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North Van exhibition pays ode to Vancouver prop house

The disappearing Mount Pleasant Furniture has over one million collectibles and artifacts used in Vancouver-shot tv and film
Mount Pleasant Furniture, on East 4th Ave., has been a bastion of the local film industry. | Griffin Arts Project

A labyrinth of rooms with over a million objects, the legendary film prop house that is Vancouver's Mount Pleasant Furniture (MPF) offers a unique experience to anyone who enters.

The multitude of responses it can evoke in a visitor has inspired the latest exhibition to come to the Griffin Arts Project gallery. The Prop House: A Collection of One Million Objects, running from May 18–Aug. 18, is an ode to the film and TV industry bastion.

Curated by Lisa Baldissera and Paul Wong, the exhibition features new works by artists Cathy Busby, Germaine Koh, Parvin Peivandi, Jay Senetchko, and Charlene Vickers. Each share their own personal, artistic response to the sprawling film prop collection.

“The prop house is absolutely stunning. It’s 32,000 square feet, and the variety of objects is really quite amazing,” said Baldissera.

“So we thought it would be interesting to invite artists to come in and have a look at the house. Paul carried out a number of tours, and we requested that they select the things that really piqued their imagination.”

With sections of the prop house organized around separate themes, the number of worlds a guest can be transported to is endless. There’s a courthouse section, stacked with attorney tables and other other accoutrements suitable to juicy courtroom drama, while others have specific props suitable for westerns, horrors or sci-fi series.

“We included a range of artists that had different ways of working, so that there would be a really interesting cross section of approaches,” said Baldissera.

Some of the artists, like last year’s winner of the Governor General Award Germaine Koh, have taken a conceptual approach. Koh gathered a cluster of lamps that will be motion-sensor activated.

“These lamps from the prop house will be activated by the audience moving through the space, and it’s designed to provoke this sense, this feeling, of a haunting. What it means for objects to have this other life, this past life,” said Baldissera.

“It’s quite beautiful.”

For artist Kathy Busby, it was the portrait section of the colossal prop house that captured interest. Busby, touched by the idea that there are so many painted portraits of people that have become lost to history, embarked on a mission to research the artists and discover who the sitters might be. Elsewhere artist Parvin Peivandi selected a series of mirrors and suitcases, among other evocative objects, to consider the diasporic experience of migration, nostalgia, and perception.

Alongside the artists' contribution are works from both Baldissera and Wong themselves.

Baldiserra, inspired by the room filled with wall clocks, has created a constellation of faces from different eras that resembles stars in the sky. Wong's work hones in on props used in The X files, specifically those from Episode 19, season 3, which he himself starred in, and which will be shown as part of the exhibition.

“It was filmed here in Vancouver, but it pretended to be in San Francisco, which is the magic of TV making. You can recreate something, someplace, with just a few artifacts,” said Wong.

Wong, whose response will pay homage to the show’s Emmy Award-winning Production Designer Graeme Murray, said it has been interesting to see how objects can be reimagined when they’re looked upon with a fresh gaze. Especially when those who are looking at them aren’t trained with the same eye for detail as those in the film industry.

“Directors or set designers come to this prop house with a script or an idea, and then they find things that speak to that, whether they need science fiction, a Western, or contemporary mid-century. In this case, we have invited artists with no set ideas to come in, and it’s been fascinating to see what parts of the house they respond to,” he said.

“It’s such an interesting approach, to open up this wonderland and have people jump in and see what they come up with.”

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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