Canada is a country where personal wars cause the flow of social consciousness to stop and go like the slinky effect of a highway at rush hour. But for the most part, traffic flows smoothly so that we hold in our collective memory an image where progress has meant more rather than less and our protest songs are specific to person, race or gender.
Douglas Coupland’s exhibition everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything at the Vancouver Art Gallery runs concurrent with Janet Cardiff’s and George Bures Miller’s exhibition Lost in the Memory Palace.
Coupland states on the VAG website: “As I was growing up, there was a rah-rah sensibility of what it was like to be Canadian but as I got older it made less and less sense.” The anxiety that creates protest in the young can change with maturity so that the space left free reveals new awareness. Coupland’s show opens with an overview of objects that mix and refresh Canadiana in a plywood-walled gallery meant to assimilate a rec room. Wooden furniture with cushions covered in lumber-Jack plaids and Siwash sweater pillows have brackets of plastic over the seats so that sitting is denied. On the walls, patch work quilts made of messaged fabrics have holes that house dream catchers and hub caps. Hutches with titles alluding to events set the stage for thought.
Daina Aiguitus, curator, describes Coupland as “a cultural analyst interested in discussing the 20th century condition – who we are and where we are going.” Canadian art is typified by pop renditions of paintings by the Group of Seven, while sprawled on the gallery floor is a sculpture of a power pole, felled by an ice storm. Choosing a topic particular to the inclement weather of our Great White North, the structure supplicates as if in full prostration.
Coupland’s prolific output of published works attest to his commitment to critical thinking as well as the text-based pieces such as the quick takes — “the internet occupies the space in your head once occupied by religion and politics” — that address concerns of the digital age. His cultural criticism includes a display of Chinese cigarettes, a result of his research into a discerned absence of regional brands from a country that smokes under a coal polluted sky. Adjacent is a display of Chinese cleaning products that Coupland emptied down the sink in his Chinese hotel room so as to bring the collection back to Canada empty. The didactics circle back to a citation of his active stance as an environmentalist.
Coupland’s artistic commentary and supporting opinions concern popular culture of which we each inherently hold a place. The room-size installation, Global World, has video cameras that appear to be recording those who bend close to examine the piece. Is our expression being monitored and if so to what end? The acceptance of surveillance underlines complicity in this cultural picture as we become objectified. Then again, were the four corners active video cameras or not?
Coupland states: “memory is irresistibly addictive”. Janet Cardiff and Georges Bures Miller issue an invitation to play and share secrets in Lost in the Memory Palace. In some instances, the seduction to ‘use’ blurs the lines between us and them. Cardiff’s whispers in The Muriel Lake Incident or the conversation in the background of Road Trip provoke intimacy. Our position becomes crucial to the experience as in, for instance, Dark Pool where the chair placed between two large antique amplifiers is a seat of awareness.
It is flattering to be included and participation heightens awareness much like a drug. In Storm, the enveloping sound of rain pelting with thunder bellowing, lit by erratic flashes of light, eradicates virtual reality and the commonplace, the gallery, is overcome by a more wondrous sensation. Like addiction, though storms carry danger, the thrill over-rides precaution.
The Killing Room is a different matter. We press a button that begins the process, then we witness something that feels wrong and become complicit here as well. Do we, can we, stand in protest of that which we witness?
The impulse to protest comes with the awareness of wrong doing. Protest itself requires a justified channel to express indignation. Both Coupland and Cardiff and Bures Miller use cultural analysis to suggest or invite complicity. To protest would necessitate taking a stand against who we are, our cultural identity and collective memories.
DOUGLAS COUPLAND EVERYWHERE IS ANYWHERE IS ANYTHING IS EVERYTHING
May 31—September 1, 3014
JANEST CARDIFF & GEORGE BURES MILLER LOST IN THE MEMORY PALACE
June 21—September 21, 2014