internet state of mind - douglas coupland and the art of the future

Aside from writing, Douglas Coupland enjoys a flourishing career as a pop artist. His most recent work 'Everywhere is Anywhere is Anything is Everything' links pop art and post-internet, and redefines his influence for a new generation...

by i-D Team
04 November 2014, 5:10pm

Images © Douglas Coupland. Courtesy of the artist and Black Dog Publishing

Shortly before this year's Frieze, the website ArtFagCity announced that "those in search of a definitive text on post-internet artmaking now have a source book to download." The text in question is a PDF exhibition catalogue for Art Post-Internet at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing China, and features contributions from a number of critics on the meaning of "post-internet art," the general consensus being that the term refers to "art consciously created in a milieu that assumes the centrality of the network, and that often takes everything from the physical bits to the social ramifications of the internet as fodder… This understanding of the post-internet refers not to a time "after" the internet, but rather to an internet state of mind." 

This definition was interesting in light of the New York Times' recent interview with megacurator Jeffrey Deitch, in which he announced an upcoming multi-artist survey called "Overpop." Might it suggest that we are "over" pop-art as a genre? Or might it, instead, be short for "overpopulation", a statement about the way that the very saturation of art has cooled our ardor? The artist Olaf Breuning recently suggested that when he began to make work in the 90s, interviewers always mentioned "popular culture." Now, he explained, there was no need to mention it, because it was ubiquitous. Thanks to social media and the circulation of images, art and pop are one and the same, and the boundaries of pop-art itself are blurred forever.

I had first started thinking about this kind net-pop-art integration in earnest a few weeks earlier, having met with the author and artist Douglas Coupland in the lobby of the Ace Hotel. "We used to have one meme a year or so," he explained, "so it had to be a good one. Now we have a meme come along about every fifteen minutes."

Images © Douglas Coupland. Courtesy of the artist and Black Dog Publishing

Coupland — the man who defined Generation X — was in London promoting his new art monograph Everywhere is Anywhere is Anything is Everything, a volume comprised entirely of work which the artist is happy to categorise as "Pop Art," but filtered through the lens of the internet: slogan paintings, for instance, which are half didactic-political-poster, half-tweet — Holzer truisms made for the screen of a smart-phone, instead of an LED strip ("THE INTERNET IS THE REAL WORLD").

At one point Coupland is hyper-animated, suddenly, over an offhand mention of the word lenticular [a printing process that makes an image look like it's moving]. "They have, I think, sixteen-stage lenticular printing now. So if you move your head, the picture essentially functions like a gif." The first of his many references to the merging of online and offline structures, this offered a new solution to the problem — what if, instead of unblurring the boundaries between net and pop and art, we used their haziness to our advantage?  "I was thinking about all these books where you get those swimming and diving diagrams, where the image is frozen — I think of those as being like 'lost gifs.' So it would be nice to give them a final resting-place." The idea of bringing gifs into the offline world is one that's exciting because it involves a degree of reclamation: it takes the online and makes it 'real.'

In the works in Everywhere is Anywhere is Anything is Everything Douglas Coupland has brought the internet, on its own terms, into the physical world of fine art; now, in the aftermath, he is making his own demands of the post-net. Recently, he mentions, he's been researching 3D printing. "A 3D printer is basically building up on an XY axis, and they build up one layer at a time. They're about a thousand bucks, and by next year, even, they'll be better, and they'll be faster. They've got this thing for the iPhone or the iPad where you're sitting there, and I shoot you, and I send it over, and then I print it — and suddenly, I've got this bust of you." The object, he says, is "not quite 2D, not quite 3D, it's posing as three dimensions," but the principle remains the same — it takes a digital image, and lands it offline.

"I genuinely think that 3D printing is the future of photography," he concludes. "The thing with these little busts is that they're cheap and they're easy to make — in the U.S. everyone has them. It's like the golden age of kitsch. I've got your head, but it's an eggcup!" 

I mention to Coupland a grisly article which I had read a few days before our meeting concerning a man who makes 'action figures' of loved ones in which to carry remains, with a 3D printer. "He also prints full-sized heads from photographs of the deceased," I tell him, "but he says they don't sell. Apparently the figures are cute, but the heads are creepy." 

"What's even weirder, I think," he counters, "is that in China or Korea, I forget which, you can send a sonogram to this company, and they 3D print it in actual gold — these highly-polished figures of foetuses. I thought 'surely this is someone's art project,' but no — it's real. I think it might be the strangest thing I've seen in recent years, but it's really interesting."

Together, the two gross-out anecdotes form another net-pop-art trifecta phenomenon: the documentation and integration of life, not even from the cradle to the grave, but beginning in the uterus itself. "Ultrasound" is a popular tag on Instagram; "ashes" and "remains," due to their somewhat ambiguous natures, are a little harder to locate in any quantity under the right definitions: perhaps less a case of semantics than one of residual human decency. The shock of the overshare belonged to art before it belonged to the web, but now, it seems, it belongs to everyone equally — if not the foetus-printers and the dead-dad sculptors, then the tweeters.

"Sometimes you accidentally input an extra digit into the year: i.e, 19993," says a character in Coupland's novel, Microserfs, "and you add 18,000 years on to now, and you realize that the year 19993 will one day exist and that time is a scary thing, indeed."

Overshare, OverPop, and Oversaturation: "I MISS MY PRE-INTERNET BRAIN," says one of his canvases, but the very idea is a lost cause, and I'm not certain, anyway, that the artist really believes that he does. To pit oneself against the network — to lean the body and the brain into its limitations — is to see how unable it is to think for itself, and to establish one's own superiority, in relative terms, to the machine. The network has gifs, but we have lenticular printing; it elevates the two-dimensional photograph, but we have the means to drag these into three dimensions. Even as the network makes the objects to hold our remains, or to herald the starts of our bodies, it has no remains and no body itself with which to fill three-dimensional space. For an office-worker or an artist, the future of the human race can be measured, at least, in the span of 18,000 years: an internet art-meme, meanwhile, is buried after as many retweets.



Text Philippa Snow
Images © Douglas Coupland. Courtesy of the artist and Black Dog Publishing

generation x
douglas coupland
everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything