Pierre Coupey + Dion Kliner: Imaginary Portraits

Pierre coupey, Dion Kliner

Lam Wong

Feb 19 – MAR 27, 2021

TU–Sa: 12–6 PM; M, SU: CLOSED

Please note that this exhibition is by appointment only.

The Imaginary Portraits of Pierre Coupey & Dion Kliner

The current humans on earth are common people. We would probably have Blue light. Our ancestors, the higher spiritual ones, are totally White. 
– Nowaten, Native American medicine man.

To employ the method of walking the cat back* suggested by writer/art critic Peter Schjeldahl, the paintings, drawings and sculptures in this exhibition are “answers.” What then were the questions? To investigate we must ask why imaginary portraits and sculptures of fragments of the human body? What are the artists’ intentions for these mysterious creations?

Art and the creative process is entwined with unknown and mysterious forces. This allows self-discovery for artists while navigating their inner psyche, the human soul, mind and spirit. Art making is profoundly spiritual. What leads to the creation of Coupey’s Imaginary Portraits drawing series and Kliner’s figurative-pure-white-plaster sculptures is potentially a reflection of both artists’ deeper desire to bring the subconscious, unresolved memories and the negated, to the surface, from the far corners of their memory banks. Their intention could also point to the idea of freedom. A desire to transcend the constraints of intellect, of thinking solely of a particular person, by trying (or non-trying) to make the image or form look like anybody. In other words, the freedom of letting go of attachment. By letting go, the artists free themselves from temporality and enter the mind-space of something larger.

This pure essence and idealism of beauty, the untainted human spirit is further exemplified by the colour tone of the exhibition – the almost monochromatic theme of white plaster, and white/grey/buff titanium oil stick, with certain shades of greys that support and illuminate the whiteness, a representation of angelic spirit. As LaoTzu, the godfather of all Taoist sages, wisely pointed out: we can not have the Ying without the Yang. Everything in the world exists only in relation.

Inevitably the artists work from within their own cultural influences and conditions. Coupey’s oil stick drawings of heads and Kliner’s plaster sculptures of heads, and feet understandably evoke depictions of European white males. Are these paintings/drawings and sculptures in some measure self-portraits, or, more likely, an homage to the gods, philosopher kings, artists, writers and poets the artists admire but do not name?

Whatever their intentions, I suspect they are largely about humanity and personal spiritual exploration. Artists are seekers of truth, or, as Kandinsky proposed in his seminal book Concerning The Spiritual In Art (1912): artists need to be the spiritual teachers of the world.

Lam Wong, Curator

Pierre Coupey: I have no idea why I did the Imaginary Portrait drawings, only that the oil sticks and the coil-bound pad of Strathmore drawing paper were there, during the time 1994 to 1996 I was trying to relearn how to paint with oil pigments, having become completely dissatisfied with acrylics. They must have emerged on their own when I was sitting down looking at the failures on the canvasses in front of me. A form of doodling perhaps, a drawing method much prized by Stanley William Hayter with whom I studied printmaking in the 60’s. An antidote, perhaps, to the forced classicism of “good” drawing I was drilled in at the Académie Julian when we had to render in charcoal the Greek and Roman plaster busts “perfectly.” There’s drawing and then there’s drawing.

Dion Kliner: I believe that it may not be possible to ever truly see the art that is in front of us; that we only see it through the vast and ghostly parade of all we’ve seen and are reminded of. My overarching challenge is in finding a way of sculpting my subject so that I’m  surprised and confused by what I’ve made; so that it slips in between all the work I admire, I despise, and cannot get out of my mind. I think I’ve satisfactorily achieved this with my feet and legs. Heads had been another matter until I began asking the question, “What would the heads look like that go with my feet?” When I saw Coupey’s ‘Imaginary Portraits,’ they were an inspiration and I saw a direction I could follow. Drawn in black, white and buff oil stick on paper, they are the colors of plaster, bone, and ivory. Using direct, simple and necessary lines, the forms read easily as volumetric and sculptural. The characters are distinct, but not caricatures; and though imaginary, they’re reminiscent (for me, ’Imaginary Portrait #8’ is Jean Genet). ‘Head (Imaginary Portrait)’ and ‘Head With Wings’ are my first translations; not that close, but on the way.


*Also the title of Coupey’s recent solo exhibition at Gallery Jones last November.

About the Artists

Pierre Coupey
Founding co-editor of The Georgia Straight, founding editor of The Capilano Review, Pierre Coupey has received numerous awards, grants and commissions in Visual art, including grants from Conseil des Arts du Québec, Canada Council, BC Arts Council, and Audain Foundation for the Arts. Received Distinguished Artist Award from FANS (2013), elected to Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (2018), named Faculty Emeritus, Capilano University (2019). Represented in private, corporate, and public collections in Canada and abroad, including permanent collections of Belkin Art Gallery, Burnaby Art Gallery, Canada Council Art Bank, Kelowna Art Gallery, Simon Fraser University Art Gallery, University of Guelph Collection, University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, Vancouver Art Gallery and West Vancouver Art Museum, among others.  Represented by Gallery Jones in Vancouver and by Odon Wagner Gallery in Toronto.

Dion Kliner
Recognized primarily as a sculptor and a writer, Dion Kliner also creates intimately scaled works on paper. Texts for Nothing – One is one of a series of thirteen drawings inspired by Samuel Becket’s thirteen short prose pieces in his book Stories and Texts for Nothing, published in 1967. Kliner’s drawings were produced letter by letter in a laborious rewriting of each one of the texts in its entirety. The original content remains, but has been pulverized through a random distribution of its letters over the paper. Far from being permanent formations, Kliner sees the drawings as short term agglomerations of possibility, which at any moment could crumble back to their original state or reconfigure into something entirely new.

Kliner was born in Los Angeles, California. After attending the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and East Texas State University he moved to New York City where he worked as a sculptor and writer. In 2003 Kliner relocated with his family to Vancouver. Kliner’s sculptures and drawings have been shown throughout North America, including solo exhibitions at Saint Thomas University (Fredericton) and East Texas State University Gallery (Commerce, Texas). He has also been featured in numerous group exhibitions, including those at Burrard Arts Foundation (Vancouver), Gallery Jones (Vancouver) and Vancouver Art Gallery. Kliner was awarded the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation Grant in 2014.

The Remains of a Journey: Individual Memory and Mass Migration

Article by Gu Xiong

Globalization has not only brought about a dramatic increase in migration, but also brought questions about migration to the fore of contemporary political discourse. An understanding of the implications of globalization requires an understanding of migration, and to fully understand the impact of migration, we must hear the stories of migrant people and their communities. 

The Remains of a Journey examines the way in which our understanding of contemporary migration issues is contingent on memories of historical migrations. Critical to this work is the idea that memory is not simply a record of the past, but also the framework based on which people interpret and respond to today’s world. The Remains of a Journey is about activating immigrant histories, first within the communities to which they belong, and then in the larger Canadian community.

The focus of the project is on five sites significant to the history of Chinese immigration to Canada. The D’Arcy Island Leper Colony was established by the government of British Columbia in 1891 for Chinese Leprosy Patients. The remains of Chinese immigrants were brought to the Bone House at Harling Point to be cleaned and wrapped before being sent back to China, until the practice was forced to end by the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. The Cumberland Chinatown, once thriving, was abandoned in 1935 when a fire destroyed many buildings and the community, many of whom had been barred from their work in the nearby mine by the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, were unable to rebuild. The Mountain View Cemetery’s Chinese Cemetery in Vancouver is where many Chinese immigrant pioneers were buried, such as businessman Yip Sang whose choice to be buried in Canada was a declaration of belonging. The original site of the New Westminster Chinese Cemetery, which belonged to a larger cemetery where Jewish, Japanese, First Nations and East Indian peoples were also buried, no longer exists today. Unprotected by the Provincial Cemeteries Act, Douglas Memorial Park was created on the same land in the 1930s, and now a secondary school built in the 1950s stands in its place. The last significant site is the “Canada Village” in Kaiping, Guandong, China. The architecture and history of this village tells the story of Chinese immigrants returning home to build their ideal society, a fusion between Western and Chinese culture, and the tragic failure of this dream at the time.

Each of these sites tells a story about how Chinese immigrants to Canada felt about their new home and their homeland. These are stories which resonate strongly with current issues, but are slipping away with time. Although these places are now empty and abandoned, their stories persist in cultural memory, meaning that the history of these sites is not just that of the places themselves, but also a history of memory and memory keeping. What’s further observed in each place are the signs of new life, previously unimagined and yet stemming directly from the conflict-ridden histories of the land. Despite the destruction of property and dreams, what persists is the growth of new knowledge and states of being. It is imperative that Canadians are reminded of these histories while navigating layers of newly formed meaning. The issues of globalization, migration, and their connections to memory are of immediate importance. This is especially true for us in Canada, a nation largely formed by immigrants and their memories. Just as Canada’s last century was defined by its response to the political and ethical issues of colonialism and international conflict, this century will in large part be defined by our response to the new questions posed by globalization and the rapidly shifting dynamic forces of global migration.

Isolation and MemoryD’Arcy Island
D’Arcy Island was once the site of a leper colony for Chinese leprosy patients built by the provincial government from 1891-1924. Forty-three Chinese male patients were sent to the island. The BC government sent basic supplies to them every three months. With no fresh water source on the island, the men dug a well to collect rain water. They also grew vegetables and cared for each other. Everyday, they could see Vancouver Island, but could never reach it. They waited for deportation or death, whichever came first. They buried each other in the forest or released bodies into the ocean. Now, D’Arcy Island is a National Park. Its history continues to evolve through new visitors’ acts of remembering and interacting with the place. The island is also a sacred site for the Coast Salish peoples, it’s part of a larger continuation of memory, not only of Chinese immigration but also of humanity’s complex connection to land.

Vanished – Cumberland Chinatown
Cumberland had one of the largest Chinatowns on Vancouver Island. From 1888 – 1968 there were over 3000 Chinese mining workers that lived and worked there. Chinese labourers worked hard and their wages were cheap. They were paid one dollar a day, which was half a white worker’s wages. Chinatown had a self-organized business centre, grocers sold vegetables and fruits, there were laundries, bakeries, theatres, a library, a school and Buddhist temples. It was a vibrant part of the Cumberland community. After a destructive citywide fire in 1935 and the closure of the mine in the early 1960s, people left Cumberland and moved to Nanaimo, Victoria and Vancouver. Cumberland Chinatown was unable to rebuild. The Cumberland Chinese Cemetery is one of the only remaining signs of the history of Chinese immigrants.

Facing Home – A Bone House at Harling Point Chinese Cemetery
There was a bone house at Harling Point in Victoria, Canada in 1903, where the remains of deceased Chinese immigrants were cleaned and prepared for burial. After being buried for seven years, the remains of early Chinese immigrants were re-excavated, cleaned and dried, wrapped in a white cloth and shipped back to their hometowns in China for a final burial. This tradition was practiced by Chinese immigrants in Canada until 1937, when Sino-Japanese war broke out in China. Following the closure of this bone house, around 900 stored remains were buried at the cemetery, which replaced the bone house. Their tombstones face the Pacific ocean, their birthplace at the other end.

Home is no longer the place where someone was born. The concept of home has shifted to where we have been as well as places that make us feel comfortable and secure. Home can be everywhere. In Harling Point during the early 20th C, 900 bodies could not return home; these immigrants learned that when they left their home in China, their old idea of home was lost in the process. The concept of home is constantly changing. It has transformed through the processes of globalization, migration and new generations adapting to foreign cultures.

To Belong – Mountain View Chinese Cemetery
The Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver is located west of Fraser Street, between 31st Avenue and 43rd Avenue. It was owned and operated by the City of Vancouver since 1886. The Chinese Cemetery was part of its inception. Chinese immigrants worked very hard to build Chinatown as a thriving community. Many Chinese immigrants chose to be buried in this cemetery including Yip Sang, the prominent Chinese businessman who worked and lived in Vancouver’s Chinatown. The choice to be buried in Vancouver was a declaration of belonging and presence in Canada, despite discrimination and exclusion.

Erasure – New Westminster Chinese Cemetery     
New Westminster Chinese Cemetery was built in 1892, which belonged to a larger cemetery where Jewish, Japanese, First Nations and East Indian peoples were also buried. After Victoria, New Westminster was the second port for Chinese immigrant pioneers arriving from China, and they build up Chinatown.  The cemetery no longer exists today. When the New Westminster Secondary School and the Massey Theatre was built on top of the cemetery in 1950s, all tombstones were removed, and the provincial Cemeteries Act did not protect it. The obliterated Chinese Cemetery reminds us of the historical traumas of discrimination, a painful past which can not be completely erased.

Dream Homes – Canada Village
The real name of the Canada Village is Yaohua Fang, Kaiping, Guandong, China. It means “Glorify

China” and has a history of over 900 years. Because of Chinese exclusion in Canada in the 1920s and 30s, many Chinese immigrants returned to their village. The architectural style of Canada village combines Chinese and European styles. They built libraries, schools and bookstores first, because they believed culture is very important for society. Then they built houses for each family. They formed a close-knit society and managed it themselves. The structures of Canada Village is a symbol of the Chinese migrants’ dream to create self-sufficient future for themselves, a way of life that combines both western and Chinese cultures. Although Canada Village is abandoned, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Facing Mount Everest, praying for the future丨Wang Yiming’s artistic actions are presented in Tibet | Oct 2020

Exhibition Location: the mountains and wilderness of Gangga Town, Xigaze, Tibet
North latitude: 28°30′16″, east longitude: 86°36′50″
Altitude: 4,530 meters 

From September 18th to 19th, 2020, “Waiting for the Wind—Wang Yiming’s Artistic Action” (Rainbow) slowly unfolded in Gangga Town, Xigaze, Tibet, facing Mount Qomolangma and surrounding mountain peaks of over 8,000 meters. The 83 large scale paintings created by the artist Wang Yiming over the past few years were carried on the backs of 57 yak, alongside the curvature of the hilly terrain, across the fields whose shadow and shape was formed by the sun, the rolling skies, and snow-capped mountains. Amongst the wilderness and unrelenting wind, the ritualistic procession of Wang’s works across the landscape seems to form a rainbow that appears at the third pole of the earth. 

The Part of Rainbow

At the exhibition site, participants shared a common purpose, herding the yak, bringing the works of art into higher altitudes towards Mount Everest. Together, 92 on-site personnel and 57 yaks jointly laid out “Rainbow”, the 83 works of art on canvas, onto the terrain of the rolling plateaus into a procession formation 15 meters wide and 400 meters long. 

land art in action

land art in action

Exposed to the glaring sun and snow peaks among higher Tibetan plateaus, it can be said that “Rainbow” was created by the joint efforts of man and nature—like a snow-capped mountain rising from the landscape, bringing viewers a vivid and ritualistic, holy experience. 

The Part of Rainbow

As the gaze of the visitor deepens, “Rainbow” becomes a portal, or an artistic channel, connecting man and nature, a spiritual bridge between man and the world, guiding the soul to a state of higher freedom to transcend into the sacredness of nature. 


The “Waiting for the Wind” exhibition has, in fact, been in the works for a number of years. It is a piece that gradually revealed itself through the participatory and implementation process and involved the participation of many people and actors to bring it to life.  

land art in action

land art in action

In 2016, while sketching in Tibet, Wang Yiming coincidentally came up with the idea of painting and exhibiting on Mount Everest. Upon his return to the Guangzhou studio, Wang spurred into immediate action and creation. During this period of artistic creation, he painted a whopping 83 works titled “Banners”. From 2017 to 2019, some works of the “Banner” series were exhibited in Beijing, Shanghai, Zhuhai, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Chengdu, and abroad in Vancouver, Canada.

2020 is an unprecedented year. Upon thoughtful reflection on humanity and our complicity in the destruction of nature, Wang launched the “Waiting for the Wind” exhibition in Tibet. In July and September, Wang led a flurry of participants and the project team to bring his 83 banners back to the very birthplace of the muse herself – the Tibetan plateau. Calling upon the sacred mountains and lake landscape, approaching the ruins of the city capital, and the snowy peaks of the Himalayas. The series calls into question man’s position in a moment of global crisis, when the epidemic has become a conflict of many scales. 

land art in action

Past fantasies become rooted in reality. In the epidemic era, they have become sincere, plain. The exhibition has become Wang Yiming’s calm and powerful voice, guiding people to reflect on the global crisis and nature –the questions that are simultaneously vast in scope yet personal to each individual. 

land art in action

In 2020, the 83 banners were arranged and exhibited in “Waiting for the Wind” with grand velocity, spurring visitors to reflect on the vast and rich spiritual meaning conveyed by the banners through the landscape.  

land art in action

In July,  “ Eye” exhibition situated between the sacred mountains and holy lakes in the Ali landscape resembles an all-encompassing eye from the sky. Under its presence, there is nowhere to hide what human beings do—all is revealed to the knowing gaze. At the same time, it is also under the vigilance of the beautiful eye that leads viewers, in awe, to contemplate on their calling in life. 


The Part of Eye

The Part of Eye

In the pursuit of contemplation, praying, and soul searching, Yang Yiming returned to Tibet in September, situating another exhibition, “Rainbow”, among the Himalayas. “Rainbow” is not only a portal between worlds but also a form of communication. It is the bridge between people and the world at large, a perceptual medium that transcends multi-scalar realms. It is also a playful gesture towards the colorful weather symbology we grew up seeing, but here we begin to reformulate our understanding of the rainbow as a connector between earth and the heavens above, between man and god. Through “Rainbow”, perhaps we will all take part in the final and ultimate prayer, climbing  the zeniths of Mount Everest to reach the highest point of the celestial skies. 

The Part of Rainbow

In  this meshing of scales, “Eye ” and “Rainbow” take their rightful place among other well-known landscape features such as mountain peaks, lakes, clouds, and thunderstorms. Together, they are all portals, or a “ladder”, for man to achieve spiritual ascendance and apotheosis. As the soul sheds away its earthly desire, the “ladder” gradually disappears. The guiding light of the pure soul illuminates the path towards eternal truth. 

land art in action

Despite the challenges in 2020, we find ourselves walking hand in hand, in unity and support. The banners have arrived, dancing in the wind. In the future, we will continue to forge ahead, lighting the path. It is a long road. When the stars illuminate in the sky, remember to gaze up, and pray together! 


Artist Wang Yiming 王義明. Was born in Liuyang, Hunan, and graduated from Hunan Vocational and Technical College of Arts and Crafts in 1986. He also holds a MFA from the Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts (1993). Currently, he is the director of the Fine Arts Teaching and Research Section of the School of Architecture, South China University of Technology, the director of the Visual Art Laboratory, the director of the Environmental Art Institute, a member of the Fine Arts Teaching Working Committee of the National Colleges and Universities Architecture Professional Steering Committee, a visiting scholar of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, and a member of the Architectural Society of China.

Gu Xiong: The Remains of a Journey

Centre A & Canton-sardine Presents New Work by Vancouver Artist Gu Xiong Exploring B.C. Historic Sites Once Inhabited by Early Chinese Immigrants 

Unit 205 (Centre A) and Unit 071 (Canton-sardine),
268 Keefer Street, Vancouver, B.C., Canada V6A 1X5

Gallery Hours
Wednesday to Saturday, 12 PM – 6 PM*
*Subject to change as per COVID-19-related protocols

About the Exhibition
The Remains of a Journey brings visibility to historic sites that have gradually faded away from official narratives as their physical remnants have disappeared from the landscape. During the mid-19th century, Chinese immigrants began settling along the coast of British Columbia to work the gold and coal mines and to build the transcontinental railway that would form the backbone of Canada. Today, there are only a few remaining structures of the many settlements that spread throughout the province. Yet, the immigrants’ collective memories have lived on in the community in the form of stories, artifacts, and monuments.

Comprised of a new body of multimedia works, along with archival materials sourced from multiple official archives, the exhibition will revive six historic sites across British Columbia that bear the untold struggles of the Chinese immigrants: (Part 1, shown in Centre A) the destroyed “bone house” of Harling Point, the Leper Colony of D’Arcy Island, and the burnt-down Chinatown in Cumberland; (Part 2, shown in Canton-sardine) the Canada Village in Kaiping, China, the New Westminster Chinese Cemetery, and the Mountain View Chinese Cemetery It will take the form of an immersive installation that reanimates these early Chinese immigrant experiences during an era of exclusionist policies. Part of the artist’s ongoing investigation into the living conditions of the early Chinese immigrants since 2011, the exhibition sparks an uncanny parallel to the anti-Chinese sentiment prevailing during the current coronavirus pandemic.

Gu Xiong works with painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, photography, video, digital imagery, text, performance art and installation. Throughout his career as a visual artist, Gu Xiong has drawn on both his own life experience as an immigrant and his active engagement with migrant communities around the world. His works have been globally exhibited and recognized for transforming and deepening the understanding of the migrant experience, in terms of home, geography, globalization, and labour. 

The exhibition runs from November 13, 2020 to February 13, 2021. This two-part exhibition is curated by Henry Heng Lu and Steven Dragonn.

Further Reading & Browse the exhibition
The Remains of a Journey: Individual Memory and Mass Migration| by Gu Xiong | January, 2021

We would like to acknowledge the unceded Traditional Territories of several Coast Salish peoples on which the photographs and videos in this exhibition were recorded, including the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, Stó:lō, Sechelt, Squamish, Qayqayt, K’òmoks, Songhees, Esquimalt and W̱SÁNEĆ Nations.

We are grateful to the Parks Canada agency for its assistance to film in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Thanks to the BC Archives, City of Vancouver Archives, Cumberland Museum and Archives, and New Westminster City Museum and Archives, for their support for Gu’s research and providing images for the exhibition.

This project is especially funded by Canada Council for the Arts, British Columbia Art Council and City of Vancouver. We are grateful for their generous support.