The Man With Two Brains

Curating a survey exhibition of an artist’s career involves far more than just selecting what artworks will be displayed in which order. While a floor plan is indeed the final outcome, it takes getting to know not just the art but the context and motivation behind each piece. It is necessary to get into the artist’s brain. 

The title of Douglas Coupland’s solo show at the gallery (May 31 to September 1) is indicative of how he thinks: Everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything. He’s interested in things and places and what connects them. As a cultural analyst, in writing or visual art, he engages his mind “everywhere,” capturing the consequences of “anything.” While many consider him a West Coast artist, he is in fact equally keen to explore conditions that are national and global in their impact. Fundamental questions—what makes Canada Canadian, what defines pop culture, how we represent the changing political and architectural landscapes of our time—shape his considerations of today’s society. Ultimately, his sensitivity, diligence, and intuitive process of analysis have produced slogans, paintings, sculptures, and installations that describe what he has termed “the 21st-century condition.”

The Brain is also the title of a major installation that the artist began accumulating component parts for—from calculators and cameras to souvenirs and vases—over a decade ago. No mere description of this incredible room-sized assemblage can do it justice. When I was invited to view the work in progress, I was astonished by the range and volume of objects Coupland had acquired and organized into neat little groups, creating an intricate personal taxonomy. With each studio visit, I saw the contents of the piece stay more or less the same but the organizational principles morph as he worked through the ideas ordering this mammoth installation. After 14 years, The Brain is in almost its final iteration. Representing “everything” from “anywhere,” over 5,000 elements come together in a vast cabinet of curiosities that will ultimately reveal itself as nothing less than a self-portrait suggesting the complexities of the mental processes that give rise to those memorable utterances and ideas.

Daina Augaitis is the chief curator and associate director of the Vancouver Art Gallery. She is the curator of Everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything


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