That same year, down the UBC mall, Coupland had an extraordinary encounter with the work that took him from obscurity to fame. He had recently donated his archives to UBC – and agreed to meet with a small group of Cavell’s graduate students. For the occasion, the archivist brought out the handwritten manuscript for Generation X. “He opens it up, and for a moment he was just transfixed,” recalls Cavell. “And we were all dead silent because we were watching a major moment in cultural history: the author looking at his manuscript of this major, major work. … I think it was very significant for him to re-encounter that seminal work.”
More than words
Coupland has a theory about turning 40. Around that time, “everyone makes two-and-a-half really stupid decisions: They split up, they hook up, they make a bad business decision or whatever. My one-and-a-half bad decisions I won’t go into, but one decision I did make that actually worked out was: I can’t just work with words any more.”
While Coupland re-engaged with his visual art practice in a significant way at that time, his art has always been integral to his creative output (his Twitter bio says “never left art school”). The way Burnett – who has developed a friendship with his star alumnus – sees it, the two operate on a continuum, informing each other.
The VAG felt it was time for an assessment of his work. Entitled everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything, the exhibition will comprise both pre-existing and new works, in five sections. Canada Noir will explore Coupland’s thoughts on Canadian cultural identity, and will include a major new installation built out of Lego – with public participation. (There will be Lego-building events at the VAG, likely starting next month.) “Doug is really engaged with the broad public,” says Daina Augaitis, who is curating the show. “It’s interesting to work with an artist who is so conscious of the public.”
The exhibition’s other sections include a major new sculpture. Containing hundreds of objects Coupland has acquired over the years, which he’s kept in 165 bankers’ boxes, the work is to be a proxy for the busy, richly chaotic force inside the creator. Because what you intuitively collect, he says, reveals so much about yourself.
Coupland is calling it The Brain.