1459 Rabbit Lane: Douglas Coupland

Art Exhibit Review: RABBIT LANE: DOUGLAS COUPLAND
At the West Vancouver Art Museum, March 30-May 28, 2022, open Tuesday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.

Reviewed by Heidi Greco

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Between March 30 and May 28, 2022, the West Vancouver Art Museum is hosting an exhibit of photographs, RABBIT LANE: DOUGLAS COUPLAND.

Heidi Greco, on behalf of The British Columbia Review, recently visited the museum to view Coupland’s photographs inspired by scenes in his novel Girlfriend in a Coma (1998). — Ed.

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RABBIT LANE: DOUGLAS COUPLAND

Douglas Coupland, December 2021. Courtesy YouTube

…when I look back, the family house is held in time, or rather it is now outside of time, because it exists so clearly and it does not change, and it can only be entered through a door in the mind. – Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011).

Visiting “Rabbit Lane,” the current exhibit at the West Vancouver Art Gallery, was a lot like how I imagine time travel must be.

On a personal level, the visit took me back even further than the exhibit, to days of putt-putting our VW Beetle up the Mountain Highway, the scenic route to Park Royal Shopping Centre (although thoughts are long gone as to why we might have needed to go there, when we had the much-more-nearby Lougheed Mall).

Girlfriend in a Coma (1998)

Although, from the museum, where Douglas Coupland lived was a little ways up the West Van hillside, this is pretty much the neighbourhood where the artist/author spent his teen years, a spot which he calls “a place that time forgot.” It’s also the setting of Girlfriend in a Coma, his novel that serves as inspiration for the display of photographs in the gallery’s current exhibit. It’s a book that zooms from the 1970s to the beginning of the 21st century, and just as the book does, the photos pull us back through the decades.

Each image is based on a scene from the book. A corresponding passage of text hangs next to each, enhancing the viewing experience, sometimes serving as a bit of a tease. From what I can tell, the staged scenes took a lot of preparation: finding vintage costumes for the actors in the shots; ensuring that any cars included were the right year, right down to the licence plate. For the photos to be blown up as large as the painting-like prints on exhibit, the scenes had to be shot in high-definition, and required the actors to hold extended poses, something not generally required since the day of pre-20th century cameras — yet another touch that feels like a flash from the past.

And painting-like is indeed an apt descriptor for the photos. Composition often seems to be inspired by classical works of art, most obvious of these being an uptake on The Last Supper. More than one scene shines in the glow of an ethereal, heaven-sent light. Paying attention to classical influences is just one more element to consider when looking at this show, and shouldn’t come as a surprise when considering the complexity of the concepts behind each staged tableau.

Douglas Coupland, Grad Night 5:30 A.M., 2021, giclée on Dibond, 40.5 x 52”. Courtesy of the artist and the Daniel Faria Gallery, Toronto

An image called Grad Night 5:30 A.M. is enough to make some of us blush with the memories: two Grade 12s, still wearing cheesily colourful rented tuxes, complete with ruffled shirts, are dealing as well as they can with hangovers at dawn. They’re posed (one sprawled) in front of a suburban ranch house, the likes of which have now mostly been torn down.

I’ll admit that the photos made me go back to reread the novel, and there are a few different scenes I’d like to have seen. But hey, it’s Coupland’s show, not mine. As for a favourite, my vote goes to the graffiti presentation in The End with its message insisting that we “QUESTION QUESTION QUESTION and never stop QUESTIONING,” a theme that pervades Coupland’s work.

Douglas Coupland, The End, 2021, giclée on Dibond, 50 x 46.7”. Courtesy of the artist and the Daniel Faria Gallery, Toronto

As with other of the author’s books, going all the way back to Generation X, there’s an eerie prescience to many of the thoughts expressed. In Girlfriend in a Coma, these are especially clear in the voice of Karen, whose visions are so strong she wears three paper bags over her head for protection. Apocalyptic is one word for these, as are words from the long-deceased Jared who’s come back to visit and to perform a few miracles. When things are looking dire – in many ways not all that far off from how they seem today – and he announces, “…there’s still Plan B,” we can only hope that Jared is right.

Douglas Coupland, April 2021. Photo by Paul McGrath, courtesy North Shore News

For the record, there really is a street in West Vancouver that’s called Rabbit Lane. Almost a character of its own in Coupland’s novel, the street and its surrounding neighbourhood and homes provide the backdrop settings for most of the photos on display. Appropriately enough, the West Vancouver Art Museum building itself is a heritage house, an ideal place for an exhibit designed to take viewers back to some other era. In this case, although it was built in 1939, this house – in this neighbourhood – may well have been a place the original characters from Girlfriend in a Coma walked past as they made their own way to the shops at Park Royal.

Only on until May 28th, and open just a few days a week, this one-of-a-kind show is worth visiting.

Douglas Coupland, Doom, 2021, giclée on Dibond, 47.2 x 66”. Courtesy of the artist and the Daniel Faria Gallery, Toronto

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Heidi Greco

Heidi Greco lives in Surrey, where some would contend she can often still be found to be tilting at windmills. Editor’s note: Heidi Greco has reviewed books by Richard Lemm, Souvankham ThammavongsaMarguerite PigeonJohn GouldJoanna LilleyLaura Matwichukbill bissettPatricia Young, and Sarah de Leeuw for The British Columbia Review. Three of her recent books have also been reviewed here: Glorious Birds: A Celebratory Homage to Harold and Maude (Anvil, 2021), reviewed by Linda Rogers; From the Heart of it All: Ten Years of Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (Otter Press, 2018), reviewed by Yvonne Blomer; and Practical Anxiety (Inanna, 2018), reviewed by Andrew Parkin.

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The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

The End (detail). Photo by Heidi Greco
Historic plaque at the West Vancouver Art Museum. Photo by Heidi Greco
Coupland, Novelty Paper Bag. Photo by Heidi Greco
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