The Nature of Nostalgia

nostalgic viewIt’s the time of year, maybe, but I seem to be seeing and experiencing nostalgia all around in my life and in the artworld. Wallowing in it feels slightly self-indulgent and for me, hampers any productive outbursts of progressive creativity: sadly something all too easily hampered in my case, but again I’m blaming the time of year for my slug-like ways. The more I have to do, the more I find time to read and daydream. My to-do list reached a horrific length the other day, and drastic action was called for to deal with it all. I deleted the list and felt instantly better.

Looking at it more positively though, I do love art which draws on nostalgia. This is interesting in the sense that it doesn’t drive my practice in any way I can see. But there is always something thought-provoking and universally accessible in works founded on nostalgic impulse, and in a world where the relevance of art to the wider community is often challenged, this is an important contribution.

So there are a couple of exhibitions coming up which have caught my eye. In Leeds, The Bowery is showing works from 7 January 2011 by Jemima Young and Sarah Frances both drawing on notions of memory, hindsight and dreams. And the Ceri Hand Gallery in Liverpool is presenting an installation by Doug Jones based on a bizarre and intriguing reconstruction of a British B&B. Interestingly, whilst the concept of a traditional B&B immediately makes me think ‘nostalgia’, this installation sounds as if it covers far broader more contemporary ground with wider references and commentaries on current preoccupations and modern culture. No further speculation! I will have to visit it to see properly.

80s textiles with plantCoincidentally, the last excellent ‘trace and memory’ driven exhibition I went to was also at the Ceri Hand Gallery. Rebecca Lennon’s We Are Stuck Here Together drew me into another world with a disparate collection of 300 photos sourced through Ebay, markets and vintage shops. I walked the massed display, my nose pressed up to the detail of the tiny figures, and saw me, my parents, my grandparents, my childhood holidays, my student days. Except of course it was other people’s traces, memories, fragments, privacy, exposed in a way that would be have been unimaginable to them at the instant the image was frozen in time. I liked the fact the exposure was not glaring; I liked the fact that to intrude on these private intimate moments I was required to nose my way along, six inches away from the surface. And I loved the fragmentary feeling of nostalgia as I gazed at portraits even from times before I was born. The extraordinary capacity of amateur photography throughout the twentieth century to document daily lives and significant moments in a manner which enables all of us to encounter and be familiar with the ‘feel’ of eras past and gone which we have not even experienced directly.

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