❚ 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
❏ 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 reader.com
“ 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
ANOTHER SHOW OPENED IN CANADA LAST WEEK
❏ 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.
“ 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
❏ 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
HOW TO READ QR CODES
❏ 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.
❏ 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