Douglas Coupland: everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything

Vancouver Art Gallery

The first major museum exhibition of one of Canada's most celebrated artists opened Summer 2014 at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Divided into five sections, the exhibition addresses the key themes Douglas Coupland uses to probe modern life. 

Secret Handshake
What makes Canadians uniquely Canadian? In a world made increasingly accessible and porous through travel and the internet, cultural identity is a concept that is more difficult to define than ever, but one that Coupland has investigated for years in his work. This section of the exhibition continues Coupland’s investigation utilizing such cultural triggers as images of Terry Fox's leg, landscape prints from the 1940s, a narwhal tusk, and paintings by Emily Carr and the Group of Seven. By using imagery and objects laden with symbolic meaning for Canadians, Coupland has created a “secret handshake” not easily understood by others.

Coupland recasts classic representations of the Canadian landscape by artists like Tom Thomson and Emily Carr, asking whether “Canadianness” should still be defined by a relationship with nature.

Coupland has recreated a tower that fell victim to the 1998 ice storm in eastern Canada as an elegant and biomorphic form that hints at the frailty of some of the national systems that bind us together.

Growing Up Utopian
Growing up on the west coast of North America in the latter half of the 20th century, Coupland’s childhood was imbued with a deep-rooted optimism, a sense that tomorrow would be an improvement on today. The works in this section use Lego, latent with endless creative possibilities, to reflect on both the fantastical and dystopic possibilities born out of this post-war perspective. 

Towers, consists of crowd-sourced Lego structures that Coupland then selected, modified, and assembled into a complex urban landscape.

Words Into Objects
As both a writer and visual artist, Coupland often ignores the traditional divide between these two disciplines. Using letters, words and books as both material and context for his art, Coupland harnesses the power of language in the visual realm, relying on its form as much as its content to create his work. Coupland astutely integrates language in a myriad of ways throughout his practice, providing surprising results when words leave the literary world and become objects in their own right.

These text-based works consist of thought-provoking statements that speak emphatically to contemporary citizens, indicating how much society has changed in one generation and hinting at more dramatic changes to come.

This delicate sculpture was created from pages of Coupland’s books, chewed by the artist until the paper was reduced to pulp, then reformed into sculptures that mimic hornet’s nests.

The Pop Explosion
Coupland readily acknowledges the influence of the Pop art movement on his practice, stating: “Andy Warhol said that once you saw the world as Pop, you could never look at it the same way again, and he was right.” At the core of Coupland’s practice lies a fascination with popular culture and, like his Pop predecessors, Coupland embraces banal everyday objects as worthy subjects for art. Plastic bottles, Post-it notes and QR codes—all common items with a functional purpose—are manipulated through scale and medium. Updating Pop classics in light of new technologies, Coupland recreates iconic works using contemporary signs and symbols.

These photographs have a format similar to high school yearbook portraits, but the sitters are masked. The bold, multi-coloured splash of paint references both Abstract Expressionism and the emotional state of identities still being shaped.

In his QR Codes series, Coupland creates large-scale abstractions that reference modernist paintings but actually function as Quick Response codes. When scanned with a QR code reader, they reveal pithy statements from the artist.

Here Coupland pays homage to the Pop master Andy Warhol by creating a kind of portrait, “pelting” him behind glass in a manner both delightful and vaguely gruesome.

The 21st Century Condition
The 21st century has been shaped by many things, but—in Coupland’s view—perhaps most profoundly by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the pervasive presence of new technologies. The works in this section reference world events including the FLQ crisis, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, grappling with the more difficult aspects of contemporary life. Other works here appear initially as abstract compositions, but when viewed through the lens of a smartphone the pictures come into a different focus. 

Comprised of circles of varying sizes and small plastic googly eyes, this work appears to the naked eye to be an abstract composition. Looking at it through the lens of a smartphone, however, reveals the face of Osama bin Laden.

Made of architectural model kits, The World is an urban landscape with a decidedly dystopic undertone, symbolizing the environmental degradation resulting from our fervent drive to secure natural resources.

The Brain
The final work in the exhibition is The Brain, an assemblage of objects that Coupland accumulated over a period of two decades, using a collecting scheme that was deliberately casual and unintellectualized. For him, these objects represent his subconscious leaking out over time. His final goal was what you see here, an attempt to make sense of what became, in the end, over 5,000 objects culled from retail stores, eBay, Craigslist, dumpsters, thrift stores, garage sales and back alleys. Out of these objects Coupland has created a contemporary cabinet of curiosities, a seemingly encyclopedic catalogue of things elaborately connected with “neural” ties.
Credits: Story

Douglas Coupland: everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything is organized and circulated by the Vancouver Art Gallery and curated by Daina Augaitis, Chief Curator/Associate Director. The exhibition was presented in Vancouver from May to October of 2014, and in Toronto at the Royal Ontario Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art from January to April of 2015. This exhibition was made possible with the generous support of The Keg Steakhouse + Bar, the Artworkers Retirement Society, TD Bank, Starbucks, Metro News, the Vancouver Foundation, Gary R. Bell, Jake and Judy Kerr, and The Richardson Family.
Doug Coupland on Twitter

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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