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Objects from Hollywood North institution inspires artists

The Prop House: A Collection of One Million Objects on now at North Vancouver’s Griffin Art Projects

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A supplier of props to Hollywood North productions for almost four decades, Mount Pleasant Furniture is now ready for its own close-up thanks to the new Griffin Arts Project show The Prop House: A Collection of One Million Objects.

The group show, on May 18-Aug. 18 at the North Vancouver gallery, is curated by Lisa Baldissera and Paul Wong. It features new works by Bagua Artist Association, Cathy Busby, Germaine Koh, Parvin Peivandi, Jay Senetchko, and Charlene Vickers. Also on display, are images taken at Mount Pleasant Furniture (MPF) by Postmedia photojournalist Jason Payne.

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The artists involved were given a simple brief: dig around in the 35,000-square-foot labyrinth that is MPF’s two buildings in the Mount Pleasant warehouse district and pick items to use in an original art piece.

Mount PLeasant Furniture
Artists drew on items from the legendary collection at Mount Pleasant Furniture for The Prop House: A Collection of One Million Objects art show on May 18–Aug. 18 at North Vancouver’s Griffin Art Projects Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

According to organizers, Bagua Art Collective will examine MPF’s Chinese collection. Busby utilizes painted portraits, “allowing her curiosity about the now mostly unknown sitters to steer her project.”

Koh calls on the collection’s domestic lamps to explore illumination and “hauntology.”

Peivandi looks at the experience of migration, nostalgia and perception through a series of mirrors, suitcases, and other objects. Senetchko is re-staging a grand period piece in which one of his paintings will be situated.

Vickers digs into memory as she responds to the collection’s dining room kitchen furniture section with inspiration coming from a Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet — a.k.a. Cupboards with Brains or Scientific Pantries — as they were known when first introduced to housewives in the 1900s. Vickers’ own grandmother had one of these cabinets in her kitchen.

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And Payne’s photographs, originally published in the Vancouver Sun, complement the exhibition with detailed shots of different portions of the collection.

The idea for the show began with video and visual artist Wong, who has been using items from MPF in his work since the Hollywood North Institution opened its doors.

“It’s a wonderful adventure playground,” said Wong, who has always found himself drawn to the Chinese collection at MPF. “It’s crammed full of real objects. This is not a Styrofoam prop house. It’s amazing to walk through it and see all of it.”

Another reason Wong wanted to document MPF, is the facility is closing in a year’s time as one of its two warehouses has been sold and will be developed. As of the writing of this article Leslie Madsen, who opened MPF back in 1988, was negotiating with a buyer to purchase the whole collection and keep the prop house business running in another location.

While the impending end to an era is sad, Madsen is happy her life’s work is being celebrated in this new show. And she is excited to see what the artists have created.

“I know what they are taking, but I don’t know what they are doing,” said Madsen. “I have no idea what they are doing. I have been staying out of it. I want to be surprised.

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“It will be super emotional for me. I’m sure I’ll shed a few tears. For all of us, as a family, it’s a  big deal. For me, I think it is a good way to bow out. I’m thrilled.”

Leslie Madsen
Mount Pleasant Furniture owner Leslie Madsen is excited to see what a group of artists have done with items from her large collection. The outcome will be on display at The Prop House: A Collection of One Million Objects exhibition on May 18-Aug. 18 at Griffin Arts Projects in North Vancouver. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

When Wong brought the idea to Baldissera, director of Griffin Arts Project, she responded with a resounding, “Yeah!”

“It has an interesting story, in general,” said Baldissera. “The story of storage is every collector’s story, really. But this is writ large in Leslie’s case … What an interesting way to talk about the history of collection, our relationship to objects, how objects hold memory and history, and how they also are places of imagination.”

Both Baldissera and Wong are also contributing works to the show. Baldissera has drawn on a large collection of clocks from the prop house and writings from herself, her mother and grandmother. Wong has created a three-minute drone and steadicam film that documents the collection. The film, which will be shown on the Mount Pleasant Community Art screen at Kingsway and Broadway, and on a smaller scale at the Griffin show, captures the collection in all its glory and offers viewers some insight into what the artists had to choose from.

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Payne’s still photos also offer that archival touch.

Mount Pleasant Furniture
There are so many pieces of furniture at the Mount Pleasant Furniture prop house in Vancouver that they’re stacked three levels high on shelves. The 40-year-old prop house and its vast trove of treasures is the inspiration for The Prop House: A Collection of One Million Objects art show on May 18–Aug. 18 at North Vancouver’s Griffin Art Projects. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

“You see what the artists had to draw from,” said Baldissera about the photographs. “It’s a dizzying look at this collection. He provides that archive and that fresh look.”

Madsen said it was fun to watch the artists comb through her collection and pick things that spoke to them, but when asked about what kinds of items speak to her, she laughed.

“That’s a tough one. It is really hard to pick a favourite kid because I see something in everything,” said Madsen, whose three kids have worked at MPF over the years. “It’s so vast. I see merit all around. It’s kind of like saving history.”

Check the Griffin Arts Project website for special events and tours related to The Prop House: A Collection of One Million Object exhibition.

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