Where Do I Begin?

Writer and visual artist Douglas Coupland’s Slogans project—by now, perhaps his signature work—technically began in mid-2011 as promotional material for a “Youtube Night” at a Vancouver nightclub called The Waldorf. The concept, prompted by Coupland (2020) questioning: “What could I tell myself 10 years ago that would make no sense to that old ‘me’?” was at once simple and unwieldy. In that era, the original colorful 148 Slogans called Slogans for the 21st Century (2011-2014) were w43.2 x h55.9 cm pigment prints in the Knockout font on watercolor paper, laminated onto aluminum; they were physical objects, at home on street corners and museum walls. In terms of their place in art history, the 148 Slogans are in direct conversation with the “dismally-termed” text-based works from contemporary artists like Jenny Holzer, an American neo-conceptual artist who Coupland credits as the writer that has had the greatest influence on his work. Attempting to expand on her influence in a Q&A featured as the postscript for the Harper Perennial edition of Girlfriend in a Coma (2008), he raised two questions: “How tightly can you compress an idea? Where do ideas end and you, as a person, begin?”

“The Extreme Present” was given on November 01, 2016 as part of Long Now’s Seminar series. The series was started in 02003 to build a compelling body of ideas about long-term thinking from some of the world’s leading thinkers. The Seminars take place in San Francisco and are curated and hosted by Stewart Brand.

These questions, clearly, are at the center of Douglas Coupland’s Slogans project; but the reality is that they are at the center of all his work, be it his novels, visual art, textual art, social media posts, or essays. To illustrate this point, one simply has to look at Coupland’s history with Slogans as a medium of expression. While the project as it is best-known began in 2011 and was “finalized” in 2014 for the first major museum exhibition of his work “everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything” at the Vancouver Art Gallery, one can argue—and perhaps Coupland himself would argue—that the Slogans project has been in progress since the very beginning of his public-facing career and has continued to this very moment… indeed, within the past couple of years, Coupland has “retooled” and posted Slogans onto his Instagram account as a means to comment on the COVID-19 era and has trained an algorithm to assist him in producing a new slew of Slogans he groups together with a project called Slogans for the Class of 2030 (2021).

Douglas Coupland

This is all to say, to restate, that Douglas Coupland’s Slogans project is all at once simple and unwieldy. The concept is easy to understand, the individual works themselves are easy to understand, but the sheer number of Slogans across multiple different mediums and timeframes is rather difficult to conceptualize. This project will attempt to bring some structure to the study of Coupland’s Slogans. With the help of Knight Lab’s Timeline JS, Instagram, and a quick rudimentary analysis of Coupland’s Instagram comments section I hope to provide readers a framework to answer Coupland’s pressing questions: “How tightly can you compress an idea? Where do ideas end and you, as a person, begin?”

Slogans Over Time & Space