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ART, BY GUM
(Published: 2014-08-17)

In 1987, the country of Singapore unveiled a new $5B state-of-the-art Mass Rapid Transit operation. Not long after the system was in place, vandals began sticking chewing gum on the door sensors of the MRT trains, which prevented the doors from functioning properly, causing disruption of train services. By 1992, the Prime Minister had had enough of the vandalism and arbitrarily enacted Singapore Statute Chapter 57, banning the importation of chewing gum. Under this rule, no chewing gum (unless considered ‘therapeutic’ and prescribed by a doctor) can be bought or sold inside Singapore. Anyone caught spitting out gum on the streets is fined $500 for the renegade act.

I’ve always said that for every trend there is a countertrend. Sometimes that philosophy can get a little sticky, which is exactly what’s happening in Vancouver, British Columbia at the moment. This summer, the Vancouver Art Museum opened a solo exhibition of the works of international artist and writer Douglas Coupland. Coupland is a national treasure in Canada; his work is said to be as playful as it is thought provoking. The exhibition, titled “everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything” includes an interactive public sculpture of a giant head on a grassy mound just outside of the museum called “Gumhead.”

The 7 foot tall steel, foam and resin sculpture is a self-portrait of Coupland himself. Here comes the “sticky” part. Art lovers, gallery goers, and passersby are invited to paste their used chewing gum all over the head. Since it was installed on May 31st of this year, thousands of wads of gum have been stuck on Coupland’s cerebellum—eventually obscuring his face as more and more gum is applied.

Art experts are watching the public reaction and asking a lot of questions. They wonder what it says about our culture in terms of how people want to leave their mark in the world (via DNA on a wad of chewing gum on an art installation)? What does a ‘posting’ (in this case of gum) say about the meaning of “like” and “share” in today’s internet-driven world? What does it say about public reaction to, or interaction with, art? What does it say about the role of art in our society?

I freely admit I’m not the one to answer those questions. I do, however, have a couple of questions of my own. I wonder how much chewing gum sales have increased in Vancouver compared to last summer? I wonder what the most frequently stuck brand of gum is? (I can’t help it—I’m a marketer at heart.) I wonder how sanitary it is? (Apparently others have asked the very same question--there’s a sign posted adjacent that reads “We suggest you wash your hands immediately after touching this sculpture.”) I wonder if random acts of tacky gum postings have declined in the city, thereby reducing the public nuisance of gum on the sidewalks, under fast food tables, or stuck on park benches? (A study in unintended consequences.) And more deeply, what does the disappearing face beneath the publicly applied wads of gum say about our impermanence on this earth? (Heavy, I know.)

Ever since friends sent me a vacation photo of Gumhead, I’ve been thinking and asking questions….about things I normally wouldn’t be thinking about.

Perhaps that’s purpose enough where art is concerned?



Gumhead unveiled


Sticking it to Gumhead



Robyn Waters is president and founder of RW Trend, LLC. She is the author of The Trendmaster’s Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next, and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape. Learn more about Robyn at www.rwtrend.com. All Rights Reserved.


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