Saturday, July 1, 2017

Doth Coupland

Back in the early-1990s, when the St. Marks Poetry Project still put out its newspaper, I remember reading a reference to Douglas Coupland that described him as an "Establishment poster boy." Just what that Establishment looks like today is a little more complicated, though we know it when we see it, right?

Doug has been a target of late, and it's not surprising. Some might say it's about time, while others might wonder, what's the point -- there's no there there. Criticizing what ails you, as Samuel Beckett reminded us more than once, only makes that which ails you stronger. Better to ignore.

But to those who wonder, let's not forget that Vancouver writer/Toronto artist Douglas Coupland is as much a perceptual entity whose observations have real consequences as he is an instance of 3D printed click-bait for the laziest and most powerful among us.

In 2015 Canadian Art editor/co-publisher David Balzer received a writing prize from a mysterious organization for a critical review of Doug's ROM exhibition. Three weeks ago art historian Andrew Witt published a lopsided essay that focused a little too much (as in doth protest...) on Doug's honkey middle-class responses to postwar Vancouver street photography. And now yesterday David returns with an adapted talk that has Doug looking less like the Establishment's poster boy than one of its settler-colonial Omega Men: a know-it-all who doesn't know anything goddammiting his way through a world that, as revealed to us at the outset of this film reference, might be an hallucination.

Of these three texts, all are worth reading for various reasons, and I appreciate the writers taking the time to write them. But the question remains, Is Douglas Coupland a worthy subject of criticism? Could these writers' energies not be redirected from obvious targets like Douglas Coupland towards those that we who live and work in this (art) world assume we know but might benefit from knowing in a different way?

I still think Gabby Moser put it best when she wrote in an August 20, 2013 Canadian Art online post: "Coupland's work looks like what popular culture would have us think contemporary art is supposed to look like." 

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