Penguins and Slogan #8 (Douglas Coupland at the VAG)

Penguins 1

The crowds were thickly gathering on the final day of the exhibition as I captured these photos, I apologize for the poor quality, shooting between dozens of heads. The wall description photo was totally out of focus so I paraphrase it here:

‘The collages forming Coupland’s Penguins series are centered around the Penguin publishing house’s familiar orange and black paper backs. Over the covers of these iconic cultural tomes Coupland has applied vinyl texts. Some of these, read across several splayed paperbacks, form short phrases such as “Love Will Tear Us Apart” a song by British post-punk band, Joy Division or “Blasphemous Rumours” the title of a Depeche Mode song.  These phrases layer additional cultural references to the books beneath them.

In my photos I have edited the sequences for brevity.

Penguins 2

Penguins 3

I admit I haven’t read all of the novels referenced. I know there are those amongst you that have. I believe the vinyl overlays probably connect to the underlying theme of each novel. Am I correct in my assumption?

Penguins 5

Penguins 4

I nostalgically connect with the distinctive design of the Penguin covers, remembering them from my early years of reading. I think I understand some of the textual relevance of the overlays. I enjoy the formal qualities of the juxtapositions of Coupland’s text over the Penguin covers, the blocking off and letting through, the casual use of duct and painter’s tape. How do these collages work for you? What memories are evoked for you by these Penguin covers?

Slogan #8:

Slogan #8

Please see my first post in this series for full explanation of all posts. Also see my first ‘Slogans’ post to understand #8.

Credits: thank you to Douglas Coupland and the Vancouver Art Gallery for images and wall descriptions.

All photos by clinock.




13 thoughts on “Penguins and Slogan #8 (Douglas Coupland at the VAG)

  1. Again you made a lovely posting, and the work of Coupland is interesting. That is a good song and now I know the pronunciation of the word ‘tear’ , I always got that wrong! As for the Penguins, I don’t know them very well, I do have some though but I forgot what colours they were in, maybe I read Wuthering Heights but probably it is the movie I remember in fragments. Heathcliff! ( And his name always reminds me of Kate Bush) The words on the covers probably have some connection with the story, not sure. For me, the colours evoke memories of my childhood as books I read were also printed in those colours. But as the slogan says, nostalgia has never been so useless 🙂 Unless one is doing nothing on a September morning but, reflecting and such… Have a beautiful day John 🙂


    1. Tear (tare) Tear (teer) ain’t English delightful…And those tatty and dusty old paper-backs of orange and black nostalgia…I remember them sitting on my parents bedside table and then later, when I began traveling, there was always one or two left behind on the bookshelves of youth hostels. Its getting more and more difficult to find them, in that particular manifestation, but once they were a ubiquitous breed of read…thank you for your reflections and such Ina x


  2. I have to admit, the Penguin book cover’s nostalgia is lost on me. They don’t hold much “sentimentality for the past” for me, as I think that their popularity was before my time. But I am very interested in the slogan, “Nostalgia has never been so useless”…I can’t help but think that maybe this is a good thing. Are we living more in the present? For some reason I interpret some purposeful irony or sarcasm in this slogan although I’m not exactly sure where it is coming from. Is nostalgia ever really useful? Fashionable yes, but useful…? Is Copeland saying that we are living more in the moment now then we used to? Or, is he saying that our lives are becoming so meaningless that thinking about our past is not making any of us sentimental for it. Hmmm…


    1. Great comment Sam and as always you challenge my stumbling grey matter to be still and think. It makes infinite sense that you would have no sentimental feelings about a book cover design from before you were born (unless you were a librarian or second hand book seller). The Slogan, hmm…what is ‘Nostalgia’ anyway? a wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations (Dictionary). I think this is a very human emotion and something many of us experience. ‘Useless’? Reading it on the surface I might counter with the question, can we apply the terms useful and useless to emotions, feelings, art? You also asked this. Looking deeper I think your perception of irony is probably on the nail. Read in the spirit of all the other Slogans I feel the artist is saying that we are now so caught in the ‘web’ of the new reality that even nostalgia has lost its meaning. Remember his Slogan: “I no longer remember my pre-internet brain”? Personally I disagree with, at least, the surface reading. Nostalgia has always been a vast, necessary (and useful?) element in novels and poetry. An example you know well is ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’ by Dylan Thomas. This could never have been written without deep nostalgia and you can never tell me that you don’t feel deep nostalgia when you hear it read.
      Thank you Sam for your comment, thoughts and insights…this why I love an art that evokes communication and ideas…


  3. Yet another excellent insight into the work of Coupland John. Here the way he develops his slogan to encompass classic literary works and distill their essence to a word or few is very powerful…….particularly using the original Penguin Classic covers as grounds for the artwork.
    The covers are so embedded in our culture now that I even notice you can even buy mugs with their designs on them. Cultural Icons!


  4. I like the sequence aspect & I imagine the whole series being bought by a library for their reading room that has eggplant colored walls or a combo bookstore/cafe’ should buy it for their dusty blue green walls w contrasting antique yellow/red & rust furnature.


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