Most people know Douglas Coupland for his language. The Vancouver based writer and artist is the author of over twenty books of fiction and non-fiction, his first and possibly most well known, Generation X: Tales from an Accelerated Culture, defined a generation of slacker youth engrossed with pop-culture and meaningless McJobs.
It was fitting then that Coupland dedicated one claustrophobic nook in his new solo exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything, to his books. His work is acutely aware of history while defiantly looking toward the future.
Collecting artworks from the past fourteen years with over 100 on display in a variety of mediums including installation, painting, photography, prints, sculpture, and furniture, the exhibition explores themes around technology, cultural identity, and how we live in the 21st century. Coupland uses his talent for accessibility by meshing big ideas and a healthy dose of humour.
In an interview with CBC, Coupland said about his artistic work, that he is “living in both time and space. Writing exists in time and art exists in space.” Approaching middle age with a greying yet full beard, Coupland still effortlessly embodies theoretical futurism with a wink and smirk.
The sheer number of objects in the show is immediately apparent and overwhelming. Greeted by a wall of more than 300 pieces from plastic building kits arranged in horizontal lines, the first few rooms are overflowing with items, from a small pile of Hawkins Cheezies on a plywood shelf, to debris from the Fukushima nuclear disaster that washed ashore in Haida Gwaii.
“Douglas Coupland’s work sheds light on subjects as varied as the distinct nature of Canadian identity, the rise of utopian ideas, the power of words, the presence of digital technologies, the significance of the everyday, and the unshakeable nature of one’s own constitution—ideas that Coupland examines with both optimism and some trepidation.” said Daina Augaitis, Vancouver Art Gallery’s Chief Curator/Associate Director.
Slogans for the 21st Century, 172 brightly coloured meme-like aphorisms that speak in the irreverent zeitgeist of Internet language, surrounds viewers on all sides, the panels covering the walls from floor to ceiling. “The future feels like homework,” one says. “Real time often feels like neither,” says another. One becomes caught in the bluntness of it all, not sure whether to laugh or cry.
What is most surprising (yet shouldn’t be to those who have read his books) is the diversity of the material in everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything. While the funny and charismatic Coupland is a large part of the show, there is a darker vision of the present and future that is also expressed throughout. The twisted steel form of a high voltage tower in The Ice Storm and the paint-obscured faces of Brilliant Information Overload Pop Head express a chaos that runs through the heart of modern life.
“Marking the first solo museum exhibition dedicated to the art of one of the most thought-provoking artists working today, everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything reflects the Gallery’s strong commitment to provide a global platform for local artists,” said Kathleen S. Bartels, Director of the Vancouver Art Gallery. “We are thrilled to be the first museum to present this survey of Coupland’s work and hope this exhibition will inspire audiences of all backgrounds and generations to consider what defines contemporary Canadian culture.”
Douglas Coupland: everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything and Gumhead run until September 1, 2014 at the Vancouver Art Gallery.