Category Archives: Asia

➤ Postmodern Coupland is painting coded messages for Generation A

Douglas Coupland, Shanghai, interview,Art Labor,QR code,exhibition,paintings

Cultural clairvoyant Douglas Coupland: photographed in Shanghai for Time Out by Yang Xiaozhe

❚ DOUGLAS COUPLAND CAPTURED THE ZEITGEIST of a generation with his 1991 debut novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, and he kept his finger on the pulse of our times with such books as Microserfs, jPod and Generation A. However, Coupland’s first great artistic passion was not writing, but visual art. The Canadian cultural clairvoyant is in Shanghai this week for a group show at Art Labor. He talked to Sam Gaskin for Time Out Shanghai about the rise of smartphones for decoding and recoding the post-everything milieu…

If a UFO landed on Earth,” Coupland said, “and it had one of these on its roof you wouldn’t know what it meant, but you’d know it meant something. We could even go into some sort of Mad Max future where all the scanners are dead but you’d still wonder what it said. That’s what I like about them. There’s wonder in these things.”

These things are the Quick Response codes (a 2-D version of barcodes), upon which Coupland has mapped his Memento Mori series of paintings. On one level, the works are colourful abstracts reminiscent of Damien Hirst’s spot paintings, Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie and TV test screen patterns. Using a smartphone app, the paintings can also be scanned to reveal encoded messages. This fusion of image and text brings together two Couplands: the conceptual artist who got his start at a Tokyo art school and the novelist and aphorist who wrote Generation X and jPod… / Continued online

Douglas Coupland, Shanghai, interview,Art Labor ,exhibition,paintings,QR code


❏ Scan this Coupland painting with your smartphone to reveal its hidden message about the future … or right-click to download the image, then upload it into the online QR reader at onlinebarcode



Now you young twerps want a new name for your generation? Probably not, you just want jobs, right? Well, the media do us all such tremendous favors when they call you Generation X, right? Two clicks from the very end of the alphabet. I hereby declare you Generation A, as much at the beginning of a series of astonishing triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago. — Kurt Vonnegut, 1994


❏ Coupland graduated from Vancouver’s Emily Carr College of Art and Design in 1984 with a focus on sculpture. The 49-year-old artist was in Calgary this month for the opening of his newest exhibition, Douglas Coupland: Twenty-first Century at TrepanierBaer Gallery, which features thought-provoking sculpture, paintings and a collection of Marshall McLuhanesque “slogans for the 21st century” formatted into his paintings as QR codes.

➢ A Q&A in the Calgary Herald includes this observation on his use of QR data technology

“ Q: Regarding your Memento Mori QR paintings — which can be scanned with a cellphone QR app to reveal the title of the paintings — what inspired this approach and what do you hope it awakens in people?

A: The series began as a way of sending messages to people who died just before I was born, or to people born just after I die. How can I compress something I’ve learned about being alive on earth into 250 characters or less? In the end, the statements (became) prayers, almost … I remember back in the 1970s, NASA had to compress a message about humanity and life on earth into an … embarrassingly tiny amount of space. It always haunted me, having to convey something massive with highly finite limitations. / Continued online © The Calgary Herald

➢ The exhibition Douglas Coupland: Twenty-first Century runs at TrépanierBaer gallery, Calgary, Canada until Jan 7

Douglas Coupland,Calgary, interview,TrépanierBaer,exhibition,paintings,QR code,
❏ Scan the above installation, photographed by The Calgary Herald, to reveal the message about truth in the Memento Mori painting … or right-click to download the image, then upload it into the online QR reader at Inlite Research


❏ QR codes are similar to the barcodes used in supermarkets, but store much more complex data arranged in a square pattern on a white background. They are familiar in Japan and Europe on home-printed tickets for flights, trains and entertainment events, and on the walls of art galleries for providing detailed information about the exhibits. The QR code in the right-hand column of Shapersothe80s will take you to a different random page within this website each time you scan it.

QR codes are usually scanned with a smartphone after you have downloaded the relevant app — or by taking a photo of the code on your phonecam. The alternative is to visit the website of a QR reader and upload the QR image for it to be decoded. You can do this with each of the Coupland paintings here, though many online readers do seem to have difficulty scanning his multicoloured images and only two readers succeeded.

➢ Advice at Mashable on making QR codes more visually appealing

Douglas Coupland, Calgary, interview,TrepanierBaer,exhibition,paintings,QR code,
❏ Scan another Coupland canvas showing at the TrépanierBaer Gallery to reveal its hidden message about the dead … or right-click to download the image, then upload it into the online QR reader at Inlite Research



2011 ➤ Wham!’s cunning plan for a Christmas No1 as climax to the 80s revival

❚ TWO REASONS TO CELEBRATE. Mother-of-two Shirlie Kemp has just exhumed a load of fab clothes from her heyday with Pepsi Demacque as the all-jiving all-singing girls in Wham! She has piled a load of glam photos of her stage clothes on to her otherwise sedately titled blog, No Place Like Home. We see her Melissa Caplan sheath from the 1982 Top of the Pops debuts of herself as Shirlie Holliman and of the clubland group’s single Young Guns in the lucky TV turning point [above] that broke the group after their first single Wham Rap! had initially failed to take off.

Shirlie Kemp, fashion, Kahn & Bell,Wham!

Shirlie’s bling leather top for Wham! It bears the Kahniverous label. Photo from

Shirlie also shows the cowgirl fronded suede top from American Classics in Endell Street, worn in an earlier incarnation of Young Guns.

Most eye-catching of all are those skimpy, gilded, blingy black leathers by the Brummie design duo Kahn & Bell who had shops in Birmingham and Chelsea. However, after a deep search through Wham’s YouTube videos as the first Western pop group into China, we find no footage of Shirlie’s claim that she wore them onstage there in 1985  — see below for Everything She Wants filmed live in China by British director Lindsay Anderson (which is wrongly dated). By then they had achieved three number-one singles in a row in the US with Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Careless Whisper and Everything She Wants, while the Billboard year-ending chart listed George Michael’s Careless Whisper as the US number-one song of 1985.

➢ Click pic for the fizzing Wham Rap! video in a new window

Above — “Man or mouse” Andrew Ridgeley establishes the  group’s clubbing credentials in the opening shots of their Wham Rap! video by reading The Face cover story, The Making of Club Culture, written by yours truly in the February 1983 issue

❏ The reason why we’ve been catching glimpses of Pepsi & Shirlie around the media is the second reason to celebrate. An explosive 25th anniversary comeback by Wham! themselves takes the shape of a 27-track 2-CD anniversary edition of The Final, their farewell compilation album from 1986, with its minimalist Peter Saville cover design. Embracing all four years’-worth of output, it contains six UK No 1 hits, plus both George Michael solo singles (Careless Whisper and A Different Corner). A deluxe edition includes a DVD of 13 restored videos.

Wham!, The Final, albums, Peter Saville The Final is such a double-whammy of greatest dancefloor hits that its November 28 release is a calculated pitch for the top spot in the Christmas chart. And with Duran’s magnificent comeback year all but spent musically, Wham!’s cunning plan will represent the last major chart assault by the 80s revival that has warmed our cockles for a full two years.

Wham! went out on a high 25 years ago with an eight-hour grand finale of a concert at Wembley Stadium which coincided with their farewell single The Edge of Heaven hitting No 1 in June, 1986. Pepsi says: “A lot of thought went into stopping when we did — we were at our peak, it was such a high and that’s why we can celebrate Wham! The Final now, because we all still have great memories and we’re all still great friends.”

➢ “Maybe George was going through a cowboy phase” — this week’s interview with Pepsi & Shirlie for RealMusic Blog

➢ Rich List puts George Michael top of the popstars
from the un-lucrative 80s


➤ Boy George flashes the cheekbones and gives the pop scene a tongue lashing

Boy George ,Turn 2 Dust , video,tolerance,Decode Records,Club Lotus, Macau,
♫ CLICK TO VIEW the video for Boy George — Turn 2 Dust (Official)

❚ GET AN EYEFUL OF THOSE long-lost cheekbones! Hello! We haven’t seen you since the late 90s. Well, Boy George has been Twittering away for months about his fad diets, his gym routine and doing 100 squats at a time, and this week he unveiled the result — at least from the neck up. And yes, this studio video for Turn 2 Dust does suggest that a few pounds seem to have been shed.

Boy George ,Turn 2 Dust , video,tolerance,Decode Records,

Turn 2 Dust: two dancers among many turns in Boy George’s video

OK the camera is angled from above looking down throughout the three-and-a-half slickly edited minutes. OK he’s shot wearing black and artfully lit in a black void. OK somebody has been paid a fortune to get the maquillage just so. But hey. It’s a start. Welcome to the muscle marys club, George.

This reggaefied version of the highly danceable Turn 2 Dust derives from the track on his MP3 album Ordinary Alien released in March. It’s one of those heartfelt, political George numbers about the outsider “with only truth as my defence” and it pleads for tolerance: “All hatred must turn to dust.” And there’s a break, just for a moment, where you could swear the voice is Bowie’s, oh yes. This very cool video is shot in a no less cool London nightspot, the Lightbox, where George threw his 50th birthday party last June.

The vid is promoting an MP3 package of 11 remixes released this month. To underscore the song’s message, the video features a provocatively camp cast of comic clubbing characters, so it is no surprise that George can scarcely keep a straight face. Cheekbones and all.


❏ Yesterday Boy George was in Macau, the administrative region of China famed for its casinos, to present a deejay session at Club Lotus, preceded by this live videoed press conference. When a journalist asked whether his current musical collaborations might include Lady Gaga, the question seemed to trigger a good-humoured but impassioned rant [scroll forward to the 4-minute mark]. Here’s just a part of it…

I’m more interested in working with people in the dance field. I’m talking about house music, not pop. I’m not really involved in pop music — I haven’t been for a long long time. I don’t have anything to do with the modern pop scene. It’s not for me. It’s an alien thing to me. I just don’t get it, don’t feel part of it, don’t understand it. The dance world is more fun — you have more freedom… Pop music is very restricted. Everybody is making the same record, everybody is using same vocal sound, nobody’s singing about anything any more, it’s all crap…

That’s a very extreme statement but that’s how I feel. There’s nobody speaking to me in pop music. Everybody just wants to wear the fur coat and drink champagne and talk rubbish. Where’s the David Bowies? Where’s the Boy Georges? Where’s the passion? There isn’t really any.


Boy George ,Club Lotus, Macau,King of Queens ,coffee-table book,photography, Kitchen Sink Publishing, ❏ Boy George has a chunky 18×12-inch coffee-table picture book titled King of Queens coming out on Dec 12 in a limited edition of 999 signed copies, which includes a 10-inch vinyl anthology of unreleased music, all in a clamshell clothbound case, from Kitchen Sink Publishing, price £499. At the Macau press conference a journalist thought this was very expensive. George replied:

“ It’s 90 pages of photographs, very personal things from my collection, things people have never seen, a beautifully bound collectors’ book. It’s very expensive. But you don’t have to have it. It’s like saying you should put down the price of a Porsche because I want to have it. You know, some things in life, you can’t have.


2001 ➤ The other 9/11 assassination: could Massoud have become his nation’s spiritual leader?

Ahmad Shah Massoud and followers photographed by the Japanese photographer and anthropologist Hiromi Nagakura who knew him over two decades... “Massoud said to me, ‘We are fighting against terrorism. If we don’t fight here, the war will only expand.’ After September 11, I finally understood what he was talking about.”

❚ SUNDAY IS THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, but this week also marks a decade since Al Qaeda assassinated the one figure who was holding out against its protectors, the Taliban. This was Ahmad Shah Massoud, an Afghan guerrilla commander known variously as The Lion of Panjshir and the Afghan Che Guevara who became the nation’s defence minister. Following his death he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, declared a National Hero of Afghanistan and Sept 9 is now observed there as a national holiday known as Massoud Day.

He was assassinated at the age of 48 two days before the Twin Towers fell, ostensibly as part of the 9/11 process to draw the US into the Afghan war in 2001. Two Tunisian suicide bombers posed as overseas television journalists to interview Massoud in Khvajeh Ba Odin, a small village in north Afghanistan, where they detonated a bomb hidden in their camera.

Ahmad Shah Massoud, postage stampIn 1996, during the civil war in Afghanistan, the Taliban seized the capital city, Kabul, and soon the majority of their fighting force were soldiers imported from abroad by Al Qaeda, the Sunni Islamist militant group founded by Osama Bin Laden and designated a terrorist organisation by the United Nations.

In 1989, Massoud had been instrumental in driving the Soviet army out of Afghanistan. In the 90s, with the Taliban gaining control of 90% of the country, he opposed them by creating the United Front (Northern Alliance), and so posed a constant threat to Al Qaeda.

What was revealed only last December, when the 30-year rule released previously secret UK Cabinet papers, was that western powers had decided in 1980 to provide “discreet support for Afghan guerrilla resistance” after the Soviet invasion of their country. This not only meant Britain secretly supplying arms to Massoud, but also that one faction of the mujahideen fighters were covertly funded by the CIA. These went on to become founding members of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

➢ Afghanistan’s “lost pillar of stability” — Listen to yesterday’s flagship Today show on BBC Radio 4, when security correspondent Gordon Corera discussed why Massoud had to die before the Twin Towers fell. If he had lived, many believe Massoud would have become a vital pillar of stability for his nation.

Massoud Tomb, Afghanistan,video,DocsOnline

Annual pilgrimage: Ahmad Shah Massoud’s chauffeur brings flowers from his leader’s garden to his tomb overlooking the Panjshir Valley. (Grabbed from video documentary by Iqbal Malhotra)

➢ VIEW a scene from Ahmad Shah Massoud, a documentary (above) by Indian film-maker Iqbal Malhotra (from DocsOnline)

An Intimate Portrait of the
Legendary Afghan Leader

A freedom fighter, a warrior, a man of God, an intellectual, a humanitarian, a liberal… the list goes on. Massoud was a renaissance man, though his modesty would never acknowledge it. This is perhaps his greatest quality – humility. Unlike radical leaders such as Che Guevara, his desires were modest: Freedom and prosperity for his people.

Massoud was a passionate enemy of terrorism. He strongly objected to any terrorist-style actions by mujahideen during the war with the Soviets, and identified the war against the Taliban as a war against terrorism.

Massoud was a deeply spiritual man and a devout Muslim. It is important to make these distinctions, for “Massoud the man” has perhaps more in common with Mahatma Gandhi than Che. We are exposed to a man of grace, who revelled in the beauty of his country and his creed.

➢ Read more: the biography of Massoud by Marcela Grad is appraised by Justin McCauley in the Vienna Review of Books


➤ Get up! James Brown is now the The Godfather of Soup

❚ GOING VIRAL — Recently posted at YouTube, a pair of Nissin Cup Noodle commercials from 1992 show the Godfather of Soul James Brown adapting his classic Sex Machine to sell miso soup. In Japanese!

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