Never thought I'd see a poetic-looking tub of Maple Leaf Tenderflake pure lard. Or a valourized box of Vachon Jos. Louises. But this was exactly what celebrated Canadian artist and author Douglas Coupland presented in his recent show at the Monte Clark Gallery. In his 11 lovely large-format colour still-life photographs, he's constructing a visual lexicon that's understandable only to Canadians in order to mythologize Canadian life. Americans should look at these images and wonder, "What the hell is that?"
Everything looks familiar, yet nothing is familiar. Using what he calls the nearly extinct visual mode of the still life, Coupland manages to make our most shameful past (read Labatt's stubbies) look absolutely regal.
With a formalism usually reserved for portraiture, he arranges elaborate set-ups, something akin to what you'd get if you left a really demented teenager alone in your basement for five hours.
Coupland's oeuvre is all about identifying the common scenarios within the culture that we all cope with. And in this sense, his iconic Canada Pictures become satisfying stereotypes that touch on covert private pleasures. He makes toy soldier Triscuits snacks and hangs raw bacon off an Ookpik house, creating a kind of loopy anthropology of recreational Canada.
You could argue that these tableaux represent the last indulgence of a dormant slacker ethos. What else can you make of a grown man sitting in his rec room making molecule models out of baby potatoes and Laurentian pencil crayons?
Yet these striking images are more about renewal than recycling. Our resident wiseass, who's now pushing 40, is getting soft. Coupland is revealing his sentimental side, celebrating a sweet coming of age in Canada.
Douglas Coupland at Monte Clark Gallery (752 Queen West) to August 4. 416-703-1700. Rating: NNN