There are no rose-colored glasses provided for viewers of Douglas Coupland’s slogans. Upon clicking to Daniel Faria Gallery’s website, Coupland’s online exhibition opens up in the format of an Instagram grid layout, familiar to app users. Each slogan is on a brightly colored surface contrasting with bold font, projecting pessimistic words that unapologetically call out the world for how it is. The gallery says that the phrases work as an outlet for a collective voice representing the cultural majority.
Coupland is a Canadian artist and a writer. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, Coupland is one of the first original commentators on late 20th and early 21st century mass culture, having published written works with attention to the different experiences of particular generations, including their anxieties and their adaptations to the culture of their time. Despite Coupland being part Generation X, which he uses to describe those born in the late 1950’s and the 60’s, his knowledge of different generations allows him to reach a broad audience in his work.
CCA Montreal, 2019
Coupland’s slogan project began in 2011, promoting a YouTube event at a Vancouver nightclub by plastering posters around the city, including on plywood fences and telephone poles. The slogans were inspired by questioning, “What could I tell myself ten years ago that would make no sense to that old ‘me’?” Since then, there have been hundreds more slogans created and displayed in outdoor public spaces, in museum exhibitions and, now, online. According to the gallery’s website, the slogans are meant to reflect their contemporary cultural climate, with older slogans becoming significant again in current times and new slogans added to reflect recent news.
Installation view of Douglas Coupland’s Slogans, Daniel Faria Gallery, 2012
The slogans are comprised of clean and simple designs meant to break through competing stimulants. Social media posts use the same algorithm to attract as much attention as possible on their sites. In earlier versions of the project, the design was effective for physical posters on the streets and now this format translates to powerful digital viewing. The format of these slogans is known especially by young people, who process vast information and images through the internet at rapid speed.
Coupland is the friend that tells you exactly how things are, dropping all facades of romantic language for abrupt and starkly straight forward statements. The pessimism of Coupland’s slogans is all too familiar for Generation Z’s, who have a taste for cynical humor. The slogan, They’re Just Old People follows suit with the recent phrase that went viral, ‘Ok, Boomer’, created by Gen Z’s as a taunt to the Baby Boomer generation when protesting their ‘old-fashioned’ mindsets.
We’re Actually a Pretty Useless Species is a slogan that youth would nod their heads at, having an overall lack of idyllic allusion about the state of the world. A Plague Without Wi-fi Would Be Truly Horrible and The Cloud Is the New Infinity are statements that link a range of generations who all share the same digital spaces.
Coupland directly addresses contemporary concerns including, Hi! I’m that margarine tub you threw out in 1989 and Hi! I’m All That Toxic Shit You Store Beneath your Kitchen Sink, which is directed towards the actions of older generations and the resulting climate change problem that the new generation faces.
According to Daniel Faria Gallery, Coupland’s work takes on new relevance and vitality in the current global pandemic, demonstrating the potency and versatility of language. The collective voice states what many people are thinking during this time. He uses general statements such as, Yes.This Is Really Happening and I Sure Hope This Isn’t What Retirement Feels Like which are endlessly and universally relevant.
Some slogans, on the other hand, are very specific, announcing, 2020: The Doingness of Nothing and If Sick People Were Zombies This Whole Thing Would be More Clear Cut, which uses a pop culture reference to describe the world’s current circumstance.
Slogans for the 21st Century holds an unrelenting mirror up to the condition of the world, unapologetically commenting on society which perhaps seem obvious when read, but are rarely put into such direct words. Coupland’s candy bowl of delectable phrases is endlessly entertaining, making one raise their eyebrows and nod, acting as a platform to expand one’s thoughts.
Images are courtesy of Daniel Faria Gallery
*Exhibition information: Douglas Coupland, Slogans for the 21st Century / Online Exhibition, April 4, 2020 – July 31, 2020, Daniel Faria Gallery https://danielfariagallery.com/exhibition/douglas-coupland-slogans