Cabin Fever is an exhibition that documents the historical evolution of the cabin in North America — and, as a counterpoint, in Scandinavia — from the 1800s to present, with a particular emphasis on visual and material representation. The cabin is explored through four main themes: pragmatism; romanticism; the counter-culture; and popular culture. This approach challenges the traditional notion of the cabin as a simple, functional form, instead illuminating a complex and multi-dimensional history shaped by politics, geography, settlement patterns, and the population's shifting attitudes toward nature and civilization. Through the analysis of art and architecture, literature, film, propaganda, interior decor, and even children's toys, Cabin Fever demonstrates how this architectural typology has manifest in the cultural psyche.
The DHS Research Exhibition Grant provided funding at a critical moment for the project, enabling a 12-day visit to Norway to conduct research. This research consisted of three parts: 1) interviews; 2) site visits; and 3) a hut-to-hut trek with the Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT). By way of interviews, Ellen Rees, Professor of Nordic Literature at the University of Oslo, Norway, and the author of Cabins in Modern Norwegian Literature: Negotiating Place and Identity, offered invaluable insight into Norwegian cabin culture, specifically how it relates to economics and class identity. Minna Riska of MDH Architects shared the effects of modern cabin development as presented in her 2011 exhibition HytteFeber. And Anders Gjermo, building manager for DNT Oslo og Omegn, offered a history of the organization, both in terms of its 270,000+-membership base and its 500+ structures. This complex system arose from a nationalistic intent — prompting people to realize and appreciate the beauty of the country —and in doing so, it helped shape a national identity. Site visits included cultural institutions such as the Norsk Folkemuseum, an open-air museum featuring farmhouses and traditional structures from different regions of Norway; government-regulated Oslo cabin communities (e.g., Sogn Garden Colony) built in the early 1900s as part of a socialist agenda to enhance the quality of life for people in cities and densely populated areas; and privately-owned cabins, both historic and contemporary. Finally, the hut-to-hut trek provided a firsthand opportunity to witness the intersection between cabins and the natural environment, as well as understand how the DNT system operates from a geo-spatial perspective. The totality of this field research has illuminated the commonalities and divergences between a highly nationalistic Norwegian cabin culture and a North American tradition, whereupon cabin use and ownership are more sporadic, but still highly relevant in constructing a broader cultural history.
Approaching the cabin from an interdisciplinary perspective has also helped to situate a formerly marginalized architectural typology within a broader history of design. In Scandinavia, as elsewhere, the cabin has become a universal symbol and, at the same time, highly individualized. Neither the regional histories of the past nor the now-ubiquitous pictorial volumes can sufficiently tackle such a complex evolution. Cabin Fever attempts to address the intersections between physical form and collective consciousness to reveal a new narrative for the cabin, one shaped by modern motivations, intentions and visions for the future.
Cabin Fever will be presented at the Vancouver Art Gallery February 18 - May 7, 2017. A publication, an online component, and an extensive program of tours, events and workshops will accompany the exhibition.
Jennifer M. Volland
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