I was recently fortunate enough to view the Douglas Coupland "Everywhere is Anywhere is Anything is Everything" exhibit for my birthday at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The great advertising guru George Lois extolls the importance of viewing other's art in order to aid your own creative process and I strongly believe that this was the sort of exhibition he was envisioning. In a general sense as an artist, a distinction I make because it could be argued that he is in fact more famous for his writing, Coupland's works are primarily concerned with the 21st century condition. The exhibit featured a number of profoundly thoughtful tangents ranging from what it means to be Canadian, an extremely illusive identity to define which countless others have failed miserably in attempting, to the fascinating and somewhat sinister intertwining of technology into our daily lives. Perhaps the greatest revelation I personally took away from the collection sprang from a quote by another renowned cultural commentator whom Coupland identified as a major source of inspiration:
Throughout the exhibition I felt challenged to effectively redefine the parameters of what I might have previously considered to be "pop culture" and all the positive and negative connotations those realizations carried with them.
By looking closely at the sometimes mundane objects of our daily lives, then placing these objects in seemingly loose groups of association, Coupland causes one to draw meaningful connections from what at first glance appear to be miscellanea randomly categorized by some unconscious mechanism. This method of creating and inviting both associations and comparisons through proximity was central to many of his pieces and was particularly effective as Coupland tackled the illusive Canadian identity. I was personally struck by the incorporation of the junk food brand "Cheezies", which taken in context illustrates a uniquely Canadian version of the classic staple "Cheetos". Having personally lived in California on and off over the last ten years, I felt like the comparisons conjured would be amplified for those with no prior exposure to any Canadian equivalents of American brands. The subtle, playful nods infused throughout simultaneously elicited familiarity while also causing one to realize the ways in which Canadian pop culture is both similar and yet different from its American counterpart. A tourist wishing to truly grasp the Canadian identity might leave this exhibit feeling more informed than if they had watched multiple hours of SCTV or Trailer Park Boys. Perhaps that is the greatest compliment I can pay Coupland, in that his exposition is simple, humorous and yet wildly effective in capturing the subtle nuances which make us uniquely Canadian.
Also included were beautiful interpretations of classic Canadian iconography, ranging from re-imaginings of pieces by the group of seven, to a large metal-framed walrus.
The exhibition was also heavily concerned with representing the defining themes and events of our modern age through unorthodox mediums. The result was the experience of conflicted emotions which were comprised of comfortable familiarity in some instances and juxtaposed with paranoia and anxiety in others. Below the nature of rapid urban development and cultural homogenization is explored through the medium of Lego. Themes of civilian surveillance, corporate globalization and urban sprawl were also represented through mediums such as children's toys.
Most profoundly, by manipulating some of the more famous as well as heartbreaking images of 9-11, Coupland created a dialogue around a tragedy he points to as the defining event of our age. The sublime images, here referred to as such in the strictly romantic sense, literally only come into focus through the lens of a smartphone, unearthing deeply unsettling and lingering feelings of anxiousness and terror so familiar to our modern era.
The required use of a smartphone was perhaps Coupland's master stroke of genius. Simply standing there and using a camera to look at art mere feet away from one's face reminded the viewer of how dependant on technology we have become as a society, collectively interpreting and filtering all of our reality through its literal and metaphoric lens, even in cases of great tragedy. Oddly, as the images were revealed, I was struck by a sense of renewed emotional impact, almost as if I was viewing the matter for the first time. By eliciting these feelings, Coupland deftly reminds us how we are all living in a new age where technology influences our very perception of life, while concurrently pointing to an event at the origin of our exasperating modern psychological condition fuelled by rapid and unfiltered information. In this regard, terrorism and its consequences have become pop culture, the "new norm".
"Everywhere is Anywhere.." was both an eye-opening sensation and surprisingly emotional experience to take in. Knowing that Douglas Coupland is a Vancouver local who studied at Emily Carr and has since gone on to be recognized on the international literary and artistic stage as a pioneer made me feel both proud and supremely inspired. I will always look at the world as pop now. Perhaps that isn't a bad thing.