I met Charles Montgomery when I saw his charismatic speech at Sam Sullivan’s Public Salon in Feb; fascinated by his topic of “Happy City” I eagerly got his book. The book is part autobiography and his insights as he travel through various cities across the globe, chasing change makers like Colombian Mayor of Bogota Enrique Penalosa, or Jan Gehl, Professor at the School of Architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, who are implementing novel policies and practices that drastically increase the happiness in those said cities!
Case study #1: Mayor Enrique Penalosa believes that great public space is a kind of magic good that is urban happiness itself. He believes city can either be friendly to people or to cars, but not both, so he implemented Car free day on Feb 24, 2000, and it was the first day in four years that nobody was killed in traffic. Hospital admission fell by almost a third. Mayor Enrique Penalosa also threw out the city’s ambitious highway expansion plan. He says: “The most dynamic economies of the twentieth century produced the most miserable cities of all, like Atlanta, Phoenix, Miami, cities totally dominated by private cars.” He also constructed beautiful libraries in slums with free access to all, and added large swaps of parks and other green space in the city center which shifted people’s lifestyle, behaviour and attitude towards one another.
Case study #2: Architect Jan Gehl, when he became the professor at the School of Architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, the city of Coppenhagen relied on him to transform the city by adding more pedestrian streets and plazas (ex: Stoget). He discovered with his students based on daily observation that between 1968 and 1995, the number of people hanging out on the street more than tripled. At last count, the city had close to 9,000 outdoor café seats, which dynamically slowed down people’s walking pace, and brought out the neighbours for a stroll, a chat or shop at the local businesses that dot along the pedestrian streets. American journalist and organizational analyst William H. Whyte found that people tended to stop and gather where pedestrian traffic was thickest all around the world.
Charles point to the fact that most developed and technologically advanced cities actually suffer from stranger deficit. More and more of us live alone, and these conveniences have helped product a historically unique way of living, in which home is not so much a gathering place as a vortex of isolation. Vancouver Foundation did a study in 2012 and found the #1 issue Vancouverites suffer from is “isolation”. Just goes to show that despite the overwhelming activeness citizens of this great city display, it does not help them feel more connected.
The science of conviviality lies in our physical environment. Psychologists suggest that we experience environmental conditions as metaphors: thus we would translate physical warmth as social warmth. Cracked sidewalk and graffitied walls might lure drunken men to pee on it, and people systematically less likely to help a stranger pick up a dropped stack of books or to give someone change for a phone call in a noisy environment. It’s been noted that people stay way from buildings with sharp angles that sticks out like a knife.
Another interesting tibit I learned from reading Happy City is that the North American street grid system is a hand-me-down from empires who used streets as tools of aggression. The Assyrians used the grid design for garrisons and detention camps in conquered regions. So did the Romans.
This book is a fascinating read about the evolution of street cable cars, automobiles, the interaction between architecture and city life, and the citizen’s perceived quality of life. Get more info at www.thehappycity.com or www.charlesmontgomery.ca
Douglas Coupland – Everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything exhibit @ Vancouver Art Gallery
From May 31st to September 1st, Douglas Coupland’s first solo museum exhibit titled “Everywhere is anywhere is anything” will be at the Vancouver Art Gallery, with public artwork Gum head-a 7 foot tall interactive self-portrait by the artist on Howe street, ready for passerby’s gum to stick on.
Thursday morning 9am, a crowd of media gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery to hear from the Director Vancouver Art Gallery Kathleen S. Bartels who enthusiastically proclaims:”We are thrilled to be the first museum to present this survey of Coupland’s work and hope this exhibition will inspire audiences of all backgrounds and generations to consider what defined contemporary Canadian culture.”
The Chief Curator/Associate Director for the exhibit Daina Augaitis went up to the podium and gushed about how excited Douglas Coupland was when she first approached him about a solo exhibit 1.5 years ago, and how generous he was in giving his time during the whole process of collaboration. We were then treated to Douglas Coupland, the man himself; who walked us through all six sections with over 100 works ranging from painting, photography, prints, quilts and several new large-scale installations. The exhibition is accompanied by a first monograph of Coupland’s visual art, featuring essays from world-renewed authors such as Sophia Al Maria, William Gibson, James Gleick, Bjarke Ingels, Chuck Klosterman, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Michael Stipe, co-published by the Vancouver Art Gallery and Black Dog Publishing.
The exhibition is presented through six themes:
- Secret Handshake unravels the stereotypes that constitutes Canadian cultural identity, both benigh and menacing.
- In Growing Up Utopian, Coupland uses Lego, latent with endless creative possibilities, to reflect on both the fantastical and dystopic possibilities born out of this post-war perspective.
- Words Into Objects includes Coupland’s rennet work Slogans for the 21st Century which contains more than 100 pithy statement about our contemporary world.
- In Pop Explosion, Coupland brings classic images of the Pop Art movement into the 21st Century.
- In The 21st Century Condition, Coupland references recent world events including 9/11 terrorist attacks and introduces Smartphone technology as a tool for viewers to engage with memories of that pivotal event.
- The Brain focuses on a major new sculpture comprised of 5000 objects the artists has collected over the years, serving as a metaphor for the complicated way in which the brain functions.
Douglas Coupland is a mild mannered man in a sharp light gray suit and dark gray slacks, with a well-groomed white mustache. He spoke with the joy of a boy showcasing his toys to first visitors, with slight caution and nervousness.
We first saw what seem like garbage, turned out to be the bits that drifted over the Pacific Ocean from the Japanese tsunami such as milk cartons. Coupland confesses to be a hoarder and collector. He then showcases “Canadiana quilts” that has hubcaps. This first section are all images or items that he thinks represent contemporary Canada to him, including jarred Chinese pickled vegetables that are currently sitting in my refrigerator and art with huge Canadian tire Sale sign.
The second room we go into is apart of the SECRET HANDSHAKE, which is a metal cable tower that has been hit by severe ice that bows down like a dog to his master. It’s really interesting to see such a utilitarian industrial item taking on almost human form, and now we perceive it with emotion. Curator Diana Augaitis says Canada has such a large land mass, these towers play an important role in creating communication across all the provinces. At which point Douglas Coupland inserts that Americans will buy art only if there are people in it, and Canadian will buy art only if there are no people in it.
We quickly move on to the Utopian world made of LEGO, to our right is a 100 identical urban bungalow houses with a tree and single garage laid out perfectly. It is a reflection of the post-war era where urban planning tried to make the perfect future city. What we didn’t know is that perfect uniformity is not perfection. To the right is Lego made with children and volunteers that makes fascinating combination of shapes and colour! Coupland says that it’s not the LEGO enthusiast that makes the best shapes; it’s the boyfriend or girlfriend that got dragged to the build that produce the best shapes. Coupland emphasizes that LEGO is the common denominator for all Silicon Valley programmers and engineers, you can see it everywhere.
After many photo flashes, the group moves into the Words into Objects section, where Coupland profess his love for Japanese cleaning product bottles as the perfect balance between art and object. As the design is cute and elegant, yet it serves to bottle toxicity.
Opposite to that is two plexi-glassed encased Chinese cigarette packages of all sorts. There must be more than 100 different types of cigarette packages in those two casings. Coupland shared with the crowd that he went to China recently, and couldn’t find anything real as EVERYTHING was fake. He admires the beautiful design of these cigarette packages, and was told that government officials smoke certain brand while people who drive Audi A8 would smoke another brand. He found it fascinating.
This section is especially amusing as there are many funny sayings on the wall. He said that in his studio when he made and sold these, the rude ones got sold immediately, while the polite saying went a lot slower.
So “Motherfucker” was the first one that got sold! I laughed out loud when I saw a yellow sign that said “Sorry, I got lost in a youtube kitten warp”, and a blue sign that said, “Smart beautiful popular people don’t need the internet”.
It’s a diverse and provocative art exhibit, which makes you think about what is art….and what pieces represent contemporary Canada. I can’t wait to go back and spend a whole day to look at each piece and feel all the different emotions that these pieces bring out in me from intrigue, to shock, to love, to delight.
Douglas Coupland Bio:
Douglas Coupland is a visual artists based in Vancouver. Coupland studied at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (now University), graduating in 1984 and continued his studies at the Hokkaido College of Art and Design in Japan as well as the Sapporo Institute Europeo di Design, Milan. Since his return to art-making in 2000, he has exhibited in solo exhibition at DX Design Exchange, Toronto (2004); Canadian High Commission, London (2004); Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal (2005); and Simon Fraser University Gallery, Burnaby (2007). His work has been included in numerous group exhibitions including those at JFK Terminal 5, New York (2004); Plug-In ICA, Winnipeg (2008); Cambridge Galleries (2008); Center for Contemporary Arts, Prague (2008); Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina Travelling to Mount St. Vincent Art Gallery, Halifax and MacLaren Art Centre, Barrie (2008-2009); Vancouver Art Gallery (2010-2011); and Mass MoCA, North Adams (2012). Coupland’s notable public art Monument to the war of 1812 (2008) in Toronto. In addition to his prolific art production, Coupland is also an internationally renowned writer and designer –in1991 he published his first novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture which eventually became an international bestseller. He has since published 14 novels and several works of non-fiction. In December 2013, Coupland was appointed to the Order of Canada. Coupland was born in 1961 at the Royal Canadian Air force base in BadenSollingen, West Germany and in 1965 moved with his family to West Vancouver, British Columbia.
Unlike most art exhibitions, photos and video recording is encouraged, and there is a hashtag #couplandvan and a website to boot: www.couplandexhibition.org