INDEPENDENT CURATOR AND WRITER JENNIFER M. VOLLAND HAS ALWAYS HAD A FASCINATION WITH CABINS. Volland has collaborated with the Vancouver Art Gallery on several projects, but her most recent exhibition, Cabin Fever, on view until September 30, is about more than just the love of a place to get away. One of the most comprehensive global exhibitions investigating the cabin’s architectural typology and influence on modern culture, Cabin Fever explores the evolution of the cabin through three key themes: “Shelter,” “Utopia,” and “Porn.”
GRAY reached out to Volland to discuss curating, Cabin Fever, and why we should keep cabins on our radar.
How would you describe your experience as a guest curator for the Vancouver Art Gallery?
It’s a collaborative process. I’m a guest curator but I worked with two other curators on the staff, so there is a coming together of multiple people with multiple points of view. I’ve worked on three projects with the Vancouver Art Gallery over the last decade: an exhibit on artist Kai Althoff in 2008, Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life in 2013, and now, Cabin Fever.
What is it that you love most about what you get to do?
Even more than the end product, I really love the process. I love the research, exploring what the possibilities are with each exhibition, and finding out new things.
Are there any iconic or favorite exhibits that you have been a part of putting together?
I’d have to say Cabin Fever and Grand Hotel. They’re both thematic exhibits that take an in-depth look at the architectural typology of, respectively, the cabin and the hotel and explore how those types of architecture develop our culture overall.
Why is the cabin a significant structure in design history? And why do you think it was previously unexplored in such a comprehensive exhibition?
If you look at [the cabin] on the surface, it’s just a humble architectural form. The cabin is tied to expansion patterns—specifically, Westward expansion—but there is also a darker side of the cabin, which is tied to the displacement of indigenous cultures. It’s more complex than meets the eye. On a philosophical level, the cabin is more romantic but there really is a multilayered history here with more potential for interpretation.
What drew you personally to the architectural and social evolution of the cabin?
I’ve always sort of had a fascination with cabins. There is something with their size that, in a way, relates to childhood—like forts.
What distinctions do each of the themes “Shelter,” “Utopia,” and “Porn” present and how, if possible, do they overlap?
“Shelter” looks at the beginnings of the idea of the cabin, including how the cabin provides more pragmatic solutions for housing, is utilitarian, serves a purpose, played a critical role in the Westward expansion, and offers emergency relief. “Utopia” is a more romantic view of the cabin…think Henry David Thoreau and his transcendent experience. “Porn” explores how the idea of the cabin, in its fullest manifestation, has become fully integrated into modern society, which can be seen in magazines and online. These three sections do overlap, and I think, in a way, they always have. Now, especially with all these ideas of the cabin as shelter, the cabin as utopia, and the cabin in modern life, I think these sections are more integrated than they ever have been.
What do you hope audiences will take away from Cabin Fever?
Lots of things. I hope it’s an exhibition they can enjoy and relate to, I want them to be able to connect to their own experiences. I also hope it’s educational, allowing people to learn how the cabin has impacted the visual and material culture and how we manifest the idea of the cabin in everyday life. I hope Cabin Fever leaves people with the knowledge of the cabin’s deeper impact on our culture and society.
What are your thoughts on possible further implications of the cabin as a social movement, similar to the tiny house movement, or a social solution to, for example, the region’s homeless crisis?
I think that any time we take a closer look at architecture and what it tells us about the way we live, the way we have lived, or the way we want to live, it’s a good thing to do. The cabin is applicable to a large variety of needs, such as emergency relief and housing. I think that because the idea of the cabin, in its purest form, can be put up quickly and relatively inexpensively, it can help address societal issues such as homelessness, not just in American culture, but also worldwide.
Cabin Fever, through September 30, Vancouver Art Gallery; vanartgallery.bc.ca.
This article has been updated to reflect the correct date of the The Kai Althoff exhibition.