Six Questions for Douglas Coupland, Who Doesn’t Hate Art Fairs

The artist and writer is still gathering Van Gogh lookalikes.

Douglas Coupland is one of the best loved novelists of his generation. Having penned the era-defining Generation X after giving up art for writing, Coupland became an international sensation, coining phrases such as “McJob” and, of course, “Gen X”. He went on to write many other successful novels such as Girlfriend in a Coma, Micro Serfs, Worst.Person.Ever, All Families are Psychotic, and J Pod.

In 2000, after a 20-year hiatus, Coupland began producing visual art again and exhibiting globally, while also installing many public art works in his native Canada. Most recently he installed The Golden Tree (2016), a 43-foot gold fiberglass replica of the much loved “hollow tree”—an 800 foot stump of a Western Red Cedar tree from Stanley Park, Vancouver—in the plaza of the city’s new James Cheng designed Intracorp building. He is also a cultural commentator having had columns in Vice Magazine, the Financial Times, and curators of the 9th Berlin Bienniale DIS’s online magazine. He is also currently searching for Van Gogh lookalikes to cast in bronze.

At the end of this month, Coupland is bringing his art to Copenhagen for CHART art fair in the shape of 5,000 posters emblazoned with slogans that will go up around the city using phrases such as “I miss my pre-internet brain,” “Hoard Everything You Can’t Download,” “Mind=Blown,” and “Boycott this Unholy Charade.”

artnet News caught up with Coupland ahead of the fair to talk about slogans, his forthcoming book Bit Rot, and yes, even art fair fashion.

What do you have planned for CHART?
Mostly I’m curious to see what a Danish art fair is like. Will it be like Miami? I love Art Basel Miami Beach but it would be scary if CHART was like that. Will it maybe be an alternative art fair with lots of work by emerging artists? And what ideas will be discussed there? I have always found Danes to be highly practical, so maybe this means practical discussions about an art world that needs some kind of correction. And of course, will there be women wearing Miyake outfits and chunky jewellery? I love the way women dress at art fairs… they’re feeling so great and you can’t help but get great energy from them. And, to be fair, the guys who wear their $15,000 Dries suits but act so supercasual about it… Oh, this old thing?

Douglas Coupland posters installed in Copenhagen. Photo courtesy CHART Art Fair and I Do Art Agency

Douglas Coupland posters installed in Copenhagen. Photo courtesy CHART Art Fair and I Do Art Agency

When did you become aware of your desire to make art?
Since birth. I went almost immediately from high school into art school. When I added writing to the mix in the early 1990s I was working at Wired in San Francisco and my visual energy went into defining a visual aesthetic for an internet that was barely a place. In 2000, I started working in solid media again but from a very esoteric standpoint of questioning Canadian identity which was fantastically uncool, but it had to be done, and then it became cool, and now that’s long in the past. About five years ago I finally found an art community that I had always lacked—the people I love who I discuss ideas with and go to shows with and travel with. I was very lonely until then, almost on an asteroid. But better late than never.

Do you feel there is natural flow between making art and writing books?
I think when I started making art people thought I was going to make big canvases with “Fuck Off” spray-painted onto them. So when I started making works that initially had no connection to writing, many people freaked out. He’s not an artist—he’s a writer! He’s not a writer—he’s an artist! It’s understandable, but that kind of novelty buys you three minutes in the art world, and I crossed that hurdle a long while ago.

Starting in 2005, I realized I couldn’t continue writing the way I had been—perhaps it was me growing older, but more because I felt the inside of my head changing as a result of all of the tech we all live with. The slogan works are the crystallization of that, but there’s a new book coming out in October, Bit Rot, which is an encyclopedia of my new ways of thinking.

Douglas Coupland posters installed in Copenhagen. Photo courtesy CHART Art Fair and I Do Art Agency

Douglas Coupland posters installed in Copenhagen. Photo courtesy CHART Art Fair and I Do Art Agency

How did you land on the use of slogans in your artwork?
Six years ago I was doing an event at a Vancouver club and I needed signs to paste around the city to promote it, so I did the first twelve slogans. Everyone kept asking me if I’d written them myself (!!) They seemed to really hit a target with audiences. So I continued making them. The rule at first was, “It has to be something that would make no sense to someone from 1996.” Now I’ve branched out into slogan work on ecology, robotics, the future… it appears to be a long-term venture.

Can you tell us a bit about your Van Gogh project, have you found many lookalikes?!
About 1,400—and about 40 of them are remarkable. Choosing is going to be a very hard decision.

Who are your favorite post-internet artists?
I like DIS like crazy. Their Berlin biennial was the most generationally forceful art demarcation point since Freeze [in 1988, organized by Damien Hirst]. There were all these older artists walking around saying “What the fuck” whereas the younger people simply got it. It marks a distinct fulcrum moment in art history.

CHART Art Fair takes place in Copenhagen from August 26- 28, 2016.

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