View of “Douglas Coupland: everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything,” 2014.
The writer, designer, and artist Douglas Coupland hit the ground running in 1991, when his first novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, became an international best seller. In 2000, after much acclaim for his novels and nonfiction, Coupland made a decisive return to visual art, which he’d studied at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, among other places. Here he discusses his first major survey exhibition, “everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything,” which is curated by Daina Augaitis and is on view through September 1, 2014 at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
BY FAR THE MOST COMMON REMARK I get from people seeing my VAG survey is, “I don’t know what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting that.” People know me from writing, but when confronted with fifteen years of visual work covering ten thousand square feet, they may have to rethink who I might be as a creator. Younger people find the show sexy and dense and something that offers hope; older people find it confusing and sort of homeworky and wish it would go away because life would somehow be easier if it didn’t exist. Also, because I’m from Vancouver people assume I’m part of its Photoconceptual orthodoxy, but I’m not.
There’s an enormous amount of stuff in the show. Density and strategies for accumulation are very important to me. I largely try to locate an area of the world halfway between words and objects, and Pop artists and their legacy are profound, as are (and this surprised me) Minimalist artists of the 1970s. I began art school in 1980 and immediately gravitated to the installation as my preferred art form; I was too green to realize that as an art form it was barely a decade old. So in the show there are canvases, pieces of theoretical furniture, radioactive tsunami debris, ultraslick Pop works, and assemblages that feel almost Dalíesque.
I guess I began to feel disaffected from the literary world around 2000 because it’s largely full of nonvisual thinkers—I mean these are people who clinically, medically are unable to think visually. For ten years I had people saying, “Doug, your writing is so… visual.” But what they were really saying is, “Doug, I’m not a visual thinker.” But then the opposite thing happens in the art world: You have visual people who can’t verbalize. Honestly, I think only about one human being in five is both visual and verbal, which is maybe why Apple only has a 20 percent market share.
Lately I’m following a number of intellectual threads, such as the rise of nonhumanist atheism in France. There’s a remarkable book on the subject by Stephanos Geroulanos. It chillingly describes the rise of nihilism as though it were a virus ravaging Matt Damon’s America. Yet there’s also a tiny afterbite of, How hard can it possibly be to be even just a tiny bit better than we already are? I think Geroulanos would be appalled to think someone registered something sentimental in his writing.
I’m also interested in revisiting Institutional critique. Joshua Decter’s Art Is a Problem is a seminal text on the topic, but it’s Infinite Jest in length, and a real time commitment. I think reading about institutional critique can feel sort of like being on a one-way trip to Mars: incredibly expensive, fantastically time-consuming, and difficult, and then once you get there you’re (quite possibly) marooned—but I think that the Internet is reinventing criticism, and even recent critical texts, viewed in a rearview mirror, can offer clues to criticism’s future. The only writing that feels truly alive to me right now is work that confronts previous critical hegemonies head-on from the Internet point of view. I’ve read Omar Kholeif’s compilation called You Are Here: Art After the Internet. It’s the smartest book I’ve yet read on this topic.
I grew up being told I’d have six different careers in my lifetime. We all did, and the media got that right, but the thing is, we now have all of our six careers at once. We all do a bit of everything to get along. That’s partially what the show’s title references: the hyperdemocracy of information access; the ongoing seesawing war between the Enlightenment’s individual and the mob of McLuhan’s global village; the secular versus the numinous; skill versus charisma; shocking financial and power imbalances. I’ve always been deeply concerned with documenting what I call the “extreme present tense”: What is it like to be alive on earth right now. For five years Shumon Basar and Hans Ulrich Obrist have been pushing me to take this to some sort of extreme. I think that’s evident in a body of works in the show.
People ask me what the biggest difference is between the art world and the literary world and I think it’s probably this: In the literary world, if you take on someone’s style, it’s called plagiarism and it’s discouraged. In the art world, if you do this, it’s called referencing and it’s expected, if not demanded, behavior. But both the literary and visual realms seem equally clubbed by the Internet and its systematic depletion of various modes of analysis. There’s a whistling in the dark thing going on right now along the lines of, Maybe things won’t change too, too much, and if everyone can just continue being politically correct à la 1995, maybe we can ride out this Internet thing. Young people must look at the art world as this grim, puritanistic prison where everyone receives a daily tin cup of ideological smoothie. I think there are so many new ways of seeing and being awaiting discovery. We live in a very exciting time that’s somehow been disguised as a coma.
View of “Gilbert & George: Art Exhibition,” 2014.
“Art Exhibition” comprises forty works by British artists Gilbert & George at the Villa Paloma of the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco. The show closely traces the history of the duo’s artistic creation, including rare, early prints and drawings. Here, the artists talk about some of the pieces included in this exhibition, which is on view through November 2, 2014.
WHEN WE STARTED as artists in 1968 and ’69, we didn’t want to run out of art school and buy a lot of canvases and oil paint, or a bag of plaster of paris, particularly since we didn’t want to go for traditional forms. When you take a photograph, you press the button on the camera, and technically you take a negative; we trusted that. We have thousands of images, all organized in subjects, so we don’t have to sit down in front of an empty white rectangle and think what to do. We don’t have to invent; we only have to choose to make the picture feel how we were that day, that month, that year. How we were in the 1970s, that’s how the pictures are that we made in the 1970s. The same goes for the ’80s. They’re printed out from inside ourselves. It’s a little bit automatic, but we make each from the beginning to the end—a total artwork. Installation, invitation card, poster, everything is ours. Very handmade, very primitive, very direct.
Abstraction began with religion, with theosophy. We have a copy of the first book of abstract art, Thought Forms by Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater, which was published in 1901. To them, forms were thoughts, much like with Malevich or Mondrian. But as we say, form is very important, but only as the servant of meaning. We remember that in the 1970s, color was something that was on a lower-class greeting card, not in a modern gallery. You couldn’t talk about sex or love or emotions; these were totally taboo in art, and probably still are. But we always believed that we understood the viewer; most of our contemporaries, we felt, had a very patronizing idea that art belonged to a very particular circle of friends roughly in London, Paris, New York, and to a particular class and a particular financial sector. They used terms like “the general public” in a very negative way. We knew that we could create an art that would speak across those barriers, against the grain. We always tell a story that shows how elitist the art world was in the ’70s. We did a wonderful small exhibition in the small gallery of Konrad Fischer in Düsseldorf with the nature pictures, two of which are included in this exhibition, Nature Photo Piece No. 7 and The Shrubberies, No. 2. The evening was an extraordinary success, and we had dinner and were drunk, and I think we even sold one picture, which was very rare at that time. We went to the gallery the next morning, and there was the director of the gallery looking very miserable. We asked, “Oh, hangover?” He said, “No,” yet he looked very grumpy and ill tempered. We managed to persuade him to tell us why he was unhappy. “The cleaning woman, she likes your exhibition.” That’s the 1970s for you.
We also started to think about religion, and we designed two amazing prints. One is Decriminalize Sex, because as we speak, there are people suffering, being imprisoned and executed for being completely normal human beings. In Brunei today, they are stoning queers and it has all to do with religion. We also did the print Ban Religion in 2007. It consists of just two big, black words. Of course nobody buys it, but it’s an exciting print to do. One day there was a knock at the door, and it was an elderly priest, very polite, who asked, “Sorry to trouble you, but are you the artists?” He then said, “I’ve just seen the print Ban Religion. It’s a wonderful thing. If I could afford it, I would buy it and put it in my church. And I’ll tell you why.” He continued, “Because all of the people of my congregation are very religious, but I don’t want them to be religious. I want them to be good.” Isn’t that a wonderful statement from a priest? Very moving, we thought.
View of “Bruce McLean: Sculpture, Painting, Photography, Film,” 2014.
Long based in London, the Scottish artist Bruce McLean is well known for his humorous conceptual works, such as his “retrospective” at the Tate Gallery in 1972, which was a one-day show titled “King for a Day” that consisted entirely of texts—a thousand propositions—on a wall. That work has been re-created in his current survey, “Bruce McLean: Sculpture, Painting, Photography, Film,” which is on view at firstsite in Colchester, England, through November 30, 2014. Here he discusses the show and Opera Bouffant, a new project that will debut next year.
I WAS A STUDENT AT ST. MARTIN’S at the same time as Gilbert & George and Barry Flanagan; Tim Head and Richard Long came along the year after. There, we were all invited to investigate the nature of sculpture, and we were pushed and pulled along until we decided that sculpture could be something in your pocket, in the landscape, or in the street—it could be transitional. Our teachers pushed us so hard that we started making ephemeral stuff before we actually investigated for ourselves some of the more formal concerns that were important in early 1960s. But a lot was being questioned then. It was an interesting time.
I am mostly interested in quick actions and gestures. For example, I am fascinated by the actions of Jackson Pollock—not the paintings. I am attracted to the actions of the American crooner Johnnie Ray—he was the first action singer. I have recently thought that I am an action sculptor. The action is the thing, and everything else is just there. Everything I do is determined by the fact that I was trained as a sculptor. If I make a dance piece, it’s coming from a sculptural background, not a dance background or a painting background.
Currently I am developing Opera Bouffant in collaboration with Luke Haines who is writing the music and Paul Tickell who will direct, which is about Ray. He wasn’t a great singer, but he had the power to make a myth around himself. Elvis was obviously better—his songs from the ’50s and ’60s are still good, whereas Ray’s aren’t. But I’m interested in the idea of Ray being an action singer instead of an icon. He’s been a great influence on all sorts of people, like Iggy Pop and me. Opera Bouffant is based on the idea of bringing together the ideas of opera and bouffant, and it won’t be like an opera and it won’t be like a rock concert. It’ll be something else. It will be a sound work, but it’ll also be visual. When I left the artworld in the ’70s, I formed a Pose group. It wasn’t theater and it wasn’t dance, and I’d like to make something for now—the beginning of the twenty-first century. It won’t be something like anything that’s been seen before. There will be a lot of impersonations in it. Impersonations also interest me. You can impersonate a person, but you can also impersonate an object. You should find a good sculpture and impersonate it immediately.
Using what is available—a wall, a piece of wood, a shadow, a remark, a door—is important to me, and I take that as a jumping-off point continually to make propositions for my work. I never think I’m “solving problems.” In fact, I am probably making them. Sometimes the problems are just visual quips. For example, at the Tate in 1972, I wrote quips as pieces. I went to a party around that time with Lucy Lippard and Seth Siegelaub, and we decided that it was just very boring. It was full of Conceptual artists—British ones—so we took a bottle of vodka and left. That night I decided to remove myself from the art world and, at that time, the best way to do it was to have a retrospective. When you have one of those, they bury you and that’s the end of it. I thought that the catalogue could be the show and the show could be the catalogue, because people at the time were obsessed with catalogues. So I made a thousand catalogues, put them on the floor like a big Carl Andre work, and then people came for this one-day exhibition, “King for a Day.”
They bought the catalogues and then the show disappeared the next day. And me with it! I dropped out for a while, but the call of sculpture sucked me back in. I sort of wish I had done something else after. The piece was written over three weeks in 1969 with a view to be published as a catalogue or show in major gallery. I wrote it straight off, no changes, no corrections. It’s interesting to see again on a wall, as it looks quite fresh and still relevant. But I think its time for a new text piece about text pieces.
The survey at firstsite does a good job of representing what I’ve been doing over the past fifty years. There are several big architectural projects that aren’t in the show, as they don’t fit an art-survey context. My father was an architect, and he wouldn’t let me pursue that career. Now my son is an architect, and I think I’m finally one too. I’ve been engaged with so many fields—painting, music, poetry, etc.—but I wouldn’t say “Art.” That gets up my nose.
View of “Christopher Williams: The Production Line of Happiness,” 2014.
Since the early 1980s, Cologne- and Los Angeles–based artist Christopher Williams has utilized photographic discourse as a way to analyze social, cultural, institutional, and economic histories. He speaks here about his three-part exhibition “The Production Line of Happiness,” which is Williams’s first major museum survey. It opened at the Art Institute of Chicago earlier this year and will be on view at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, from July 27 to November 2, 2014, before traveling to Whitechapel Gallery, London, in 2015.
I’VE WORKED almost my whole life as an artist to distance myself from the kind of role models traditionally associated with the idea of the photographer. Instead I have established a more mobile position, which allows me to move freely through the various aspects of photographic production, display, and distribution; I can alternately assume the position of camera operator, picture editor, exhibition designer, graphic designer, etc. For this exhibition, I wanted to thematize the conventions of display within the context of a monographic museum survey exhibition. A retrospective is, by its nature, a backward-looking form, putting on show that which has been, a condition that it shares with the basic material conditions of photography.
Like the site of a photographic shoot, the form of a survey show can be seen as a set of material and semiotic conventions and relations. These are viewed as somewhat stable and/or natural, having the goal of describing what has been or has happened. I have attempted to move within these relations in order to destabilize and denaturalize them. Each of the three venues has a similar checklist, but the relation between the pictures, their organization, and the architectural frame changes with each venue. The photographs presented at MoMA unfold in a network of different types of walls, which represent a series of different tenses. These include two walls from a mobile wall system developed for the Art Institute of Chicago, present in the previous venue; a wall from a work of mine from 1991, which itself was a reconstruction of a wall built by Peter Nadin and Christopher D’Arcangelo in the 1970s; wall fragments where exhibition design elements from previous exhibitions in the space at MoMA are visible; vinyl-clad walls built with MoMA’s wall system, two of which are clad with vinyl graphics that continue from the lobby; and a cinder block wall which reconstructs a wall system used by the Whitechapel Gallery in the 1950s, a system which will be used in the next iteration of the show at the Whitechapel next year. These walls function to change the tense of the framing device at each point, so that the pictures function not just in but in relation to the architecture. Overall, this thematization of the architecture moves the entire construct from being a representation of the past to being a sculptural and pictorial entity in the present tense.
I have attempted to assume different positions within the production and display of my work in order to separate the basic elements at play and to refashion them in a way that makes their functioning visible as a set of conventions. This restructuring creates and engenders the conditions for a sustained, intensified way of photographic seeing, a way of engaging with pictorial materials that is intensified by an awareness of the different modes of presentation. It attempts to present the pictures within the present context, shifting the decisive moment from the moment of exposure to the moment of viewing.
The catalogue became the primary tool with which I could confront my discomfort with the monographic form and its emphasis on individual achievement. My editorial contribution consisted of lists, budgets, manifestos, and descriptions of types of production and display. This includes a description of The Store by Claes Oldenburg; liner notes by the band Scritti Politti that outline the production of their first single; and texts by Rita McBride, Rem Koolhaas, Barbara Kruger, Walter Nikkels, Bernadette Corporation, and others.
I am interested in a descriptive activity that has such a blunt specificity that it transcends its informative function. The structure of the book speaks very directly and clearly to its economic reality. Contractually, the publisher and museums required a bar code and their logos, but not the artist’s name or the title of the exhibition. By reducing the information on the cover to a discussion of bar codes and logos, we were able to focus attention away from the individual artist and instead emphasize the book’s position as an object within a commercial system of display and circulation.
The absence or de-emphasis of my name has been an element of my work since the late ’70s and has served various functions, but it has primarily been used to emphasize the importance and roles of other people’s practices and discourse in relationship to my pictorial production. This characteristic is one of the things that originally drew me to artists like Christopher D’Arcangelo and Louise Lawler. At any rate, the legal requirements would have been met simply by using the bar code and logos on the cover, but I wanted the cover to have an informative function as well. It presents information about the function of a bar code and the guidelines for proper display and placement of the individual institutional logos. The title “The Production Line of Happiness” was unnecessary, but it served to underline or highlight the cruel set of relations set in place by the managers of culture.
View of “Erika Verzutti: Mineral,” 2014.
Brazilian artist Erika Verzutti’s work investigates the role of the natural readymade in sculpture. She speaks here about her first solo museum exhibition, “Mineral,” which is on view at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Saratoga Springs, New York, through November 16, 2014, and includes an installation of a field of handmade gemstones. Verzutti’s work can also be seen in a solo exhibition at Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich, on view through July 19, 2014, as well as the Guggenheim UBS Map Global Art Initiative’s “Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today” group exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, which is on view through October 1, 2014.
“MINERAL” is a group of sculptures that were made individually but are kept together as one family. Each piece in the group represents a geode or a gemstone. The role of geodes in nature seems to be purely aesthetic, as their shape and color are their most regarded features. So representing them was like making sculptures out of sculptures. I do this often—sometimes I quote known works like the Venus of Willendorf, and other times, like with the geodes, I find myself using nature itself as a found object.
I started creating these geode sculptures by making molds from the natural stones, similar to what I have done with fruits and vegetables in other works. For instance, Painted Lady, which is included in the “Under the Same Sun” exhibition, is made of casted star fruits, coconuts, and bananas stacked in the form of a totem pole. But this time I quickly moved on to making shapes directly in the clay, not depending on the real stones to cast from but inventing my own rules to create a different nature. I always try to find fertility in my practice, to have the feeling that the work will naturally grow from a small molecule of decision. For example, in “Mineral,” a simple repeated gesture of hitting fresh clay with my fingertips created a particular texture for the outside of the gemstones.
I often use paint or pigmented wax in the last stage of making the sculptures. That is a very enjoyable yet complex part of the articulation of the work. In “Mineral,” I seized an opportunity to exercise paint arbitrarily, motivated by the variety found in natural geodes’ colors and styles. In this group of painted sculptures I painted some stones with color fields mimicking Rothkos, with the same enthusiasm that I painted an all-gray surface quoting modernist functional housing in Brasília. Call Girl, a handmade bronze plate with rectangular depressions filled with red and blue Plasticine and exhibited at the Tang Museum, reminds me of the colors of Hélio Oiticica’s Metasquema and also of a makeup case I saw in an in-flight magazine.
I perceive sculpture today as something that can exist in domestic and public spaces but also in phone screens or embedded in human gestures. I believe sculpture does not need much order or space to pulsate. I made one of my first bronzes, Galapagos, an iridescent blue, birdlike arrangement of tropical fruits, in 2007. A friend bought it and placed it by the window in his kitchen on his farm. He then paired it with a dwarf statue that matched much of my sculpture’s size, temperature, and color. I considered that a happy ending for an art object, finding its profane companion for life.
Swedish artist Jonas Dahlberg was chosen last spring as the winner of a competition for a memorial in Norway to honor the victims of the July 22, 2011 attacks. His proposed piece, Memory Wound, is a cut across a peninsula that faces the island Utøya, where the attacks occurred. Here, Dahlberg talks about some of the concepts behind the work, such as loss, distance, and vulnerability, as well as what it means to look and remember. The work will be finalized in July 2016.
THE PIECE IS commissioned by Public Art Norway (KORO), the government’s agency for public art under the Ministry of Culture, in commemoration of the events nearly three years ago, when a single gunman attacked a camp organized by the youth division of the Norwegian Labor Party on the island of Utøya. Sixty-nine people were murdered and hundreds were injured on the island. Moreover, the same assailant bombed a government building, and eight people died. Memory Wound began mainly with two site visits, one on the island of Utøya, where the events took place, and another on a small peninsula that faces the island, which is the site of the piece.
One of the foundational concepts for this work, that of “wounding” nature, came from the Utøya visit, where we were taken on a tour that followed the footsteps of the attacker. After arriving on shore, we went from place to place where people had died, stopping at each spot with our guide, a person who had survived the attack, who told us about that day and the people who had lost their lives where we stood. On our tour, it became evident that the buildings had retained the event but in nature there was almost no trace of it. Inside the buildings, there was evidence of what had taken place: bullet holes in the walls and floors stained with cleaning agents. Outside, however, nature had healed in a way that the building couldn’t. As if nature had moved on, what had once attested and bore witness had now been covered up. Considering the site for the memorial, I thought about possibilities of doing something that wounded nature to the point that it couldn’t heal—to do something that would obstruct its inevitable self-restoration, to do something which couldn’t be undone.
From the island, we were then taken to the peninsula that the Norwegian government had designated as the site for the memorial. It’s a sharp point extending from the mainland toward Utøya, and we walked out to its tip, seeing the island across the water in an absolutely picture-perfect setting. I determined that I wanted to leave Utøya alone—in the sense that I felt it was crucial to break that gaze and not make the island a focus. One reason for this is that the youth organization wants to actively regain possession of the island by continuing to use it for their summer camps. Another is because that kind of gaze from that kind of vantage point is passive and turns people into onlookers, nonparticipating observers. As in my previous films, I wanted to work with sight lines and questions of what it is to see and be seen, and to see one’s own seeing, effectively making up a more contemplative space where each person’s sight comes into play as reflective. I wanted to turn the will to look at the island and cast it inward.
The meaning of monuments and architecture can shift with political change. And they deteriorate. To make something irreversible in nature meant, to me, that instead of making something abstract that would illustrate loss, one would make loss; rather than to allude to distance, one would make distance; instead of suggesting the vulnerability of an island, one would make an island. This became the cut across the peninsula, just wide enough so people won’t reach the other side. And instead of making a vista from which to view Utøya, a downward slant leads to a room from which people will see the other side on which the names of the victims will be engraved.