Time capsules aren’t often great at relevance, but this book “a construct amassed from American High School Yearbooks” by Pierre Huyghe and Douglas Coupland is a time capsule that endures.

School Spirit is “an excursion through the soul of a dead and disembodied student lost inside the memories and infrastructure of a California High School.” That’s the premise, but as explained in the book, Kelly, our dearly departed guide, can visit other high schools.

This is not quite a novel and it’s not really a collage, but it is a true multimedia experience with photos and quotes from yearbooks. The Coupland narrative from Kelly throughout ties it together and makes additional observations.

The last photo in this collaboration is a picture of, what I can only presume are, the yearbooks that were used as source material, which date from about 1983 through 1997. But the most interesting part of this book is it’s timelessness to a certain point, that point being my generation. I was one of the last generations to graduate high school without cell phones or smartphones. Even when beepers were in vogue, they didn’t change the high school experience that much.

Because of that, this book, to me and those older than me, will feel like a trip back through memory lane. In fact, you can’t be too sure that a few of the pictures used weren’t from your yearbook, and even the sayings pulled are universal.

Where do I begin
Bizarre love triangles
Highway cloverleafs
The cookie monster
Thanks for our deep
Spiritual talks.

I omitted the names from this note, but it could very well be hiding in any yearbook still hiding at your place or your parent’s place. Wherever yearbooks go to be forgotten, this or something similar to it could be signed in yours.

The point is, while the high school experience hasn’t changed much, the technology surrounding it has. To reiterate, for those of us old enough to have been in high school before cell phones, much less smartphones, this book and its experience isn’t that far off from that of our parents. Just change up the music, fashion, and expanded television options after school as the period demands.

As a piece of art, this book succeeds on a few levels. It makes you think, it makes you remember, and it makes you question what you may have forgotten. This book didn’t make me actually pick up my old yearbooks, but I considered it… Perhaps one day I’ll revisit them. I do know where they are, but I don’t need to take that trip down memory lane – this book was just fine for that purpose.

And while you could argue that as art, this book doesn’t need Coupland’s narrative. That’s a valid argument as Pierre Huyghe put together some stunning pieces, but his narrative does add to the experience.

It felt as if he was writing about my friends and I when he wrote, “The only really interesting people at school are the losers and misfits, because once you leave school, everyone’s a loser, so at least they’re better prepared.”

I was a misfit, but that doesn’t mean this book is for misfits. It’s for everyone, it’s evergreen. Like Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” this is just a trip down memory lane. Whether you find that trip glorious or not is your own business.


Read the Secret File of technical information and quotes from School Spirit.