Supplies!” A brightly painted sign at the far end of the Confluence Gallery in Dawson City sits in front of a 15-foot deep collection of styrofoam, scrap wood, bubble-wrap, unrelated paint cans, and more.
The “surprise” of the “supplies” in the pun-filled sculpture exhibition is not that these items were scavenged from the local landfill. It’s that, in the hands of Rebecca Geddes, Aubyn O’Grady and Evan Rensch, these bits and pieces become whimsical shelters.
Or even (day)dream homes – “nice place if you can a-‘fort’ it,” O’Grady quips.
O’Grady and Rensch proposed Solutions in the spring as a response to the ongoing housing crisis in Dawson City (Geddes joined in when she returned north for the summer).
The shortage is felt year-round, but it’s more visible in summer, when tents and other temporary shelters sprout up around town.
Some temporary sleep-spots are accepted (friends’ back yards) and others only exist until by-laws catch up with them (a group of tents behind the Robert Service Cabin lasted mere days).
“When you live in Dawson City, everyone talks about [the housing shortage] but nothing seems to be done about it,” says O’Grady.
“And so we decided to take matters into our own hands and offer a temporary ‘solution’ to the problem.”
Some of the structures in Solutions do seem almost usable.
“I’m planning on using the platform from this one for my bed after the show,” says O’Grady, noting that the space below would be perfect for storage if this fort really was in a house.
The playful tone in Solutions intrigues because it cuts in two directions.
On one hand, it pokes fun at typical, earnest links between housing and social identity.
The splashed phrase “Isn’t it awful!” for example, contrasts serious and whimsical approaches to architecture.
A serious approach to architecture rejects the purple fragmented wood as “awful”, or not quite right to live in.
An approach comfortable with eccentricity sees a tin-roof miniature shed as the perfect place for leaving a batch of pink balloons, as one visitor did after the balloons had done their job at another party.
On the other hand, the playfulness in Solutions points away from serious building questions altogether and brings up nostalgia.
“A fort is assumed to be something that you build when you are a kid and so I love that these forts are for all ages and their function is to stimulate your imagination,” says Geddes. “They are more an invitation for play than to serve only one specific function.”
“It’s a psychological refuge more than a literal one,” Rensch adds.
And the structures of “junk” are beautified and stylized by O’Grady’s silkscreens.
Geddes and O’Grady worked together last summer on a series of drawings they hung in “The Blue House”, the former Antoinette’s restaurant in Dawson, during the Riverside Arts Festival. There were hints of fort stylings in the way they hung the works on clotheslines indoors.
A few weeks later, the three creative types were hanging out and Rensch began describing how he and friends in Sackville, New Brunswick, built a fort in a living room one winter.
“It started with ‘porch club’ in the fall, but when it became too cold, they moved inside and started ‘fort club’,” he recalls.
“Then Aubyn told me how much she liked forts and the two of us got the ball rolling. Rebecca was living at the blue house and joined in, but a bunch of other people helped too.
With increased mineral exploration squeezing housing options even more, they thought it would be fun to combine the playful aspect of the forts with “a real public function.”
One winter later, after O’Grady and Rensch collaborated on a short film that wowed the 48-Hour Film Challenge in Dawson City, and after Geddes completed her fine arts studies at Capilano University, the Solutions show is a successful collaboration.
It brings people into a lively, smart and quirky assessment of living spaces that are literal and psychological. And then invites them to dream.
The closing reception for Solutions starts Aug. 4 at 7:30 pm.
Meg Walker is a writer and visual artist living in Dawson City.