Modern Contemporary Design


2 (or 3 …) Questions for Propellor Design


Toby Baratt, Pamela Goddard and Nik Rust are the three talents that make up Vancouver’s Propellor Design. Trained as artists, the trio takes on multi-disciplinary work, but we know them best for their lighting. Exploring the Propellor website, we learn that they like the smell of horses, tidal pools, downpours, tundra birds of all kinds (especially pelicans), among a host of other delights. Barratt is the Instigator, Goddard is the Researcher, Department of Inquisitiveness and Rust is Rebel, or the signal turning green …



The two lighting projects shown during Toronto Design Week were quite different, in that one would not automatically tie them together or to Propellor. What defines Propellor lighting?

There are threads that run through all of our work – an interest in nature and its forms and systems, an appreciation for the visual and tactile qualities of good materials and an attempt to make things that will last well into the future. Creatively, we feel like we are just beginning to stretch our legs. The three of us met in art school where we studied sculpture.

When we started Propellor, we lacked a rigorous design method and technical design skills, so the first five years were all about learning to problem-solve with precision. We have learned a lot about designing and producing products in the past decade and now we are looking forward to bringing our interest in art more into our work. It’s really about following our stoke for an idea – making an idea tangible. If one of us has an idea, if it persists for some time, and it has enough potential to interest all three of us, then we pursue it. We learn what needs to be learned to make it happen. What we are really excited about now is taking more risks with our work and going in unexpected directions.



A visitor to the Radiant Dark exhibition commented that Range reminded him of the peaks of Alberta, his home. But the lighting is much more than the rendition of a dramatic landscape. How did Range come about?

Our partner Nik had a second cousin named Peter Ewart who was a renowned painter and he made small mountains like these from stone and plaster. Nik has had one of these mountains since he was a kid. When he showed it to us, we all agreed that we wanted to figure out how it was done. We began to experiment and soon we were making mountains and playing with their scale – they were beautiful and a little trippy.

We have the good fortune of being able to stare out the back window of our studio at Vancouver’s North Shore Mountains, it’s a view that we never get tired of. Range is inspired by this view and I think it has a power that miniature things often posess to raise questions about the object that they represent. For us it invites contemplation of time on a larger scale, the way a Japanese garden might – seasons, life spans, geological time . . .




Mycologic is inspired by mushrooms growing on a walnut log, but how did you make the leap from the log to these structures that remind us somewhat of Lego tree branches?

The real inspiration for this piece is the mycelia or root system that mushrooms flower from. Mycelia are branchlike networks that cover the forest floor just below the surface. These are the largest organisms on earth, covering thousands of square kilometers in some cases. Scientists are just beginning to uncover evidence that these networks of filaments transfer nutrients and possibly biological information between the trees and plants of a given forest. Mushroom expert Dr. Paul Stamets has called mycelia the “earth’s biological internet”.

The form of the Mycologic light is abstracted from the characteristics of a mycelial network and this first instance of our Mycologic light looks very branch-like. What interests us is how this branching form occurs everywhere in nature as well as in the built and digital environments. Ultimately what is implied is growth and life. We have plans to grow this piece into a major installation in the future. We are waiting for the right client with the right space to come along.



As you are based in Vancouver, you are sure to have some opinions on this: How have the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics affected Canadian design?

There has been controversy surrounding the architecture commissioned for the games. Not a single design competition was sponsored for an Olympic venue. Instead, commissions were handed out by the powers that be. This seems to have been a lost opportunity to unleash the creative energies of our talented local and national architecture and design communities on Vancouver.

There have been many positive design initiatives to improve the city in the run-up to the Olympics. For example, the City of Vancouver continues to add bike lanes and infrastructure at a surprising pace, making Vancouver an increasingly great city to cycle in. A program is in place that is helping to bring back large-scale neon signs to the downtown east-side, adding colour and visual appeal to the streets. Also, some excellent new public art works have been installed in the past year including Martin Creed’s “EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT” and Ken Lum’s iconic “EAST VAN”.

As for the games themselves, Vancouver’s Omer Arbel has designed the striking Olympic medals and the Cultural Olympiad, which ran in conjunction with the games, is a cornucopia of art, design, theatre, and music. There is so much going on culturally that it’s impossible to take it all in. Unfortunately, our Provincial Government slashed general arts funding in the years leading up to the games – a move that is really making it hard for many artists and arts organizations to survive.


Dram – detail


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