Generation Objects, Icons, Architecture and Collections: Object lessons from the work of Douglas Coupland

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In a complex and rapidly changing world, Douglas Coupland has recorded, described and narrated his way around multiple different creative disciplines. The dominant theme of his works appears to be related to ‘accelerated culture’ and the increasing rate of change, which is itself clearly within the post-modern tradition (Forshaw, 2000) of culturally self-referencing, concentration, exaggeration and ironically reinventing ideas. His writing and his artwork have always been full of slogans and references to this sort of popular culture, or more accurately, popular consumer culture. However, in addition to these zeitgeist references are the appearance of artefacts and objects throughout his work that are representative of this type of consumerism.

This interest in artefacts relates to their selection, organisation and representation. This become apparent to me in the introduction to Souvenir of Canada, where Coupland uses the “nearly extinct visual mode of the still life” (2002), to photograph ‘stuff’ that he considers more significant than just mass-produced objects and that are in some way representative of a national sensibility and identity. This post-modern method is repeated and made explicit in his detailed conversions with Madelon Vriesendorp (2008) about the memorability of ‘collections of stuff’ and the pathology of how they are organised and displayed. This appears to be a common method of representation and organisation of ‘stuff’ as collective ‘icons’ used within his writing where the consideration of post-industrial age media and objects all represent something bigger that just their substantive value. He is using iconic or representative objects that have wider shared understanding to ironically enrich or exaggerate. It has even been suggested that he uses the novel as a form of literary museum, to host a series of personally or nationally significant objects within a storyline (Greenberg, 2013). As a result, Coupland has been described as “an accomplished lifestyle taxonomist” (Anthony, 2003), and as he also admitted directly, he is looking for meaning “all the time” (2010) in patterns, just like an artist, “… who looks at information overload with the goal of pattern recognition, to see things before anyone else” (Coupland, 2009 p143).

As part of an investigative inquiry into this idea of the process of collecting, organising and representing objects, this paper uses examples of ‘selected objects’ from both his fiction and non-fiction works. Albeit with a particular focus on his views on explicit architectural objects, the paper explores this idea of Coupland’s writing as a collection of notable objects as much as a collection of ideas. In addition to the selection of objects, is the significance in his ontological approach to classifying and organising these in a combination of tacit and explicit ways. A formal, McLuhan’s medium inspired, ontological framework is developed and visualised for these selected objects to test the notion that there is some sort of underlying pattern to this process. The paper suggests that throughout his writing and visual art, Coupland follows a similar curatorial approach and process to the inclusion of significant objects that are representative of zeitgeist and in his selections, he is in part helping to define the era, time, place or generation.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Apr 2021
EventDouglas Coupland and the Art of the Extreme Present - Online
Duration: 23 Apr 202124 Apr 2021


ConferenceDouglas Coupland and the Art of the Extreme Present
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