In his QR Codes series, Coupland has painted large-scale abstractions that reference the work of artists such as Piet Mondrian and Gerhard Richter while actually functioning as Quick Response codes. When scanned with a QR code reader, the paintings reveal pithy statements from the artist. Describing how he came to these texts, Coupland said: “I began writing messages I would send to a person who died just before I was born, or to a person who will be born right after I die. How do you compress thoughts about life on earth into 250 ASCII characters? Ultimately they morphed into poems and pieties. They draw our attention to the past, the present and the future we may face.”
"Douglas Couland's paintings of QR codes underscore the recent escalation of virtual vision. Marshall McLuhan argued that communication technologies function as extensions of our sensory organs; as sensory prostheses so to speak. New technologies produce images that we can't even see without these appendages, things that are invisibe, are occult, without the intervention of digital devices. Our eyes alone are no longer adequate to the act of seeing. In Coulpland's QR codes we have arrived at the paradox of a visual art that is fundamentally non-visual.... Synthesizing both digital and analogue media, these works use 21st century technologies to create images that look like they belong to early 20th century abstraction. But unlike the abstractions they superficially resemble, their meanings aren't accessible to the human eye. Viewed through the camera of a smart phone, however, they can be decoded and restored to their original, verbal statements.... Unlike the high minded sentiments of modernist abstractions, these statements vary wildly, almost randomly, in their content. One seems to be the cry of a lost soul: I wait and I wait and I wait for god to appear. Another, while remarkably similar in appearance, expresses sentiments entirely irreverent: Sworn to fun, loyal to none. The distinction between Coupland's QR codes and their modernist predecessors is clearest in his tribute to artist Piet Mondrian's masterpiece Broadway Boogie Woogie. Mondrian's abstraction was founded in his personal metaphysics. He believed that certain combinations of colours, lines and forms would fascilitate a spiritual calm in the viewer. But in Coupland's version of Mondrian, the only metaphysics revealed by smart phone translation are the bare facts of gallery wall text: artist, title and date. Coupland's QR codes embody the artist's profound reservations about digital technologies. They provide us with ever more information all the time. But what ultimately is that information worth?" —Sara Doris, speaking in the audio guide app that accompanied the Vancouver Art Gallery exhibition Douglas Coupland: everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything.