Douglas Coupland
Doesn’t Care
About You

Douglas Coupland; is everywhere is anywhere
is anything
Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art
& The Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.
31.01.15 – 26.04.15

First Prize
Entry in English

I remember writing a review of Douglas Coupland’s Hey Nostradamus! in which I lamented the author’s inability to be genuinely social. His characters related to technology and trends the way Jane Austen’s related to suitors – inquisitive, vexed, yearning. Otherwise there was only distance and irony. This was on purpose, of course, but by 2003 it had become stale. Coupland was older, 9/11 had happened and the invasion of Iraq was underway. Neoconservatism was ascendant, and writers and public intellectuals like Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky were reviving activist culture. Hey Nostradamus! was about a high-school shooting yet read coldly, its topic seeming selected merely for zeitgeist. ( Gus Van Sant’s film Elephant was released in 2003, Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine a year earlier. )

Coupland has little attachment to the past, his very sensibility repudiating notions of permanence. One work at his multi-venue survey currently on view in Toronto consists of his own novels chewed up, spat out and formed into wasps’ nests. In a 2014 article for the Financial Times, he wrote, ‘I think we’re going to look back on the 1990s as a golden age of sorts – a charmed bubble, optimism all around, great music, technology making life cooler by the day, and the pesky forces of history vaporised forever.’ The tone is deliberately naïve, glib, current, exclusive. ( Who indeed are ‘we’ and where is ‘all around’? ) It’s a ’90s attitude about the ’90s, a knowing shrug, a hipster frisson. In the next sentence, Coupland notes that Francis Fukuyama’s idea of the end of history, applicable to Coupland’s first novel Generation X, is now ‘phantasmagorically quaint’. And so Coupland’s primary, maybe sole, nostalgia: yearning for a time in which history, a fundamentally social phenomenon, was thought permanently over, trounced by bourgeois, academic, neoliberal theory.

It is thus tempting to imagine a moment in the early ’00s when a disgruntled Coupland, cleverly aware of the turning tide, sought, in the words of Little Edie Beale, the best costume for the day, and that this ended up being visual art. It didn’t happen this way. Coupland graduated from Emily Carr University of Art and Design with a major in sculpture in 1984, showing an installation at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1987 and continuing to engage in art and design projects throughout the ’90s. His meteoric success as a writer may have distracted him from his true calling. In any case, novels seem the stuff of the ’90s for him, art the stuff of the millennium. It’s apposite that Coupland’s CV on his Toronto dealer’s website lists ‘Spike’ as one of his first art solo art exhibitions, for it opened at New York’s Totem Gallery just days before 9/11.

Yet if Coupland is an ( anti ) social novelist, he is also an ( anti )social artist. There are precedents for this in Pop art. Like Warhol and Koons ( the former a declared influence ) Coupland is interested in commercialism and kitsch and their relationships with mass engagement.Interestingly, Coupland’s survey – which debuted last year at the Vancouver Art Gallery and is entitled ‘everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything’ – is concerned with what Warhol and Koons, by virtue of their respective ages, couldn’t be: the Internet. Coupland’s paintings from five or so years ago digitize famous Canadian landscapes; around the same time he painted QR codes in the style of Mondrian; more recently he has made a series of portraits recalling the Düsseldorf School in which faces are scrambled to defy facial-recognition software. He has created an installation of text works, Slogans for the Twenty-First Century, with sayings like ‘Follow Friend Favourite’ and ‘I Miss My Pre-Internet Brain’. ( He’s also really good at Twitter, and is currently doing a residency at the Google Institute in Paris at the same time that his survey has been included as part of the Google Art Project. )

Is Coupland among the first Post-Internet artists? Not really, because for him the Internet is not a fact of life, a way of thinking, but other, an anthropological curiosity, an import. ( ‘I Miss My Pre-Internet Brain’ proclaims this, essentially applying only to those over 30 ). Rather than digital culture, Coupland’s sensibility is contemporary art itself and its ‘art world’, to whose wares he remains intently if superficially committed, and whose language he speaks smartly and fluently. If Coupland repeats Koons’s and Warhol’s boyish, performative, cynical and amoral predilections he is also, like them, a designer and a curator as much as an artist. The presentational aspects of art are not his bane but his boon.

The contemporary curatorial mode fits Coupland well. He has recently befriended Hans Ulrich Obrist, an alliance that does not surprise me. Like Obrist and most star curators, Coupland is hyperproductive, always involved in multiple projects at once; his work is architectural, engaged with installation contexts and obsessed with the aesthetic dimensions of personal and public space; he is an archivist, amassing and cataloguing things like Japanese plastic bottles, Canadiana, hotel stationery, royalty-cheque envelopes and international versions of his own novels; and he is future-oriented, prone to grandiose but also demystifying prognostications, and committed, in a vaguely utopian way, to art’s capacity to question, even transform.

Also like a curator, Coupland is intently aware of how and why art is consumed. His work can be cringingly self-conscious in this respect, desiring to be looked at, to look good, to radiate awareness of being looked at and looking good. ( It is, predictably, widely collected ). Coupland encourages public participation, even crowd-sourcing some of his work. At the Royal Ontario Museum, smartphones are part of the art, with certain works completed only when viewed through a screen. At Holt Renfrew down the street, Coupland exhibits Gumhead, a large sculpture of his head to which people are asked to stick gum. Gumball machines are provided adjacent to Gumhead, as well as Kleenex and Purell, presumably because of the flu season and germs. The oozing, measles-like appearance of the head with gum is intentional, and in the context of a high-end fashion boutique, hilarious.

Coupland is having the majority of the fun, however. In the ROM’s didactics, movements in art and architecture are italicized with asterisks at their ends ( I couldn’t find the definitions to which these asterisks seemed to refer ). When a voluble didactic in the exhibition’s most self-indulgent section, The Brain, tells us that a structure is ‘built in a Brutalist Style’ and contains ‘scale models of influential 20th- and 21st-century buildings, as well as numerous corporate mascots painted white’, which ‘speak of structure and dreams, and the impact of Modernism’s sensibility deep in the artist’s mind’, we are not actually learning about anything other than Coupland’s cultural-studies obsessions. Why would we want to? Encountering Coupland’s work can make one feel like a toddler dropped by a negligent mother into a pit of plastic balls at Chuck E. Cheese’s. This is ‘fun’ fun, ‘funny’ funny.

There are times when it is plainly in bad taste. Coupland’s 9/11 works are among the smartphone-activated ones: hold up your screen and see a couple ( ‘the lovers’ ) or a single figure ( ‘the poet’ ) falling to their deaths. There is also an Epcot Center – like maquette of the twin towers, an elegy for prelapsarian Modernism. The application of a cold-hearted slacker sensibility to the precise moment when it died might be tragically resonant, but I doubt this is the intention. Coupland seems confident that Pop’s provocative, imagistic detachment is the right approach when all successful 9/11 art proves him wrong: Eric Fischl’s sculptures of twisted bodies as they fell to the ground; Paul Chan’s masterful shadow projection of descending forms; Thomas Ruff’s large-format composite and digitized photographs of Ground Zero; and of course the vernacular art affixed to Lower Manhattan fences during late 2001, commemorating the lost and inquiring after the missing. In all this, there is classical haunting as well as emotional fragmentation.

The ‘Secret Handshake’ section of the exhibition at MOCCA confirms that Coupland doesn’t play well with others. Instead of America, Pop subject extraordinaire, Coupland turns to Canada, contending that it does indeed have kitsch, albeit of a subtler sort. ( That it needs to have, or is even capable of having, kitsch at all is a central issue unaddressed here. ) Several shelves show Canada-only products, such as Kokanee beer, Clik and Cheesies. A foam cast of Terry Fox’s leg reads like some monument but also, in the manner of the shelved products, like some readymade.Most national depictions of Fox are deadly serious. This one has been made with a giggle.Elsewhere in this section one finds

Elsewhere in this section one finds FLQ Hutch, a mid-century hutch with French Pepsi-sign drawers, two makeshift bombs and the funeral of Pierre Laporte flickering on a vintage television on top of it. Another hutch alludes to the Arctic ( or rather its conquest? ), a narwhal tusk affixed to it like an antenna-cum-hunting-trophy. Didactics inform us that textile works, containing embedded‘dream catchers’, speak to the material traditions of First Nations and women artists. I doubt this. Coupland is less flaneur than entrepreneur, acquiring rather than inquiring;he wears the title of ‘artist’ in the style of a ‘Hello My NameIs’ name tag. Indeed, like the Gen X worker he so criticized and immortalized, Coupland’s detachment is privileged, effortful, performative and above all dark. He’s the comic-book-store guy, the record-store guy, the ’90s guy. Sure he’ll talk with you – but only if he absolutely has to.





记得在给道格拉斯·柯普兰的小说《喂!诺查丹玛斯》写书评时,我曾对作者并非真‘入世’表示过遗憾。他笔下的人物与科技和潮流间的关系正如简·奥斯汀在刻画女主人公面对那些追求者时所常用的处理方法,好奇烦恼却又渴望。除此之外剩下的只是距离感和冷嘲热讽。这种创作手法显然是作者有意为之,但时至2003年却也显得有些老旧过时了。时移世易,先是‘911’恐怖袭击,后又打响了伊拉克战争。新保守主义占据上风,以Naomi Klein和Noam Chomsky为代表的作家和公知们正在复兴社会活动家的浪潮。《喂!诺查丹玛斯》讲述的是一次高中校园枪击事件,冷静读完后觉得该选题有为了 ‘主旋律’而‘主旋律’之嫌。( 格斯·范·桑的电影《大象》于2003年上映,迈克·摩尔的《科伦拜恩的保龄》则早一年问世。 )


由此难免会想当然地认为,在进入新世纪的头几年,愤懑不满的柯普兰在意识到大势所趋之后开始寻找—用小伊迪·比勒的话来说—‘当日最佳戏服’,即后来他的视觉艺术作品。但事实并非如此。柯普兰于1984年毕业于艾米丽卡尔艺术与设计大学,主修雕塑;1987年其雕塑作品在温哥华美术馆展出;整个90年代他都继续进行着艺术与设计项目的创作。作为一名作家,柯普兰的一夜成名或许牵扯了一些他本该全力以赴地投入其艺术天职的时间和精力,但不管怎样,小说对他而言更像是90年代的关键词,千禧年之后他的关键词变成了艺术。柯普兰在多伦多的经销商将他的简历放在了网站上,其中‘Spike’被列为他最早期的艺术个展之一,的确,那是在‘911’前数日于纽约Totem Gallery开展的。

如果柯普兰是一名入( 出 )世的小说家,那他也是一名入( 出 )世的艺术家。这在波普艺术界早有先例,如安迪·沃霍和杰夫·昆斯,柯普兰也曾公开表示受沃霍影响,他自己对商业化、通俗化和大众化都饶有兴致。从去年开始在温哥华美术馆展出的柯普兰回顾展名为‘每一地都是任何一个地方,都是任何事物,也是每一个事物’,关注的主题是互联网,这个不属于沃霍和昆斯的年龄层的新鲜事物。五年多前,柯普兰就有描绘加拿大山河景色的数字化作品问世;同时期他又以蒙德里安的画风创作了二维码相关的作品;他较近期的作品是一系列让人联想起杜塞尔多夫学派的人物肖像,只不过人像的脸被胡乱覆盖,有挑战人脸识别软件之意。他还创作了一个以文字为主体的作品《21世纪的标语》,诸如‘关注、加好友、收藏’和‘我怀念我那未曾经历互联网的大脑’等标语皆出自他手。( 他对推特很在行,目前正在巴黎的谷歌文化学院做驻馆艺术家,他的回顾展已被列入谷歌艺术计划。 )

柯普兰是最早的一批后网络艺术家中的一员吗?不见得,因为对他而言,网络并非生活的真相,也不是一种思考方式,它更像是人类好奇心的产物,一种外来的输入。( ‘我怀念我那未曾经历互联网的大脑’这句就表明了作者的态度,主要针对30岁以上的人群。 )相对于数字文化,柯普兰的志趣仍在当代艺术本身和这一圈子,哪怕流于肤浅,他也热心不减,因为这里才有他善用且熟悉的语言。如果柯普兰重复昆斯和沃霍的艺术偏好,即稚气未脱、表演痕迹重、愤世嫉俗和无道德感,那他也会像他们一样,既是设计师、策展人,又是艺术家。艺术的呈现感恰恰帮助了柯普兰。


柯普兰有着策展人的敏锐度,他清楚地知道艺术为什么被消费以及如何被消费。他的作品在这方面自觉性颇高,甚至到了刻意奉承的地步,他对关注度和观赏性极其看重,希望营造和渲染这种广受瞩目和‘看上去很美’的意象。( 可以预见其作品在收藏市场上的受欢迎程度。 )柯普兰鼓励观众的参与,‘众包’的方式也被运用在他的一些作品中。他在皇家安大略博物馆的展览使智能手机也成了艺术的一部分,某些作品只有在通过手机屏幕观赏时才算大功告成、全貌尽现。他还在Holt Renfrew展出了作品Gumhead,将自己的头像做成一个巨型雕塑,让人们往上面粘口香糖。在雕塑旁就设有口香糖贩售机,并提供舒洁纸巾和普瑞来免水洗手液,可能是担心流感季节的细菌传播。作者有意让自己的头像被口香糖所覆盖,看上去像在流脓,又像长满了荨麻疹,并将其摆放于一个高端奢侈品商店内,这着实有趣。

其实最乐在其中的是柯普兰自己。他在皇家安大略博物馆的展览解说文案中,用斜体标出了与艺术和建筑的发展走向相关的内容,后面还附加一个星号。( 这些星号似有所指,但我却没能找到它们所指的概念的定义。 )《大脑》是整个展览中最‘任性’的一个版块,在它洋洋洒洒的说明文字中讲到,这一雕塑结构‘采用了粗野主义风格*’,包含了‘20世纪和21世纪颇具影响力的建筑物缩放模型以及众多被刷白的企业吉祥物’,‘体现了雕塑和梦境的关系,以及深植于艺术家脑中的现代主义审美观的影响’。这些文字除了透露出柯普兰对文化研究的痴迷以外并无其他含金量。但我们又为何非要从中有所得呢?与柯普兰作品的邂逅会让人觉得自己像个蹒跚学步的小儿,被粗心大意的母亲丢在了Chuck E. Cheese店里的塑料球池。 那真是‘快乐’的玩笑,‘有趣’的滑稽。

柯普兰也有明显的恶趣味。他的《911》系列就属于要借助智能手机激活的那类作品。在手机屏幕上,一对‘恋人’或形单影只的‘诗人’向死亡的深渊坠落。还有一个根据纽约世贸双子楼而做的类似‘未来世界’的建筑模型,为堕落消亡前的现代主义唱一曲挽歌。将这种冷漠的懒汉美学用在丧钟真正敲响的那一刻或许会产生悲剧性的共鸣,但要说这是艺术家的创作初衷,我表示怀疑。柯普兰自信地认为,波普艺术的挑衅性意象分离才是创作《911》系列作品的正确选择,但同一题材的其他艺术家的作品成功证明了柯普兰的想法错了:Eric Fischl的雕塑刻画了遇难者坠楼落地时扭曲的身体;Paul Chan娴熟地创作了展现下降/坠落形态的阴影投影;Thomas Ruff拍摄了大版式、经过合成和数字化处理的世贸大厦遗址照片;当然还有2001年年末那些在曼哈顿下城的‘归零地’围栏旁聚集的民间艺术家的优秀创意,他们以艺致哀思,在悼念死难者的同时,也打听着失踪亲友的下落。这些作品既有传统的烙印又有作者深切的情感投入。

柯普兰在当代加拿大艺术博物馆的展览中有一版块名为《神秘的握手》,其排他性一览无遗。柯普兰弃波普重镇美国而选加国,他坚称加拿大是有媚俗文化的,只不过显性不强。( 加拿大究竟需不需要有或是有没有能力出产媚俗文化这一核心问题并未得到解决。 )加拿大所独有的产品占据了好几层展架,如Kokanee啤酒、Clik和Cheesies。同样摆在展架上的还有泡沫铸造的特里·福克斯的右腿,既象征他的精神,又仿佛是个待价而沽的制成品。人们对福克斯的描述大多过于严肃,相比之下,这件作品就轻松有趣多了。

此版块中还有一个作品《FLQ Hutch》,这是一个20世纪中期的小屋,里面有带百事商标图样的法式抽屉,两个自制炸弹,屋顶上的老式电视机里正闪过Pierre Laporte的葬礼画面。另一个小屋影射的是北极( 亦或是占领北极? ):一颗独角鲸的长牙被插在小屋上,既像一根天线,又像是狩猎的战利品。解说文字告诉我们,展出的纺织品中包括‘捕梦网’,艺术家围绕加拿大第一民族和女性艺术家的织物传统进行了对话和呼应。对此我心存异议。柯普兰身上的企业家精神要多过散漫和随性,他注重‘有所得’的结果,不爱追根究底;‘艺术家’的标签就是他的名牌,上面写着‘您好,我的名字是’。实际上,正如他自己在小说中所塑造和批判的X世代那样,柯普兰的疏离和出世是一种特权,是刻意下过一番苦功得来的,有一定的表演成分,最重要的是它藏在暗处。柯普兰就是那漫画书店或唱片店里的‘隐形’伙计,对20世纪90年代满怀眷恋。当然了,他会开口跟你交谈,但只有在他不得不这么做的时候。