Last week we posted HERE part one of our conversation with Douglas Coupland. In this post, Coupland talks about his collecting habits, coming from a “guns-and-ammo” family, his interest in nuclear culture and his new TV mini-series, among other things.
Coupland brings out a bowl filled with small cubes of 100 stamps, held together with a band of paper.
VoCA: Wow, did you make all these?
DC: Oh God, no. I collect stamps, I collect Japanese stamps.
VoCA: See, you do collect! You collect tons of things!
DC: Ok, the thing is, there’s a show on A&E called ‘Hoarders’, have you seen it?
VoCA: I’ve heard of it. It’s about people who obsessively collect things.
DC: No, no. I collect. These people don’t get rid of shit. (laughs) These are people who use a paper towel and don’t throw it out thinking it might be useful in the future. People who hoard have almost always had a huge, catastrophic loss in their life, a family member usually and it’s almost impossible to get rid of once you’ve got it. It becomes for them, ‘something you can’t take away from me,’ kind of thing.
James Rosenquist, Horse Blinders (east), an ed. of 37/85, 1972, color lithograph and screenprint with metallic paper.
They were using the same kind of excuses for not getting rid of things that I’ve been using, and I was like “Oh God, that’s me, down the road…” (laughs) and believe it or not, you’re actually seeing a reduced inventory here….(gestures around his art-filled living room, with sculptures and books piled on the coffee table, large sculptures in every corner, prints and industrial objects piled everywhere and a gorgeous James Rosenquist work on paper on one wall.)
(Coupland mentions Sarah Thornton’s book Seven Days in the Art World, and that he really enjoyed it, and that it says that if you have work leaning against the wall (as Coupland does), that you’re a collector…)
DC: Do you know Christina Ritchie (director) at the CAG? She’s a very close friend, and she has got this incredibly minimal apartment that is white-on-white-on-white, with nothing in it, and she thinks it’s too cluttered still.
Part of Coupland’s collection of shapes. Image: everythingisaspoon.com
VoCA: Well the home isa physical manifestation of the mind, she’s probably trying to clear things out of her head, so she’s clearing things out of her physical space. And by contrast, your home shows me that you have a lot going on. That’s a simplification of course but you can make a relationship between someone’s home and their personality.
DC: But there’s another way of looking at it. Usually when you start collecting, you’re not thinking too much, you’re just thinking “I like that…that appeals to me,” and so you start accruing stuff and then after 5 or 8 years, patterns start to emerge.
You know, I grew up in a guns and ammo family, my dad was in the airforce…
VoCA: Sorry, did you say “Guns and ammo family”?
DC: Yeah, and I thought ok, I’ve done it, I’ve escaped my family curse of guns and ammo. But (Vancouver artist) Angela Grossmann is a good friend, and she looked around and pointed out that my art mostly includes images of big jet fighters around my living room, guns…everything here is about destruction, and all I’ve done is re-inflect my childhood experience through this crazy pop aesthetic of mine…
VoCA: You can’t escape yourself, really…
DC: Well, once I was aware of that, I got rid of everything that wasn’t part of that, and that theme became the focus. I’m not into uniforms or anything, but military imagery just makes me feel safe.
You’re too young so you don’t know, but the Cold War really fucked up people my age. Kids now, they don’t even know what the U.S.S.R was, practically. I spent the first twelve years of my life being scared shitless of nuclear war and a lot of people my age did, and I made this blanket, processed with beautiful images of nuclear explosions.
There’s a company in Detroit that makes blankets for people whose family members were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but a jpeg is a jpeg so I gave them my files.
(Mentions a friend of his, a collector of ‘Atomica’ – art dealing with nuclear culture – to whom he finds it easy to relate.
DC: You can’t talk to young people about weapons…
(Coupland mentions a science fiction TV miniseries, Extinction Event, that he’s working on, in which a group of characters experiences a different end of the world every week, caught in a karmic loop similar to that in the film Groundhog Day. More, HERE)
DC: The characters come back to a point where the world ends – it’s a nuclear, viral, theoretical, alien invasion…You can never figure it out while you’re stuck in it, and it becomes almost entirely about the nuclear connection.
It’s two 2-hour episodes, (so far), and we’re shooting it in Geneva.
That’s the whole thing about ideas, they start as one thing, and I probably wouldn’t have done Extinction if I hadn’t been collection and realized how focused I was on that subject.
VoCA: So it’s an international project..
DC: Oh yes, yes, the Americans aren’t doing scripted tv any more. The only pulse left right now in scripted TV is HBO and Showtime in the US and European TV and co-productions. I think we’re at the very end of scripted tv.
VoCA: So where do you think things are going to go from here? We’re at the end of scripted tv, and maybe journalism as we know it, and even art, with people like Darren O’Donnell and other who are taking art into the world, even flashmobs…We seem to be coming to the end of many things right now, but surely things are going to take different forms and move forward.
DC: There’s a long tradition of that in art…I think there are new systems and co-opting systems and exploiting them. Jian Gomeshi has always been into social media and he’s always really liked Twitter. Here you have Bill Gates, the richest guy on earth, whose five best friends are probably the next richest people on earth and they’re also friends with all the smartest people…and they go off to retreats and think tanks, and what happens is they don’t think up social networking. So it’s not something you can think up. It was to evolve organically, it’s largely democratic that way.
VoCA: It’s the same with art. You can’t control it. As an artist, what can you do?
The Rooms gallery, in St. John’s Newfoundland. Image: mun.ca
DC: I can’t believe how regionalized (the art scene) is (in Canada.) You know, Vancouver marches to its own drummer, Toronto does, Montreal…I don’t know about the Maritimes. But they’ve got that strange little gallery, the Rooms…Do you know it?
VoCA: (laughing) I know it, but I’ve never been. It’s in St. John’s.
DC: It’s like being at the best hotel in the third largest city in Poland before the wall came down…(laughs)
VoCA: Wow. That makes me want to go!
(Coupland gets called into dinner…)
VoCA: Thanks Doug, so much, for taking the time.
DC: Thank you.