Floating Blue

26 August 2019 – “Pleasure craft” is now the official designation, but it has taken almost 100 years for officialdom to lay successful claim. This floating cabin lived a long life in a squatters’ community moored between low and high tide in Dollarton, North Vancouver, before becoming home/studio to artists Al Neil and Carol Itler in the late 1960s.

(Yes, the same squatters’ community once home to Malcolm Lowrey, but no, not his cabin. That one burned down.)

By 2014 the cabin (“the blue cabin,” for obvious reasons) was the last remnant of that community — and slated for demolition. That’s when a whole consortium of public/private sector cultural interests came together to  restore it, and turn it into a studio for a floating artist residency.

And now there she sits in north-east False Creek, right next to the brand-new living quarters that completes the facility.

The historic Blue Cabin was restored by artists Jeremy & Sus Borsos; the 500 square-foot, off-the-grid living quarters was designed by artist Germaine Koh and architect Marko Simcic.

It’s public-take-a-free-tour day, and we’re there, you bet.

“Restored” is exactly the right word for the Blue Cabin: all those multi-coloured pieces of wood, thrown together in one houseboat, are stabilized but otherwise lovingly preserved, right to the chips & scars.

From electric blue exterior walls …

to interior walls & ceiling …

floorboards …

and the bevelled glass mirror in the door to what we guess must have been a medicine chest, in that battered yellow wall.

The work in both buildings is in its final hectic stages. Both will have what’s needed, without excess and with maximum flexibility: each artist will be able to reconfigure the bits to fit individual needs & tastes.

We troop across the dock to the adjacent living quarters — severely, elegantly, rectangular-minimalist. Once we climb up into it, we imagine how much the artists will enjoy those panoramic views across False Creek and into the busy life that fills the Creek.

Eastward toward Telus World of Science (aka “the Golf Ball”) …

and westward toward and beyond the Cambie Street bridge.

Once finished, and with a rather more elegant ladder, this overhead hatch will offer access to a roof-top mini-garden and very mini-deck. “Room for a tiny table and a chair,” says our guide.

We learn that for the first year, priority will be given to indigenous artists. (The Cabin, like the rest of us, resides on the unceded and ancestral territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tseil-Waututh nations.) Regional artists Angela George, Janice George, Buddy Joseph and Debra Sparrow have already completed a research term with the Cabin, and will take up residencies later in the year.

First 6-week resident artist? Vicki Couzens, a First Nations multimedia artist and cultural leader … in Australia. Our tour guide isn’t sure what the focus of her work will be, but points out that Couzens is central to the reclamation of the possum cloak story and language.

Later, I look up the Australia Council for the Arts involvement in this project — the only overseas partner — to learn their rationale.

This prestigious opportunity ensures that Australia’s highly respected First Nations’ arts, culture, and stories continue to be shared with new audiences across the world, and strengthens our deep connections between Australian and Canadian First Nations peoples.

I like it.

 

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8 Comments

  1. A fascinating post, not least because of the Australian connection. Possum cloaks cross First Nations boundaries: the cloud that often rests on the sacred mountain, Mother Gulaga, near my Australian home, is called her possum skin cloak. An aboriginal elder (also near home) made a cloak from possum skins with images and writing by local women on the skin side for the University of Wollongong (third collage down in this post –

    https://morselsandscraps3.wordpress.com/2017/05/06/hotchpotch-5/

    She honoured me, and other non-indigenous women, by allowing us to wear one cloak she made – from New Zealand possums. They’re protected in Australia!

    https://morselsandscraps3.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/calendar-woman/

    I love the distressed timber look, and the views are magnificent, as is the concept.

    Reply
    • This is wonderful! Thank you for all this extra information. I’m happy with this first choice of artist as well, because I have family in Australia.

      Reply
      • Where’s your family in Australia? I’ve signed up for the newsletter from the artists’ residencies so I stay in touch with what’s happening.

      • Isn’t it wonderful that you can be as “in touch” as the rest of us, from the far side of the globe!

  2. Thanks for the tour! 🙂

    Reply
  3. I do too. What a great marriage – the indigenous Australian traditions getting and giving a breath of new life in an old and new space. Lucky people! Thanks for passing this along, it is good news, just what we need, yes? 😉

    Reply
    • Do look at Morsels & Scraps comments on this same post; she is Australian and adds much more information about the significance of the possum cloack and other traditions

      Reply

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