Tag Archives: Nostalgia

Modeling Nostalgia

Randy Hage, 1/12th scale sculpture of Ideal Hosiery, located at 339 Grand St. New York, NY; 17" x 15" x 8"

Randy Hage, 1/12th scale sculpture of Ideal Hosiery, located at 339 Grand St. New York, NY; 17″ x 15″ x 8″

By Aaron Glass (Bard Graduate Center)

Armed with his camera, Randy Hage explores urban landscapes threatened with eradication through development, gentrification, or other civic improvement schemes. Yet unlike the many other salvage-oriented artists who photographically document such streetscapes lest they vanish, Hage translates his photos into meticulously crafted scale models. Rather than just imaging these places, he materializes them; in some cases, he re-materializes buildings that may have been destroyed since he photographed them. Through the laborious process of simulating structures along with their contents and immediate environs, Hage must develop a particular tactile as well as visual intimacy with the sites and buildings in question. For him–and presumably for many of his viewers, patrons, curators, and collectors–the physical presence of his dioramas makes palpable a nostalgia for the corner stores and “mom-and-pop” businesses being rapidly replaced by big box stores and multinational chains (even if the commodities Hage lovingly miniaturizes are the same in both kinds of outlet). Semiotically, the hand-crafted nature of his art lends itself to memorializing small-scale economies of place rather than the corporate behemoths that he bemoans (and that are treated with equal, if contrastingly large-scale, attention to detail by photographers such as Andreas Gursky). In their affection for vanishing places rendered containable, collectible and preserved, the models evoke miniature ethnographic villages in natural history museums.

Despite the impressive materiality of Hage’s dioramas, most viewers likely enjoy them only through photographic mediation (and the additional miniaturization that photography allows). On his personal website, the artist invites people to evaluate the “sculptures vs. the real structures,” although what we see are only photographs of both (moreover, the specific photographs on which the models are based). This medium and mode of comparison flatten the scale and physical reality of both building and model while enhancing the illusion of their absolute likeness. In some cases, the carefully lit models appear more richly dimensional than the actual structures shot under overcast skies. What at least this viewer yearns to do is stand before the remaining storefronts, models in hand. Yet such an exercise risks additional fetishization of the “original place.” Moreover, despite–or rather, due to–being enchanted (in Gell’s sense) by Hage’s considerable fabrication skills, one might miss his intended level of political-economic critique. What the remarkable models-as-art don’t show, which photography or film or ethnography might, is the presence of neighborhood denizens with a stake in the continued existence (or disappearance) of these colorful, dilapidated, vernacular vistas.

For those in the Los Angeles area, there is a chance to stand in the presence of the dioramas at the Flower Pepper Gallery until November 15, 2013.


CFP: Nostalgias, Special Issue of Volume!

Call for papers: Nostalgias: A special issue of Volume! The French Journal of Popular Music Studies

Edited by Hugh Dauncey (Newcastle University) & Christopher Tinker (Heriot-Watt University)

Online: volume.revues.org/2914

Version française ici : volume.revues.org/2912

Volume!, the French peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of popular music – seeks contributions for a special issue on nostalgia and popular music in a variety of national, international and transnational contexts.

This issue will explore the ways in which popular-music-related nostalgia is produced, represented, mediatised and consumed. Morris B. Holbrook and Robert M. Schindler define nostalgia as “A preference (general liking, positive attitude or favourable effect) towards experiences associated with objects (people, places or things) that were more common (popular, fashionable or widely circulated) when one was younger (in early adulthood, in adolescence, in childhood or even before birth)” (2006: 108).

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The Material Culture of (N)Ostalgie

[image found here]
A recent article by Vadim Nikitin on nostalgia in Russia for the USSR called my attention to a number of current projects and publications that focus specifically on fond reminiscences of the unique material culture of Soviet life:

The multivolume glossy, expensive books arising from the Namedni project, the latest of which was published in November, feature a grab bag of large color photographs, news clips, interviews and narratives about every year from 1961 to 2005. For instance, 1962 spans physicist Lev Landau winning the Nobel Prize, the launch of milk in plastic bags, the Cuban missile crisis and the Soviet debut of the Hula-Hoop. The books target readers who lived through Soviet times as well as those who, like me, were too young to have experienced the Soviet Union and want to know more about their parents’ generation.

The volumes are a runaway success despite their high price, and this reflects a growing trend. In the past year alone, at least three other books showcasing Soviet material culture have caught the popular imagination, even on the other side of the old Iron Curtain. Made in Russia: Unsung Icons of Soviet Design, edited by Soviet-born American writer Michael Idov and featuring contributions from the likes of bestselling writer Gary Shteyngart, is a breezy English-language meditation on such Soviet staples as folding cups, Lomo cameras, fishnet shopping bags and rustic cars. Olga Dydykina’s coffee-table volume We Lived in the USSR is a kind of Dorling Kindersley travel guide to the Soviet Union, with hundreds of photos and a dictionary of Soviet-era expressions. And Frédéric Chaubin’s Cosmic Communist Constructions celebrates forgotten examples of late-Soviet architecture. What these books have in common is a tone of what Russian-born American scholar Svetlana Boym termed “reflective nostalgia,” the kind that “lingers on ruins, the patina of time and history, in the dreams of another place and another time.”

Here are some links for the projects and publications mentioned in the article:
- on Amazon
- on Wikipedia
- on YouTube
Made in Russia: Unsung Icons of Soviet Design:
- on Amazon
- on a blog post (with images)
Cosmic Communist Constructions:
- at Taschen
- on Amazon
- on WeHeart (with images)
Svetlana Boym’s website with media projects and publications
One of the first explorations of this phenomena to make popular headlines in Western Europe and America was the 2003 German film Goodbye Lenin, which told the story of a patriotic East German woman who slipped into a coma just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and whose son tries hard to protect her from the new world order once she awakens a few months later. One of his main strategies is to meticulously surround her with the rapidly vanishing products to which she has grown accustomed before they are replaced by commodities from the West. (My own relatives, who grew up in East Berlin, report similar post-1989 demand for the few brands of coffee, jam, and cereal that they had grown up with in the face of proliferating but unfamiliar choices, and as a kind of quotidian protest against rapid gentrification by Wessies.) Also noteworthy was last year’s exhibition of contemporary artists in The New Museum’s show “Ostalgia”, which showcased diverse and highly ambivalent relations with the visual, material, economic and political cultures in Soviet times.
And finally, here are some recent academic takes on the topic (thanks to Bruce Grant at NYU):
- Dominic Boyer, Dominic (2006) “Ostalgie and the Politics of the Future in Eastern Germany.” Public Culture Spring 18(2): 361-381
- Berdahl, Daphne (1999) “(N)Ostalgie” for the present: Memory, longing, and East German things.” Ethnos 64: 192-211
- Bunzl, Matti and Daphne Berdahl (2010) On the Social Life of Postsocialism: Memory, Consumption, Germany. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
- Todorova, Maria and Zsuzsa Gille (2010) Post-Communist Nostalgia. New York: Berghahn Books.