Life, Death, and Things in Between

In 2012, Coupland imagined and realized an installation for Nuit Blanche, a dusk-to-dawn art happening that sees Toronto turned into a gallery visited each fall by some 1.4 million people. I was the curator (with York University professor Janine Marchessault) of one project, The Museum for the End of the World. The central idea was not a museum of the end of the world, but for it. Most of the 22 participating artists, including Coupland, were assigned spaces in the (concrete, bunkerlike) parking garage beneath City Hall; his Museum of the Rapture was an expansive exploration of “life and death and things in between”-defined by posters with pithy insights and prognostications lining the ramp, an eerily smoking crashed car at the bottom, and three living tableaux depicting the moments following the rapturous event.

What was so striking at the time, and remains so, was the sharpness of the detail he provided in narrating the art he wanted to make. Long before his site visit Coupland was describing the visual tone of each set (palette, props, spatial arrangements) and the autonomous but linked demeanors of the actors he saw inhabiting the various roles. Indeed, in a cherrywood-panelled upstairs he offered such precise descriptions of what he wanted that I understood something about him that had previously eluded me. The author of numerous works of fiction distinguished by their capacity to conjure places in time, he has the ability to marshal vast amounts of visual information and to store details-ceiling tiles, the particular green of school blackboards, middle-class living rooms from the early 1990s-in order to present his views about social existence. The narrative of his idea for his art was as clear as his famed prose, and his installations for Museum of the Rapture operated as living stories. The tableaux were moving and unnerving. They demanded attention; they provoked thought. His installation, specific and within the context of a larger thematically focused undertaking, represented not only a commentary about mortality and family and the journey of life, but also a singular and brilliant mind able to render the familiar in potent, welcome, compelling ways.

Michael Prokopow is a cultural historian and curator at the Ontario College of Art and Design


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