Artificial eyes? Taxidermy? See Vancouver’s most unconventional collections

The Museum of Vancouver has gathered the most amazing, perplexing and surreal private collections in the city for a must-see exhibition

July 20, 2016

By Willem Thomas / Photo: Rebecca Blissett

Apologies if the term “collecting” brings back intentionally-buried memories of your grandmother’s endless teddybear-embroidered tea towels, or of that incredibly elaborate ant-farm you once held so dear (what were you thinking?). For those not thrown into wild disarray by the term, the Museum of Vancouver’s mesmerizing new exhibit, All Together Now: Vancouver Collectors and Their Worlds, is for you. Opened at the end of June—and running until January—the exhibition is an immersive, interactive, educational and supremely interesting look at some unique items and the stories behind them, the process and ideation of collecting, the collectors themselves, and also Vancouver’s history (a number of the collections are Vancouver-themed). Referred to as “memory-keepers” by MOV’s curator of contemporary culture, Viviane Gosselin, 20 collectors were chosen from across Vancouver over an almost two year process.

David Moe, prosthetics collector

Who’s behind the collection? What goes into the creative process of picking and putting all these items together? These were important questions Gosselin wanted to address when putting the exhibit together. As all 20 are privately-owned collections, the museum sought to not only display the items in a pleasing format but to also explore the history of them, and to tell each collector’s story as well. Covering a wide range of collections was also incredibly important to Gosselin, and the selections for the displays show it. Pocket watches, concert posters, pinball machines, taxidermy, Expo ’67 memorabilia, and an additional 15 diverse collections: all fill the museum’s halls. “The way we selected the collections was we deliberately focused on collections that would queue interesting thoughts and conversations.” says Gosselin “There’s that fascination, but beyond that, we wanted to provide context. The context is the collector explaining why the collection exists.”

Gabrielle Whiteley, taxidermy collector

Some of the collections have been amassed and passed down through multiple generations, such as Imogene Lim’s ongoing continuation of a specific assemblage of items: Chinese restaurant menus. Coming from a family of restaurant owners, her uncle had originally began collecting the menus years back to have a better understanding of the competition—but it grew beyond that. David Moe’s collection tells a somewhat similar story. A second generation prosthetist who apprenticed under his father, he was extremely interested in the change and developments in medical technology. Having began building the prosthetics collection in his teenage years, he now uses some pieces as part of his curriculum as a faculty member at BCIT. “You start understanding a bit more, his passion in the field,” Gosselin says.

Angus Bungay, action figures and toys collector

With constantly evolving computer technology and the ever-present threat of losing data, the risk of records of certain objects—or ideas—being lost or compromised is fairly great. That’s one reason why collections such as these are so significant. “Whether they intend to or not, they’ve taken on a responsibility to maintain a record of these items,” Gosselin says. “They become memory keepers. You have to think that 500 years from now, how people understand us and how our way of life was will be through digital records, if they survive, which is a big question mark. What will survive will be physical, material culture.”

Marie Allen, artificial eyes collector

With 20 unique collections, rich backstories and portraits (beautifully shot in each collector’s home) of the collectors themselves—not to mention the interactive components such as playable pinball machines—All Together Now: Vancouver Collectors and Their Worlds presents a singular opportunity to experience the past—while looking forward to the future. In Gosselin’s words, “There are 20 different worlds here. There’s bound to be at least one that anyone will feel compelled towards.”

When: June 23, 2016, to January 8, 2017 | Where: The Museum of Vancouver (1100 Chestnut St.) | Cost: Ranging (Museum of Vancouver)

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