Home Dream Home: a Corporeal and Ethereal Location as Art
Interview + Photographs by Andi Icaza-Largaespada
On the evening of November 28th, Access Gallery held the opening of Catherine Pulkinghorn’s exhibition Home Dream Home, curated by Shaun Dacey. Home Dream Home is a process-based dialogue on the construction of Home as space for shelter and lifestyle, and the real estate market’s simultaneous toll on socioeconomic identity. From the moment she entertained the idea of becoming a first-time condominium owner in Downtown Vancouver, through the pre-sale purchase procedures and into the subsequent occupation of an apartment short of surprises, Catherine defined this as a process. Interested in continuing this, Catherine produced aesthetically symbolic artworks to complement a large table for discussion, a collection of paperwork and bits and pieces of her inefficiently designed and constructed condo. In a city of pervasive construction cranes, accelerated house development, and a constant increase in living expenses, the need for affordable housing remains a matter of urgent, profuse debate.
From the exhibition statement, “Catherine Pulkinghorn has worked in site-specific, embodied and experiential practices for two decades. In recent projects she has extended her focus to include socially based work, moving away from exclusively researching and producing independently, to working collaboratively, engaging community members as key contributors to resolving the queries of her work.”
Vandocument joined Catherine on the afternoon of November 29th for a Drawing Party in the exhibition space: all ages and backgrounds welcome, this exercise existed within the exhibition’s wider purpose of exploring the individual and collective dreams, expectations, and real circumstances brought into the home as location of concretes and intangibles. Provided with crayons, pencils and pens, Catherine’s dream floorplan and actual floorplan were complicit of conversations on housing development, and the artistic process as coping mechanism and community building tool.
Vandocument: What drove you to make an art exhibit out of the homeownership process?
Catherine Pulkinghorn: My artistic practice is process-based; I’ve been in a process since becoming interested in this project, months before the pre-sale even existed. Formal artworks aside, this table and this conversation right here are the most important part of the show. I try to be in the gallery space as much as possible, doing this exactly, talking to people.
I had wanted to be able to house my daughter in co-op but we couldn’t get into co-ops here. The 60 w. Cordova development was going to be, theoretically, a co-op—an intentional community of people with common backgrounds, in a neighbourhood of people who are meant to already live, work, or volunteer there, with a commitment to the neighborhood. Part of it is sharing the labour by taking care of the common property because it means we control our maintenance fees and develop relationships with our neighbours. In most apartment buildings, people don’t know their neighbours very well because it is uncomfortable to live so closely, so we pretend that we’re not living so closely by affording each other a lot of distance.
The City of Vancouver, the developer West Bank, Henriquez Architect Partners (who built the Woodward’s complex), Vancity, Woodland Hotel Society and Habitat for Humanity were coming together to facilitate this project. I felt that those professional organizations would hold each other accountable to the promises being made publicly. I was willing to take a risk because I felt like there was going to be a leveraging of accountability among the partners. Unfortunately I was proved completely wrong. I had initially thought of this home as an investment, but I have learned it is actually a liability. It was important for me to depict this process, even if it hadn’t become an art exhibition. And because it entails a process in itself, that goes from assumptions, and then certain parts that feel more real and then more assumptions. This thing of becoming a particular kind of homeowner, a pre-sale condominium owner, is a process. I didn’t blindly make assumptions; there’s a big marketing campaign from which you are going to supposedly get some facts. The problem is that I projected accountability and integrity onto the organizations involved, which I now see was a silly thing to do.
VD: Condo development and ownership is a very relevant discussion to further open up publicly in Vancouver, especially this area.
CP: I’m working with Access Gallery because when I was engaging with this process 5 years ago, that block where I’m living now was in the exact same phase that this block (E. Georgia 200) is in. One year ago, that new building across the street didn’t exist and the building that is going to be constructed over here didn’t exist. I wanted to work specifically with Access as an organization and as a gallery: the shape of the gallery very much reflects the shape of my apartment.
VD: This part, this conversation over this table is the most important part of the exhibition as you explained. Similarly, your piece on the West Wall is made up of quotes from conversations: who were these people responding?
CP: There is the insurance agent who’s supposed to be on my side, the electrician who spent 3 hours trying to make the lights work, the woman from the branding agency, and the architects, all represented by different colours chosen based on the marketing colours of their companies. Brown is another tenant who told me he got double the amount of locker space than me because he works in the construction industry and has friends who know the developers. Silver is the woman at the sales centre at the beginning of the process who said, “absolutely there will be a concrete wall between the apartments!”
VD: Is there a concrete wall between the units?
CP: No, even though she said absolutely
VD: The quote in blue stood out: “I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with this. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
CP: The blue one is a kid who came to supposedly deal with deficiencies. He looked at my tub which is all peeled and said,“Yeah, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with this.” The stuff that peeled off the tub is in the vitrine.
VD: Have you been collecting other parts that come off, or documenting it in any way?
CP: I haven’t collected the stucco pieces off the ceiling or the MDF—a composite particle board instead of a proper wooden baseboard; I haven’t been collecting everything, I’ve been too frustrated.
VD: Balancing the macro art perspective on the process with living in this situation seems like an intense task.
CP: I’m exhausted. I’ve done a number of projects where I realized that at a psychological level, I have all this content in me and I need to get it out to gain perspective. I’m site-specific and very committed to living in this process, and being artful and critical of my experiences over these years. The form is important: I chose crappy normal paper, rather than archival art paper, reflecting the paper used for the contracts that I signed. I purposely used this paper because it’s the paper that I’ve been working on throughout all this process. The crayon and pastel I used to represent myself as a single woman and mother. A woman earlier today pointed out, “there’s so much misogyny in the industry.” The crayons signify how naive developers, contractors and agents think I am. Many people have said, “You’re expectations are too high” but I gave them hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of expectations.
VD: The form of the pieces do give out the impression of a makeshift quality to them, that after reading the exhibition description do match up with the circumstances of your home.
CP: That’s why the two pieces of paper that illustrate the apartment’s floor plan are being held by tape, because I feel that the apartment itself is being held with tape.
VD: The banner piece has some clouds going around as background to the main text. Explain.
CP: Those are my dreams. Home Dream Home is a play on Home Sweet Home, which is a common phrase that women used to needlepoint. Originally this project was called Group Effort because I wanted to acknowledge the people who were having conversations with me as I was trying to understand this process, especially the frustrating parts. Then the director-curator at this organization changed, so there was going to be a different focus.When I started thinking about how to reconceive the project I became interested in why I am so upset. It was because I had such dreams as a Mom, as a first-time homeowner, and as a person who totally drank the kool-aid. I need to confront those dreams in order to move the energy.
VD: To have these two contrasting floorplans—the dream space vs. the actual space—on the table that people are encouraged to design on, parallels that relationship between dreams and reality that is true to most everyone who deal with being a tenant or a homeowner. I for example thought “this is a lot of space for me, I’m a university student!” of the dream space, so your reaction to “home” really depends on where you’re coming from, but the experience of reconciling what you wanted and what you end up getting is always a grey area.
CP: I think it’s important to look at these documents side by side. This project is not to be cranky about this apartment, but to state that I want housing to be better in Vancouver. There’s this paternalism in the city and province that they believe we are too stupid to be able to build our own homes. Our city government feels pressured because we have very few 2+ bedroom homes in Vancouver, especially downtown. Because rent is very expensive, 2+ bedroom apartments are likely rented out to roommates, with two separate incomes.
VD: Placing this within an artistic context becomes an attempt to bring about the fact that home development should be more open to the individual rather than the market. You wanted kids to come in today to draw their dream home. Considering that kids don’t really deal with homeownership concerns, how does that initiative fit within the project?
CP: I’ve done lots of work with kids in the past. Some of the drawings by adults actually reflect what some kids would do. For example, there is a tub as big as a bed, and a space without a kitchen because the illustrator only gets take-out food. This person’s central feature is a gumball machine and a huge hot tub. All these amenities are similar to what kids would want. They wouldn’t care: “My mom takes care of the food so I don’t have to build a kitchen”.
VD: It adds up to your intention of opening up a possibility of being creative with space.
CP: I think it’s so boring that my bed is on top of the peoples’ beds on the floors below. We should be able to design our own suites, especially because almost every suite in every building in Vancouver is designed so badly. They’re trying to maximize home, living and lifestyle features. If we designed for ourselves, we would have more commitment and would see an apartment as home through more phases in our lives. You build community by staying in the same place.
VD: Did you invite anyone from your building to this event?
CP: I actually interviewed some of my neighbours. Access Gallery and I have a plan to host a roundtable discussion sometime in January. I want neighbours to participate rather than professionals in the industry because I’ve had so many discussions with them already. People were willing to talk with me in my living room, but I don’t know if they’d be willing to talk in a public space because it means the public might be here. You know, everyone has their own values. A lot of people had much more skepticism than me, and they knew right off the bat that this project wasn’t going to be what it was marketed as. It would be interesting to see if people are going to commit to a roundtable discussion, now that they’re not in a private meeting.
Everyone has their own dream home, and recognizing the potential for self-empowerment in appropriate housing is urgent in increasingly gentrified Vancouver, and to an increasingly populous world. Home Dream Home runs until January 10th, when Post-Occupancy Round Table with Catherine is scheduled to be held (until further notice) at Access Gallery, 222 East Georgia Street in Chinatown.