Douglas Coupland on Canadian art and identity

If there’s anyone that can really explain what it means to be Canadian, it’s Douglas Coupland. In fact, as the writer who coined the term “Generation X” in 1991, we’d rely on him to describe pretty much anything about the human experience in the modern world. The Canadian novelist, visual artist and designer has written 13 novels, 8 non-fiction books, 7 dramatic works and screenplays, was inducted in to the Order of Canada and has exhibited his work at numerous galleries and art fairs. He’s even designed a clothing collection with Roots Canada. Coupland’s latest exhibition “everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything” is on now at the Vancouver Art Gallery and is the first major survey of his work.

We’re feeling pretty patriotic this week (Garmentory has roots in both Canada and the US), so we chatted with Coupland on the eve of Canada Day about his home and native land.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE AS A CANADIAN ARTIST + WRITER? We’re now all very used to iconic neo/retro Canadian images being flashed at us from every direction, but in 2000 when I began investigating Canadian identity, NOBODY was doing it and people made jokes about it, especially about the first set of ten still life photos (The Canada Pictures.) History has proven my impulses correct — and the photos have gone on to become highly collected — and it was a very good exercise in listening to my inner voice. Usually when my voice is loud and there’s nothing but initial silence, it’s usually when I’m bang on.

Growing up there was always a creepy feeling that Canada was about to be absorbed into the US, and it was especially bad in the 1990s. And then in 2000 that feeling began to vanish. I think because Canada is almost a century younger than the US and we needed some extra time to figure out our identity. And the Internet helped. Can’t deny that. I think we know what we’re about now in Canada, as opposed to what we’re against. That’s important.

IF YOU WERE TO DISAPPEAR FOR A WEEKEND TO YOUR FAVORITE PLACE IN CANADA, WHERE WOULD YOU GO? That’s easy. Massett, a small village on the north coast of Haida Gwaii (non-Canadians call it the Queen Charlotte Islands.) It is remote and difficult and expensive to get to, so if you’re there, it’s because you really needed to be there. Three minutes away lies a forest with the highest density of living organisms per square metre in the world. The ocean is immense, the beaches go one forever, and everything is huge — the barnacles, the eagles, the trees, the sea sponges — it’s all so staggeringly alive that it makes you proud to be a part of life on earth. The local first nations culture is extremely private — I don’t pretend to have any special connection — and it produces some of the finest carved works ever produced on earth. Go. Stop what you’re doing and go now.

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