Douglas Coupland

By
Fin Murphy

Idioms. ‘Epic fail’… ‘Mind = blown’, we scroll past this type of language on a daily basis, typed without much thought, posted and reposted until they lose all meaning. Repeat them slowly.

In Douglas Copeland’s Slogans for a 21st Century, this online lexicon regains its potency by dint of brightly coloured backgrounds and Hamnett-style solid fonts. Streamlined idiomatic language soon becomes a dizzying cry for help.

Coupland’s The Brain is a room divided in two, stacked with objects from oilcans to road signs, symbolizing his left and right cortexes with more than a nod to his propensity for hoarding. Growing Up Utopian comprises a hundred Lego houses, while Luggage Tag Sunset No. 3 reads like a Lichtenstein screenprint, only massively boring. Zero fun. Gumhead is an outdoor sculpture of Coupland’s head, a car-sized bust in which visitors are invited to stick their chewing gu

Alongside these accessible pieces help make sense of the contradictions we all face everyday- wasted potential, the safety and unease of home, the nature of ego as our identities fragment – there are uniquely Canadian pieces on show that depart from such universal themes. There are pieces that reference the October Crisis of the 1970’s, Canada’s relation to America and the current political state summed up by a lopsided, burnt-out CN Tower.

All these pieces, and others like them, combine typify Coupland’s mission statement, as evidenced in his roughly twenty books: that of trying to find our place in an endlessly fascinating but swift-to-change world. Coupland’s Vancouver exhibition Everywhere is Anywhere is Anything is Everything is a summary of the maladies of a generation. Several generations, in fact.  But as with Coupland’s books, his artwork is somewhat hit and miss. The hits are great, but the misses undermine what would otherwise be an interesting body of work. His treatment of the glib and meaningless language of social media is to be praised, his rubbish Lichtenstein is funny (if that’s the joke) but some of work deals in extremely broad themes (a stack of children’s toys capped with pistols, anyone? Apparently sincere walk-in bubblegum head?) which directly reference and sometimes actually ape art that was barely worth discussing twenty years ago. And we'd be happy with his patchwork quilt of brand names and references if Jeff Koons hadn't done it a little bit better. 

Everywhere is Anywhere is Anything is Everything runs at Vancouver Art Gallery until 1st September.

Follow Fin on Twitter: @finspo

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