Douglas Coupland: Our Modern World

World-renowned artist, Douglas Coupland, dominates Toronto’s art scene with solo exhibitions at the Royal Ontario Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, and the Daniel Faria Gallery. His prevailing central theme, which holds true for all of the exhibits, concerns modern cultural phenomena and their portrayal through existing technologies. However, rather than fixatedly dissect one particular issue, he comments on a broader range of issues and criticisms that exist in our contemporary society throughout his works. Each show is explicitly different from one another and each of the individual works and installations likewise vary in approach, medium, and message while remaining unitary only in their societal commentary. Our Modern World shown at the Daniel Faria Gallery, consists of three different collections of works: “Deep Face”, “Trash Vortex”, and the “Montecristos”. Upon first glance, it is hard to find an overall, pervasive theme, as all are separated by their almost categorical positioning within the space and their distinctive aesthetic qualities. On the other hand, having one domineering theme would be both overwhelming in the small space and insufficient for suitably addressing the complex range of topics we currently face today.

Installation view of Douglas Coupland, Our Modern World at Daniel Faria Gallery, 2015

“Deep Face” is a series of large multimedia portraits, comprising of a printed black-and-white photographs with an overlaid acrylic-paint pattern covering the subject’s face. The patterns, which are never repeated and are specific to their respective subject, seem reminiscent of Pop Art and contemporary design, emphasizing flat, definitively linear shapes and vibrant stock colors. Despite this precision, the patterns’ organization seems almost chaotic and inconsistent, as if they were scrambled together to censor or even codify the face. According to Coupland, it focuses on the recent Facebook development of facial recognition algorithms that identify people’s faces in every posted picture. He portrays this new development as intrusive and revealing at the same time; it removes any discernable features while simultaneously transcribing it into an entirely new format, one that seems coherent with digital language.

Installation view of Douglas Coupland, Our Modern World, “Deep Face” series at Daniel Faria Gallery, 2015

Installation view of Douglas Coupland, Our Modern World, “Deep Face” series at Daniel Faria Gallery, 2015

“Trash Vortex” concerns the worldwide environmental disaster known as the Pacific Trash Gyre: a mass accumulation of debris and garbage collected from around the world and coalesced by ocean currents. The installation consists of several globes coated with drips of toxic paint, all originating from a single point to then weep evenly towards the opposite end.Though each distinct piece has varying starting and ending points as well as individual color palettes, the whole installation nevertheless accentuates the immeasurable damage resulting from society’s overconsumption and excess. Beginning as simply a localized problem, it soon resonates into a global pandemic that infectiously spreads to every corner.

Installation view of Douglas Coupland, Our Modern World, “Trash Vortex” at Daniel Faria Gallery, 2015

What becomes increasingly evident throughout Coupland’s works is his injection of personal perspectives, criticisms and obsessions, rather than adhere to more common arguments. “The Montecristos” comprises of 75 collages that “reflect the artist’s ongoing fascination with collecting, aggregation and borderline hoarding.” He incorporates signs, posters, travel tags, playing cards, cigarette cartons (namely the Montecristo brand), stationary, currency, and more, appearing as a compulsive assemblage of popularized images.  In its totality, the installation appears as an intricate discord of color and abstraction, and it is not until a closer inspection of each collage that the audience realizes the hackneyed and broadly familiar icons and objects indicative of the existing consumer culture.

Douglas Coupland, Our Modern World, “Target Red Yellow Blue” from Montecristos series, 2015, mixed media on panel

Installation view of Douglas Coupland, Our Modern World, “Montecristos” at Daniel Faria Gallery, 2015

Text and photo: Simon Termine

*Exhibition information: January 22 – March 21, 2015, Daniel Faria Gallery, 188 St Helens Avenue, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue–Fri 11–6, Sat, 10–6 pm.

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