Posted by: VPSN | January 10, 2012

Grab your smartphones – new public art by Douglas Coupland

10Seconds_Preview_2011 - detail

At the VPSN we’re always interested by the intersections of art, technology and public space. That’s why we were particularly intrigued to read about the upcoming launch of a new project curated by Paul Wong and featuring the work of Vancouver luminary Douglas Coupland.

Coupland’s work, entitled Vancouver Codes, treats the humble QR code (the 21st century UPC symbol) as a piece of art – turning it into mosaic of pixels and washes of colour, but leaving it functionally readable from a technological perspective. If you have a smart phone with a QR Reader (easy and free to download), you can scan the pieces of art and then follow the links to a variety of other material, including photos, videos and written messages.

You can view Vancouver Codes starting January 16 at the On Main Gallery (1965 Main Street) or around the city on Canada Line video screens. The official press release can be found below.

Vancouver Codes by Douglas Coupland is the 8th work in the yearlong 10 Seconds project curated by Paul Wong. 10 Seconds is presented by On Main in partnership with inTransitBC and commissioned by The City of Vancouver Public Art Program with the support of Vancouver 125 and the participation of the Government of Canada.

Vancouver Codesis the latest manifestation of recent new work by Douglas Couplandthat extends the graphic black and white QR code into the realm of colorful modernist paintings, while retaining the code’s original interactive function. Vancouver Codes is launching on Canada Line video screens Jan.16-31, 2012, on youtube, facebook and at

A QR code (Quick Response code) is a type of matrix barcode designed in 1994 by Toyota subsidiary Denso Wave and first used for vehicle tracking during manufacturing. More recently, this system has become popular outside of industry due to its easy programmability, large storage capacity and high-speed decoding facility. QR codes consist of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background.

Information contained in codes is made up of data (numeric, alphanumeric, byte/binary, Kanji) and can be linked to a web url. Simple to use, QR codes are readable on camera phones using a QR reader application. QR reader applications make use of the phone’s camera to scan the code, decode it, and present information on screen.

In 2011, Coupland exhibited several series of new paintings that riffed on the use of QR codes. The paintings function as both 2-D works of art and as codes that can be scanned to receive a message. Two of these paintings ‘Live Long And Prosper’ and ‘ Everything Beautiful is True’ are part of Vancouver Codes.

Vancouver Codes is 10 seconds of elegantly shifting codes that link to twenty pieces of data: including youtube videos, photographs of various sites such as Grouse Mountain, VanDusen Gardens, public artworks including Coupland’s Digital Orca and Terry Fox sculptures, and written messages. He has also created a QR code that links to all reasons to take out your smart phone, scan that screen, and see where Coupland takes you.

Douglas Coupland is a well-known Canadian writer and visual artist. His fiction is complemented by works in design and visual art arising from his early formal training. His first novel, the 1991 international bestseller Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, popularized terms such as ‘McJob’ and ‘Generation X’. He has published thirteen novels, a collection of short stories, seven non-fiction books, and a number of works for film and television. Since resuming his practice as a visual artist in 2001, he has exhibited in North America, Europe and Asia. Recent major commissions include a Terry Fox memorial for Vancouver (2011), and a memorial for fallen firefighters in Ottawa (2012).

For further information please contact: info [at]



  1. please no more crappy public art from mr. coupland. he should stick to writing. plenty of younger artists with better ideas and more talent!

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