Artist Douglas Coupland holds up a small piece of fordite, an old automotive paint material he used to create the larger art piece behind him. (Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon)

Douglas Coupland unveils colourful ‘blob kebab’ art piece in Station Square

The "blob kebab," Coupland said, was intended to recognize the history of Metrotown and a Ford assembly plant that once existed there.

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September 22, 2022 | 5:00 am

Famed Vancouver artist Douglas Coupland is fondly calling his latest piece the “blob kebab.”

And it’s not inaccurate.

The piece is, in fact, four separate stacks of blobs in the Station Square area of Metrotown—three shorter ones right outside JJ Bean and a fourth 50-foot one outside a new condo tower by developers Anthem and Beedie at the corner of Kingsway and McKay Avenue.

So what are the blobs, you ask? The blobs that form each kebab are oblong shapes exuding colour in patterns that evoke images of oil.

And that’s fitting, given that each blob is actually meant to represent a car.

The oily colour patterns actually come from an old automotive paint known as fordite, Detroit agate, or Motor City agate.

Three "blob kebabs" stand outside the JJ Bean at Station Square, part of Douglas Coupland's new public art piece at the development. (Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon)
Three “blob kebabs” stand outside the JJ Bean at Station Square, part of Douglas Coupland’s new public art piece at the development. (Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon)

Coupland said he chose this style to honour a piece of Metrotown history, when, from 1938 to 1988, a Ford assembly plant operated in the area.

The pieces were unveiled by Coupland, along with representatives from Beedie and Anthem, as well as Mayor Mike Hurley, earlier this week.

It’s not Coupland’s first art installation in Burnaby, and it’s not his first time pairing up with developers. In July this year, the Tyee wrote about the artist-developer relationship and “art-washing” the names and reputations of developers, specifically bringing attention to Coupland’s work at the Amazing Brentwood.

“The conflation of art and shopping and community, flattening everything into commodifiable things that can be bought and owned, gives the most pause. The piece is owned by Shape Properties, the developer behind the Brentwood mall project,” wrote Dorothy Woodend, the publication’s culture editor.

“In Vancouver, … questions of money and power demand close attention. Those who pay for public art get to dictate what it will be. In which case, it’s not likely to be highly critical of the people footing the bills.”

Woodend pointed in her piece to a quote by Tak Pham, who wrote in Canadian Art magazine: “When an artwork draws inspiration from and presents content about communities affected by real-estate development and then frames such content as a celebration of history, the artists must try to maintain their integrity and criticality by making space for viewers to reflect on the complexity of gentrification.”

And in the last decade, Metrotown has become, for many, a lasting image of gentrification, as old walk-up rental apartments were torn down to make way for luxury towers.

Asked about this take on the developer-artist relationship, Coupland told Burnaby Beacon he believed “public art” was “the world’s worst name.”

A 50-foot "blob kebab" stands at the corner of McKay Avenue and Kingsway at Station Square, part of Douglas Coupland's new public art piece at the development. (Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon)
A 50-foot “blob kebab” stands at the corner of McKay Avenue and Kingsway at Station Square, part of Douglas Coupland’s new public art piece at the development. (Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon)

“It’s not in the least bit public. The public pays nothing for it; it’s all from the developer,” Coupland said, adding that artists generally don’t have a choice but to work with clients like developers.

In her piece, Woodend agrees with this, adding that it’s not up to the artist to not work with developers on projects—“It’s easy to bang on artists for taking a commission from a developer, but everyone has to pay the rent and the bills,” she wrote.

And Coupland said there would never have been funding for a piece this big without developers.

“The chance to make something this big, it would never have happened otherwise, so I’m in. I’m happy,” Coupland said.

He added that it’s good to have some funding for art in public spaces.

“Go to anywhere in the states—Cleveland or Sacramento. There’s nothing. It’s like one great big shoebox and parking lot,” Coupland said.

“So it does make life more interesting too.”

Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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