can get a break from the city if they locate there.” (Globe and Mail)

Wish we’d been there: So often Vancouver’s brightest artistic and design talents are celebrated outside the city limits. Last week, Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen of Molo Design were in New York speaking about a new museum they recently designed in Aomori, Japan. Much like Molo’s design practice, the city is known for its artful paper expertise, hosting an ancient paper festival each year. The museum will “house the festival’s floats year round and give visitors a chance to view the handcrafted floats as they’re being made.” Click the Azure magazine link for slideshow of their work and renderings of the museum project. (Azure)

Coming up at MOV: We’re about to change the scenery here. On Sunday, April 11, our two Cultural Olympiad shows, Tracing Night and Art of Craft, draw to a close. Before they go, we’re hosting round two of DIY@MOV, the social-crafting night we piloted a couple months back. We were thrilled with the response. This time around, there will be workshops on weaving, drawing, felting, spinning, jewellery making and collage. We’ve also expanded the onsite craft market. Click here for the complete list of vendors and to buy tickets. Happy long weekend!

Image credit: Sacha White via Museum of Arts and Design

Art of Craft: Two upcoming family programs + Handmade Nation

The Olympic Games may be over, but the Cultural Olympiad continues—now without the complications of capacity crowds (fun as they were!). Starting next weekend, we resume public programs with a series of events relating to Art of Craft, one of the exhibits we’re hosting as part of the Olympiad.

On March 13, there’s a MOV Kids & Family collage workshop hosted by local textile artist Bettina Matzkuhn, whose work is featured in Art of Craft. Participants bring scraps and materials from home; we’ll have sewing supplies. The workshop is free with regular admission and recommended for a range of ages, though parental involvement is required. Further details are found on our Engagement Calendar.

We’ll follow that workshop with a second family program on March 20 that will be hosted by ceramicist Eliza Au, another talented local artist featured in the exhibit. She’ll lead a session transforming cardboard cutouts and shapes into 3D animals. Free with regular admission; details here.

There’s also a screening of “Handmade Nation” coming up on March 19 in our on-site, 200+-seat theatre. (Note: We’ve received a lot of interest in this film and highly recommend buying tickets in advance here.) The 2009 documentary by first-time filmmaker, long-time crafter and gallery owner Faythe Levine captures the sprawling DIY craft movement in 15 American cities. By their very nature, DIYers are a diverse, amorphous lot, but Levine might be considered their leader; The New York Times calls her the Ambassador of Handmade. Her film was three years in the making and resulted in the publication of a book of the same name.

In an interview with Threadbanger workshop—and available here on YouTube—Levine says “Handmade Nation” was inspired by what she saw unfolding around her. Namely: a new generation reclaiming almost-lost handmade arts.

“I really believe that the act of making and the process that goes into making creative decisions is what is at the core of DIY and the importance of the movement. And I think that what everyone has to gain from one another within the community, and what this documentary is really about, is that empowering feeling that you get from making something.”

Image credit: 2 days in the rain

Q&A: Jan Halvarson, co-founder of Poppytalk

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

Ravishing Beasts draws to a close this weekend; final thoughts

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

MOV’s Most Wanted: Fox and Fluevog footwear from the 1970s

 

After the Cultural Olympiad shows roll out of MOV in April, we train our lens back on Vancouver with a look at locally loved shoe designers John Fluevog and Peter Fox. Opening in May, the exhibit chronicles the designers’ formative years in Gastown in the 1970s to John Fluevog’s independent work today. Their innovative experiments in shoe design and construction, narrative-driven business model (theatre-like boutiques! novella-like catalogues!), and famous fans (Madonna among them) make for the kind of Vancouver story we love to tell.

Needless to say, we’re amassing an incredible collection of footwear to drive the exhibit and specifically in need of Fox and Fluevog shoes, boots, and clogs from the 1970s thru to 1978 or so. Have a pair? Please contact Joan Seidl, the exhibit curator and MOV’s director of collections and exhibitions. jseidl@museumofvancouver.ca

Art of Craft opens tonight! Herewith, a preview

Here’s a task: design an exhibit that’s actually three exhibits in one, relying solely on images of the featured objects supplied in a PowerPoint file—objects that won’t arrive for months. Such was the challenge of Art of Craft, a rich, binational survey of contemporary craft presented with the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad that opens tonight. Exhibit designers Kirsti Wakelin and Darren Carcary of Vancouver-based Resolve Design opted for a simple, spare concept that belies both the complexity of the 173 objects on view and the themes each gallery incorporates in layer, upon layer, upon layer. The range of materials is staggering, too, covering ceramics, textiles, glass, wood, and metal, among others.

If there is a central thesis to Art of Craft says Wakelin, it’s that the world of craft is incredibly broad and doesn’t have a boundary. “Most craft is fine art but the word ‘craft’ has typically referred to the technical ability of doing or making. That’s changing.”

The first gallery or show-within-a-show, entitled Unity and Diversity, is a national survey of works that were recently shown at the Cheongju International Craft Biennale in Korea. The 75 pieces were selected out of 1,400 submissions to six juries coordinated by provincial and territorial craft councils overseen by the Canadian Crafts Federation.

Unity and Diversity represents a more traditional or classic approach to craft, but there’s a lightness here, too, and a common rejection of nostalgia. Many of the artisans question old ideas about Canadian identity, motifs, and history, while others challenge preconceived notions about the materials themselves: Springtime by Nova Scotian Dawn MacNutt looks as though it were made from wicker. In fact, it’s painted bronze-cast wire—and weighs a tonne. The nine ceramic figures of the work fine lines by Margaret Matsuyama (pictured left) are a comment on what she sees as a Canadian tendency to broadly categorize “diversity” while overlooking individual differences. “Diversity in multicultural Canada is often broadly defined by categories that overlook complex, subtle differences of identity.”

The second gallery turns its attention to crafts produced on the West Coast. By Hand/B.C. and Yukon was also a juried show, but when it reached MOV it hadn’t been formally curated. Carcary and Wakelin organized the objects by medium and added a multimedia section that focuses on an area they find fascinating: process. They shot and produced a series of two-minute films of Vancouver-based artisans Peter Kiss, Barbara Heller, Jinny Whitehead, and Barbara Cohen—all with pieces on display here—to capture studio life and the intimacies of the creative process. “By seeing what’s involved in the making of an object, you develop a greater appreciation for the skill involved,” says Carcary. “Each artisan creates a tangible object on film, but their approaches are so totally different.” For some, the materials determine the final outcome; for others, they’re just a means to an end.

The third gallery, entitled simply Craft from the Republic of Korea, offers a representation of objects used or found in the Korean home. It’s more thematically concise than the Canadian galleries, but the exacting attention to form and materials is the same. Some of the pieces have a distinct Pacific North quality to them, too (Bae Se Hwa’s incredible white birch lanterns, Easylight-01, would be right at home at the B.C. Wood Co-op; ditto Kim Kyung lae’s Branch Chair, a high-backed piece made from ash, maple, and ebony woods with a seat fashioned from cord).

Wakelin and Carcary are themselves involved with Vancouver’s craft scene, participating in a regular craft night or “crafternoon” that brings together anywhere from a handful to 15 friends to create anything and everything from knitting to collages to stop-motion photography. The idea inspired the Museum’s DIY@MOV craft night coming up on January 21, and Wakelin will be leading one of the sessions. (More on all that later.)

There’s a lot of ground covered in Art of Craft—and far more to cover still. In the coming weeks, we’ll look at contemporary craft in Vancouver and how various practices are evolving. However you spend your time in the exhibit, be sure to pause near the entrance to watch the projection of close-shot photographs of some of the works featured inside. The discipline and skill used to achieve such extraordinary detail is precisely what Art of Craft is about.

Image caption material, from top to bottom:

Selection from The Meditation of Order by Eliza Au.
fine lines
 by Margaret Matsuyama
Gallery wall featured in By Hand/B.C. and Yukon gallery
Sanctuary
 by Noelle Hamlyn Snell

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