Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Douglas Coupland at the Rooms (Again)

There seems to have been much more written about Douglas Coupland, mainlander superstar, than about his actual exhibit at the Rooms, and so I'll briefly address his installation, the likes of which probably hasn't been seen too much around these parts in quite some time.

As an artist whose main influences come from Baudelaire and Manet, Pop, conceptual art practice, and performance, I tend to enter into a relationship with art based more upon its political under-pinnings or social critique than upon the purely aesthetic. (That's not to say that I don't like beauty, however).

Coupland's installation, consisting almost entirely of wall text, draws aesthetically from a conceptual and minimalist history, but seems to concern itself more with the tension between text as communicative tool, and text as image, rather than the breakdown of the art market through a de-materialized art object.

The solid block of text upon the opposite wall as you enter the gallery dominates your experience of the show. It's almost like a monolith. It's formal simplicity suggesting complexity. I found that I went back and forth between just seeing this giant square of text, and actually reading what was written: a kind of stream-of-consciousness mish-mash of confession, gossip, keen observation, business slogans and advertising jargon that had the effect of creating a kind of irritating (and yet somehow pleasureable) buzz in my head, like when the radio is tuned to two stations at once.

The opposite wall pieces, consisting of Cheetos ingredients and Chinese lettering for pornography, amongst other things, couldn't draw me away from the main text piece. Even the paper sculpture "wedges" seemed secondary, as did the adjacent room filled floor to ceiling with tiny numbers on black Mac Tac, which felt like something lifted from The Matrix. The entire show felt like it could have been just the main wall piece, and that the other elements were added on and un-neccasary.

It's obvious to me that Coupland has more than a passing interest in the tension between low and high culture, and of technology's rapidly escalating effect on our psyche, but it almost feels as though he's trying to be Canada's answer to William Gibson. By which I mean, a kind of pseudo-intellectual pop-cultural guru trying to sort out where this techonological revolution is leading, and what long term effects life as a video game is having on us. I say: Fair enough. Give'r. And I haven't read the book (which may well cause me to re-visit this work once I have (and I must note: I'm very interested in the crossover between a work of written fiction and it's visual art counterpart, it's a great idea)), but I found the installation interesting, but not something that neccasarily wrenched my heart.

Serious props should go out to Shauna McCabe, who, judging from this, will continue to curate prominent, challenging artists from across Canada and internationally. Thanks.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good call.
read the book.


9:27 p.m.  
Blogger Keating said...

Now there's a proper review. I'd say I mostly agree with you on this show. I was actually pretty sure I wouldn't like it when I heard some of the comments. I was afraid I was in for another Hamish Fulton. Regardless, I thought the show was good. You've pretty much summed up my thoughts already.

On a side note, isn't William Gibson, Canada's Answer to William Gibson? :) I think he's lived in vancouver since the 60's.

10:34 p.m.  
Anonymous dcba said...

Good review.

I felt the personality of the artist as an author was clearly illuminated by the product contents list and the paper wedges. The package content description would be recognizable as such in any language so there is a level of understanding even if one does not read the text wall.

I do think the second room was unnecessary for the piece. It may be overkill. I am not convinced it was presented as such for content as much as the result that Coupland is at his purest form in the book medium and not as such at articulating a gallery space.

In fact I do think the piece would have been better placed in the back stair gallery with only the contents of the first room. The natural light would enhance staying and reading the text.

12:10 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a little sick of hearing from people that a work of art is successful because the author is able to make clever connections to things or keen judgements. This happens every single day outside of a gallery. I'm also sick of the same people turning around and taking the place of curator or artist. "This could have been moved over here, this there, eliminate that and bingo - successful show. If all these adjustments are necessary then the artist isn't so clever and imaginative after all. Couplands show is just an observation and can you critique subjectivity? Maybe i don't agree with his opinions and the show was a complete failure. The fact remains that the majority of work in a gallery space will continued to be critiqued in terms of aesthetics. Nobody hardly even mentioned the content of his show. Probably because nobody took the time to find out. Perhaps it was clouded in his aesthetic sensibilities. I think way too much emphasis is being placed on Ideas and Content in both conceptual and so called fine art, both of which are unable to distinguish themselves from the other. Not that it matters or i care... because the political, conceptual is the new fine art anyways. It is highly regarded, admired, collected and nowhere close to being considered avante-garde. Since so many visual artists are placing the majority of their time on the content and meaning of their work, the final results will continue to be burned with critique from every Joe Blow that walks into your show. Then it will be easily forgotten.

11:07 p.m.  
Anonymous zander said...

I recommend reading the book- but be patient. I was put off at first. Partly because of the games inserted into the book that are being played by the characters themselves... The Matrix-y floor-to-ceiling numbers representing one such game. Some would call it filler, and then look! Now it's art... in an interview Coupland did recently, he talks about his affection for abundance, and wants us to marvel at the 'muchness' of it all- his show/book, our frenzied culture. I would agree with the earlier comment about the slyness of his marketing people

I met Doug Coupland not too long ago at a book launch for his bio-ish book on Terry Fox. I was there selling books and got to talk to him briefly while he took a break from signing... nice enough guy. He didn't like the Fox family though...

On a different note... I heard a rumour that there's a Cezanne show coming to the Rooms sometime in the near future... any substance to that?

1:44 p.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

To Anonymous: I don't know what you're talking about.

5:24 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are shooting from a highly conceptual based background which is obvious. that's fine. Alot of contemporary work being created today is still based in tradition and use traditional visual mediums. A critic, to be useful, should be well versed in all of these traditions, and be able to critique some things without always having to look for the concept behind the work. Often the visual approach or methods and materials employed are part of the concept without being obvious. When it comes to this part you say either pretty or pukey. I think you would have a much tougher time critiquing a more traditional based contemporary art piece if you actually had to do it. If you move on to bigger and better publications, I hope you will have looked into this. Talking about the content, meaning and symbolism, then saying it has pretty colors wouldn't go over well.

6:59 p.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

I appreciate your constructive criticism Anonymous, and am trying hard to ignore your rather patronizing tone.

You'll note the numerous painting shows I've reviewed here that go far beyond the "pukey or pretty" descriptions. I thought talking about form, that is, colour, composition, line quality, etc., was the same thing as talking about "visual approach". Maybe I'm wrong.

8:07 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not trying to be patronizing. I just think aesthetics are being overlooked and overshadowed by content or concept. I get the feeling that you have little time for it although you will recognize something for its 'beauty' at times. The thing is you never fail to judge a work based on your aesthetic experience with the work. ie the buzz in your head from the text, or the buzz of the vibrator. Being able to guage an audiences reactions to something takes an aesthetic sensebility on the part of the maker or performer. It happens in movies, traditional mediums, Couplands show and on stage with vibrator in ass. I feel that since people can come in and say about Couplands show, he should have done this or that, then it could be concluded that the show sucked. With a good concept, and visual counterpart, i feel less people would be able to break the show apart so easily. His show felt more like something to he wanted to discuss and he might have been more successful throwing a tea party or writing a book. My frustration is not with you.
It is with the problem of aesthetics.
Some concepts just need it really bad.
As well, many concepts become aesthetic trends really quickly. for ex. the dildo performance. I can't say that the work was motivated soley for its shock appeal, i didn't see the performance, but i would guesstimate as much.

10:56 p.m.  
Anonymous m said...

off track of the coupland show but in comment to anonymous' last comment.
i think in some ways the way you are criticizing the lack of dialogue and value placed on aesthetics is similar to statements such as the one about the dildo performance beeing for shock appeal. it seems like that is an analysis based solely on an aesthetic point of view and not so much as to the concept and content.
I would say a good balance of both is important in evaluating any work.

as for coupland wanting to discuss, and your suggestion of a tea party or a book...were you serious? that's what he did. a big opening where we could even write comments and a book launch.

i also wonder about traditionally based contemporary art piece. i think we use language in an odd way. if the contemporary work is contemporary then it has moved on from traditional. everything has roots and inspiration but i don't understand that use of qualificators.


5:06 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

m, thanks for responding
no not soley on aesthetics, but there is not enough emphasis on it. I can say again that alot of people are getting lost in their concepts and the results can mean crappy visuals.
I am aware that he had a book launch and a
discussion. He should have held a more formal tea party where everyone could get together and dress up - oh right everyone did.
3rdly, sorry about the use of language, i usually don't care how i sound as long as i get my point across. Traditional materials. Read any good criticism by actual contemporary critics on todays art. People actually still criticise what is happening. Not here though. It is easy to sound intelligent. It is harder to actually have something new to say. I dont come on here trying to find fault with what people say or how they say it. that is too easy to do and a waist of time. I do care about an actual discussion about this instead of alot of back patting.

5:32 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this notion of art being something to have a good discussion about. It makes me want to take the people that say 'Artists are basically useless" a little more seriously. Even the ones that don't come from an art background. I would almost rather listen to those people feeling that they are probably less corrupt than the ones that do. we seem to have invented a pretty sweet game that we can play over and over again, and it's fun for the whole family. Truthfully though - i would love to get my hands on the cash cow, I just hope i don't have to sodomize a dead horse to do it.

6:10 p.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

OK. After re-reading the two above anonymous comments, I must insist that you begin to make sense.

What does "crappy visuals" mean?
What is an example of "good criticism by ACTUAL contemporary critics"?
When you say "People still criticize what is happening", to what, specifically are you referring?
Who exactly is patting whose back, and what do you mean by that anyway?

I'm sorry if I'm coming off as an asshole here but I need you to write specifically and with examples.


9:53 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Next topic. Christ, I finished JPOD weeks ago. Like its launch at The Rooms, but this small night out was hardly profound.

Nice cv item for the curator, though.

Kinda wonder if some of its staunch defenders (artists, etc.) might not have been offered shows of their own? You haven't been bought, have you Craig?

I'll watch the cultural calendar to see.

11:36 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

can we agree on a few things? More traditional artists are landscape painters etc., just interested in representing nature for personal or aesthetical reasons? I would like to call this folk art or folksy or something. This is on the outside and it makes me wonder about the arguements being made for and against it. Seems we are bringing unwilling participants into the ring of contemporary art. Am i way out in left field thinking most are just happy to see something different happening here and happy enough that it looks and feels contemporary? When is the last time art has shook you from your foundations or caused a stir in the art world? Usually things have a visual content that you can see, can i call this visuals? Things are usually ugly until accepted then they become aesthetics, like garbage art or naivety or abstraction back in the day. ( i think i'm responding to other things i read right now...whatever)
I could look at 100 paintings of flowers in a vase with their own personal twist put on them and they would still be flowers in a vase. I would like one over the other based on what colors i like that day or whatever. Conceptual driven art is the same thing. It is filled with everybodys own personal twist. This opens the door for alot of garbage to creep in. I know, Personal expression,
Im not looking to be or for a dictator. My question is who's judging what? There are still camps out there amongst all this contemporary art, but alot come from no direction at all. People like Matthew Collings try to poke holes in the art world and in critics all the time. That's what this is all about isn't it? I feel that, on this blog, when someone says something negative about contemporary art it is assumed they are a conservative folk artist. well all are not. Contemporary art is for the most part conservative, and tons of conservatives have found their ways into galleries and high positions masquerading as forward looking free thinkers. My complaint is that most contemporary art cannot exist on its own anymore. You need a writer to make it look or sound interesting. Take painting for example since most are farmiliar. Alot of painters rely on a good idea and spend most of their time writing and explaining how their work fits into contemporary society that it will only ever be half as "well put
together" as previous generations of painters. Years down the road when the content or context is lost (because most won't be written about) You are left with a mountain of garbage that will need some serious explaining. I think the thing people do to get around this is- to pick a topic that everyone can agree is a noteworthy and worthwhile subject on the surface. It makes for a good wholesome artist that
art centers and governments and the communities can all get behind.

1:14 a.m.  
Blogger Jennifer B. said...

Woah, that's a lot of ramblin'. I'm not sure what point you're trying to make there exactly, Anonymous (1:14).

To clarify: isn't contemporary art simply art that's being made now, or in recent years, no matter what the medium/style/approach? The term just refers to the era, from what I understand. Maybe you're talking about conceptual art, I'm not sure.

11:05 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

basically that is right,
but people that post here wouldn't call your basic landscape painters contemporary that are simply carrying on a tradition. so instead we talking about art that is trying to be somehow relevant for today. unless i'm lost

12:22 p.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

Anonymous 11.36: You're joking right?

5:26 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:36 I dont think anyone liking the show had to be persuaded to do so. I had my reasons for not and tried to explain why. Sometimes being more clear than other times. If you are farmiliar with craigs art at all it would be a safe assumption that he isn't an artist that is bought. I think if he was offered a show it would be on his terms, although i don't know him personally, but I assume as much. I feel that i cant just jump quickly on a wagon and sometimes it takes a while for me to respond to work. My initial response is not always my conclusion in the end. This was a fairly conservative approach to a show and this usually makes me suspicious. Craig didn't praise the guy up and down, and talked about some of the things he liked. thats what i got from it. I only wish was that he would have put the skeptical spectacle on him a while longer. But you can't always get what you want. Bought? Not fair... you bought the book.

6:01 p.m.  
Blogger JustinBathurst said...

Well, there's certainly conservatism on all sides, whether identifying with traditional, contemporary, alien, outcast, subhuman, or whatever other label you wish to affix to people or yourself. I'd rather just get over this strange tug-o-war between people who are supposedly identifying with 'tradition' and people who are supposedly identifying with 'contemporary'. More likely than not, generalizations are being made far too often and we're just stereotyping each other.

Last night I was reading a book on Canadian Performance Art by Women and was reading a chapter about Margaret Dragu (I think I got that right). I really enjoyed her honest attempt to work with her community as both a participant (fitness trainer, mother, community activist) and artist, from soccer moms to children to city councillors. What made it really interesting was that her work isn't of an overtly political, didactic nature. No soapboxing here.

Now back to the issue of conservatism, there's this quote (which reading the anon post earlier reminded me of; for those who would like it, the book is: Caught in the Act, edited by Tanya Mars & Johanna Householder): "Why should the arts only take place in major urban centres? Does this increase the ghettoization of the arts, and lead to even more public misperceptions of art and artists? I am writing at a time when the art world seems particularly obsessed with fashion and celebrity, and also with a certain internationalism where presenting work, or even visiting global centres has become an obligation. The art world in its current state seems uninterested in other audiences, particularly those outside major urban centres (they're just not hip enough), which I [the author of the article on Dragu, Kirsten Forkert] feel is ultimately a loss."

The quote struck me last night as I read it, largely because it reminded me of the discussion we've been having about the art school, but today it seemed interesting in the context of conservatism. Anyways. Ramble over.

4:38 p.m.  

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