The Whale without Jonah
The sacred and the profane almost invariably inhabit the same orbit. If in doubt, simply look at our responses when we enter heightened emotional states when we swear; it’s almost invariably a fusion of the religious with the biological. Similarly, the banal and the transcendent exhibit a duality, and all it takes to shift from one realm to the other is the reframing of one’s way of thinking. In this way we can view something as mundane as spray cans to flip our perspective. In Adam and Eve (2019) we have pre-barcode spray cans arranged with products for women on the top shelf and those for men on the bottom. Instantly we recognize industrial color codes used to target gender. We also see a slice of life at a certain moment in time when spray cans contained a miracle called freon and TV comedians regularly made jokes about women drivers. But then we pull back a bit and we see depictions of the ideal man and woman, and then we pull back further and think of the two sexes, and then we pull back to the dawn of not just our species but life itself.
I always feel strange throwing something into the trash. As a society we feel that by putting our trash in a can we’re thereafter absolved of any form of responsibility, and that the trash is vaporized into nothingness. But of course, we are simply creating endless mini-catastrophes in the form of landfills that will plague the planet for millions of years. When I throw something out I feel like I’m creating a kind of time bomb that will explode in thousands of years when that piece of trash, perfectly mummified inside an anaerobic landfill, is dug up by—I don’t know—apocalypse zombies who conquered human beings? But that trash is going to be there. We like to flatter ourselves that we will transcend the planet when (depending on our beliefs) we enter some other realm, and that the ‘future’ doesn’t count because we won’t be there. Someday, long after you and I are dead, our descendants will dig up a landfill that was sealed in, say, 1973, and they’re going to find cans like these and wonder about who we were. Already these cans feel like they describe a long-lost era never to return. Imagine how they will be perceived by your great-great-great-great-great-X-1,000-grandchildren.
Surrounded by constant connection, why do we feel so lonely? Amidst beguiling individualism, we seem to be losing our individual and collective stories. What does it mean to ‘belong’ when the opposite of an individual is no longer the crowd?
Art tackles both the material and the transcendent. Art attempts to unite the artist and the viewer in a solitary glance as it connects dots and broadens thought horizons. Art can provide directionality to common questions, and points to what ails us––and sometimes suggests a remedy. The adept artist acts as prophet to people alienated from their land, their story, and each other.
The prophetic voice of iconic Canadian artist Douglas Coupland has long addressed themes of loneliness and alienation. A deeply curious polymath, questions of modernity and eternity echo in his characters, slogans, and carefully curated collections. A gallery in a graduate theological school may seem like an unlikely home for his work, and yet whispers of art’s historical dialogue between the sacred and the secular remind us there is nothing more natural. Re-envisioning and re-purposing the mundane (like aerosol cans), Coupland’s work explores both reality and redemption. In his organized patterns and attentive interrelatedness, belonging emerges.
Born of an initiative by Regent College’s former scholar-in-residence Mary McCampbell, this exhibition was intended to coincide with a conference entitled Dis-Connect: Art and Isolation in a Digital Age. Planned before COVID and postponed because of it, the conference and gallery show sought to integrate conversations around technology, alienation, and de-narration in postmodern culture with responses of community and belonging. This exhibition will proceed with a monthly release of Coupland’s work on the Dal Schindell Gallery's website, culminating in an exhibition in the physical gallery in Summer 2021. We are profoundly indebted to Douglas Coupland for his collaboration. May we continue to see and to seek, through the vision of his work.