Fantastical Canadians: Douglas Coupland’s “The National Portrait” @OAG

An edited version of this article was published in Apt613.ca
The new Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) is going from strength to strength as the creative hub of switched-on, relevant contemporary art in Ottawa.  The dramatic and beautiful interior, the quality and scope of the grand opening weekend (on par with galleries of any major international city), hosts to the vibrant Ottawa Fringe and now unveiling the latest work from iconic author and artist Douglas Coupland The National Portrait.

IMG_8993Coupland has created a garden of delightfully colourful sculptures by scanning the heads of random Canadians in nine cities across Canada, including his hometown Vancouver and here in Ottawa. The digital files were 3D printed with the resulting biodegradable plastic casts warped, brightly painted and assembled into a stunning entourage. The massive work, created in partnership with La Maison Simons, is a collection of 1000 sculptures ranging in size from 5cm to almost a meter in height covering an allotted 20×20 feet.  Certain stylized heads were named by genre, the tall willowy pieces being “asparagus heads”, the flattened ones “pancakes” and voyage around the work to find the “Gold Mine”. The longer one spends with the piece the more that is revealed. Many sculptures reside on vases from Coupland’s own home. It remained unanswered if the vessels are inanimate reflections of the human vessel they support or simply a found-use for the beautiful things acquired by the avid collector.

IMG_8995The unveiling was impeccably hosted with the sociable Coupland approaching and introducing himself to many. Equating the collaboration and teamwork involved to a traveling circus, Coupland spoke of visiting cities “Usually on a Friday, like carnies arriving in town” where a true cross section of Canadian’s: toddlers, youth, professionals, and seniors lined up to hold a pose for the 60 second long scan.  Though he doesn’t recall names each sculpture evokes a memory of the individual’s “aura” – “everyone shines from within”.  “Human beings are beautiful”, said Coupland “Which I never understood before this project.”

The work will ultimately be displayed at a to be determined Simons. It takes a village to grow a garden and The National Portrait collaborative cross-country patch of delightful human beans sprouts at the OAG through mid-August.

The contemporary art scene at its finest has arrived and it is at the OAG.

 

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