Nostalgic virus: futurescaping the possible
My biggest concerns were always related to the potential scenario that I have already visualized and strongly experienced, but it actually never happened. I was suffering from a sentimental feeling, the longing for future events. The way to deal with it was the artwork created from both personal and global phenomena which I am simultaneously explaining and understanding in this text. It creates a unique timeline while observing the term nostalgia, from the distant past to the possible future. It examines the position of the term, which is not simply a past-oriented emotion, but whose scope extends into the future. Through the artwork Futurology Kiosk & Future Nostalgia, I aim to understand the nature and principles of this condition, as well as speculate through it on the alternative, potential life of the future. Nostalgia is used as a tool to render the present and future in a structural, imaginative, and speculative way. The timeline is more or less chronological, divided into 5 headlines:
- CHAPTER I: The Virus
- CHAPTER II: The digger cures the past
- CHAPTER III: Be nostalgic, fast
- CHAPTER IV: Home, sick home
- CHAPTER V: The Kiosk
I do love that I am infected by the virus. Before I started writing this essay, I was already nostalgic about it being read.
CHAPTER IThe Virus
Using the time capsule we travel back to the XVII century, in the middle of a pandemic, much different from the one that has been occupying and changing the life of a contemporary man today (Covid-19). By that time, the term nostalgia was considered a form of psychological disorder determined by Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer. The disease had many patients including soldiers, refugees, sailors, as well as everyday people having mal de Corazon (the sickness of the heart). Opium, leeches, even a short journey to the Swiss Alps were believed to soothe the symptoms and help the nostalgic virus go away from the brains and souls of the infected. Today, nostalgia seems poshy, unaffordable luxury, and mostly a waste of time. According to Harvard history professor C.Maier, nostalgia is to memory as kitsch is to art. Except being connected with the past, nostalgia itself has a history. In the year 1688, nostalgia was born. While understanding the appearance of this term we notice that in contrast to other cultural concepts, it has an exact date of birth.
As an international student and non-EU citizen currently living in the EU country (Germany), I will always belong to the category of resident alien. And we, resident aliens, have some special skills. When I asked my Greek friend about the sickness of her heart, she explained the etymology of Greek words nostos (the return home) and algae (a painful condition), coining the ailment of nostalgia from the meaning of German Heimweh (homesickness). While trying to escape from familiar faces and facades of my Heimat (homeland), Serbia, I bumped into a national awareness that grabbed nostalgia as if it is a piece of necessary equipment for every journey. One should not be surprised that the wholeness of this kind of awareness combined with nostalgia becomes visible from a distance. The distance gives perspective, triggers longing, and in many cases homesickness. Here, we naturally came into the division of the term nostalgia: longing and nostos. Algia longing is the one that we share, universal, general, while nostos (the return home) separate us. The nostos go along with displacement and temporary homes that the "infected" can experience.
One of the most interesting examples is being born in Belgrade, the capital of a utopian country that once existed. In that socialist utopia, Yugoslavia, everyone who experienced it got sick from the virus. Being born after it fell apart is a pity, but a privilege. The advantage of the position I have here is definitely the detachment from something that was a socialist bubble, the epicenter of the virus. From a distance, I could examine the Yugo-nostalgia, even experience it and get the perspective that my mother, as a Tito’s (Yugoslavia’s president) pioneer, will never have. She will keep the red star head bandage in the drawer, suffering from the difficulties of everyday life and the future that she already rejects. I have no bandage to trigger my Yugonostalgia, but a question - when do I belong? Even more weird is the longing for the place that died before I was born. I have fake memories as if they were incepted. It Reminds me of Blade Runner 20491 and the laboratory of memories, freshly created and placed in one’s mind. Personal stories from my family contradict history in many ways. They contradict utopia. There is such a perplexing timeline existing due to the collapse of generations, different politics, and versions of reality. History is fictional.
CHAPTER IIThe digger cures the past
Despite its severity, nostalgia was curable according to doctor Hofer. He said: "The afflicted imagination must be corrected and the symptoms soothed". By must, as a contemporary artist and a citizen, it woke up my responsibility. I felt an urge to explore the origin and cause of my own, as well as collective nostalgia. All of the sudden, It became a deep, buried well of historical upheavals, as well as present issues. Crying to be solved, or dig, the inwardness of the well was very problematic. Many believe in the power of resistance and, as its manifestation - revolution. The outbreaks of nostalgia often follow these revolutions, like the French Revolution from 1789. As a matter of fact, neither revolutions nor the nostalgia after them always brought the solution. Moreover, it became more complicated and uncovered bigger problems that started growing over time in seemingly closed holes. The holes are screaming because unreflected nostalgia breeds monsters.
Possible to soothe, having its own versions, according to Svetala Boym we have two types of nostalgia - restorative and reflective. The reflective one thrives in algia, in the longing itself, while the restorative one protects the truth, presenting a transhistorical reconstruction of the lost home. There is a distinction in political usage of nostalgia that can create divisions and strife, for example by postulating an imagined past that never actually existed. The nostalgia boom is a contemporary term, although not that new. While analyzing it, we will use some concrete examples. Socio-political context questions, lost national greatness (if there was one), glorious past, and undefeated battles. In The XIX century, Denmark lost large parts of Southern Jutland to Prussia. Germany (my current habitat and promised land of my own future nostalgia) had the Nazi Party rosing the power and promising to restore the past greatness, bringing the glory over Germans again. Nostalgia was believed to be a European disease.
CHAPTER IIIBe nostalgic, fast
Welcome to the broad collection of museums, urban memorials, mausoleums, and lieux de memoire (the memorial site). Our nostalgic heritage is here to warn you about the past and its importance. We had grown nostalgic just for you, to speculate on the possible future, always keeping in mind that the future can not exist without the past.
Two centuries later, nostalgia becomes institutionalized. Many believed that they could finally sleep since it found its home. Except for the new roof, above or under the ground, it brought back the roots from the past, embellishing them and emphasizing their importance. For instance, it caused the appearance of new historical styles, like neo-Gothic or neo-Byzantine. Furthermore, it is a ground for commercialization, as many terms in the contemporary world. Not just being a shiny little monument or a sculpture in a museum, but presenting a fetish fuelled by the ambitions like maximizing the profits, promoting a product, and building the catchy, sweet coated marketing strategy. Nostalgic marketing, advertising, and production, globalization. Of course, there is the connection between nostalgia and capitalism, where the system, which is considered to be cold and harsh, happens to be emotional as well. To keep the queue and motivate the consumer’s race, the marketing agencies are selling pure comfort of the past, using nostalgia as the main tool. And here we see that nostalgia is not a passive emotion, but a force.
However, the rapid pace of industrialization and modernization increased the intensity of people's longing for the slower rhythms of the past. Yet this points to a paradox of institutionalized nostalgia: the stronger the loss, the more it is overcompensated with commemorations, the starker the distance from the past, and the more it is prone to idealizations.
Your future here won't be better ever. Welcome to the Museum of Failure.
CHAPTER IVHome, sick home
Having in mind Russian saying claiming that the past has become much more unpredictable than the future, nostalgia itself depends on these strange predictions and visions. Wherever I am, I am looking for my family and my home, as many. I seek the ideal picture, the idea, hunting the vision. Not the one I left behind my back, thirsty for a better life, but the want I imagine. Therefore, the timeline collapses due to the compression of the slots, and the past and future become inseparable. The recollection and future projection share cognitive processes and neurological underpinnings. Clinical evidence indicates that patients with difficulty in retrieving the past also have problems imagining new experiences (unreflected nostalgia). Nostalgias could be ‘past oriented’, ‘present-oriented, and ‘future-oriented. The first is a call for returning to the womb, the second is the reaction on adaptation (the surrounding for example) and the third, my favorite one is a notion of anticipation, futuristic aspiration, intention, imagination, and the idea of the self as a process of becoming – speculation on the future instead of merely dwelling in the past.
But how can we be homesick for a home that we never had? How can one be nostalgic about the events that never happened? Nostalgia does creep into a Nietzschean direction - the ultimate oblivion of the main protagonist, like Zarathustra2. Questioning the perfect place or perfect life in this context is not just an urban epiphany. Where isthe home? Which home am I sick for? At first, being nostalgic it's one’s natural reaction. During this time it reappears as a defense mechanism. A nostalgic being fights the past, accelerated rhythms of everyday life, and inevitably, the future. Talking about the past does not necessarily mean historically, but one’s unrealized dreams as well as visions of the future that died on the way - future nostalgia.
CHAPTER VThe Kiosk
I will agree on the fact that the term is somehow contradictory and creeps irony. I am nostalgic for a pre nostalgia state of being. I miss my future places and people that neither happened nor existed. It is the bizarre everyday juxtaposition of the past and future that pressures my thoughts and creates this artificial land that I dream of. Here I would like to mention the kiosk that I own. When I say own, it is conceptually, for the purpose of the project. My Kiosk is my speculative lab where Nostalgia is used as a survival kit for future times. And the products, the objects I have are the evolution coming from the same feeling, collecting the fragments of the past and present to imagine the needs, desires, and life that will maybe existafter the present.
I am truly passionate about humor. It is the devotedness that has always existed in my case, real fondness. The humor itself is a very powerful and dynamic tool. Therefore, well equipped, with a bunch of triggers I collected on the way, I decided on creating an imaginary, experimental radio called Future Nostalgia FM. The term was already used in the books and music world as a concern, dealing with the phenomenon itself, etc. My idea is drowning in a complete imagination and political fiction while using the actuality and absurdity of both my humor and reality. I created four new, sexy religions that promise a better life for a contemporary man. Moreover, with a colleague from Hong Kong, I speculated on the potential union of our two lands (Hong Kong and Serbia). The typhoon from the Pacific ocean brought the piece of Asian land and collided with Europe while creating Hongerbia. Similar to many contradictory compounds, Hongerbia has difficulties functioning, but a new idea of how it could be possible, in the future. And with all said and given, Hongerbians happen to be truly happy. Even if the world is collapsing, the land we invent will continue to exist. For a moment, I imagined my own time capsule that travels and communicates with public spaces all around the world, all the time. My capsule got the shape of a Kiosk, and I started owning it.
Architecture and design play important roles in my Kiosk. I will start with my favorite example of kiosk K67, done by Sasha Machtig, a Slovenian designer. I do remember buying the rolls and croissants on the breaks in elementary school from a red, futuristic kiosk. Later on, it became my mom’s favorite shoe reparation service, just behind our building in Belgrade. Like a portable bunker or activated rocket, this capsule became an invention combining a futuristic look with multifunction modulations. And K67 was a socialist version of a spaceship on the ground. Wherever I would see it as a newspaper stand or cafe later (in Kragujevac, Novi Sad, etc) I had a feeling that it looks like somebody just dropped it there. Within that socialist idea of the community using the capsule for different purposes, a kiosk became the earth capsule that I was looking for. Space travel, for example, strongly shaped the aesthetics of many things futuristic. The perspective on what the future looks like was developed mostly by the space race between the Soviet Union and the US. Sputnik3 and Apollo4 were not just space flights, but the change of life on Earth that triggered a craze for the term futuristic. From furniture, clothes, even houses for a space-age consumer. Metallic satellites and mirrored stylings, orbiting patterns - all covered with spacy trends. The domestic design was highly influenced by science in the 1950s, the period of the atomic bomb. The motifs were taken from such a thing to create new tableware. Even the bodies were covered by new ‘’My clothes are my weapons’’ Paco Rabanne’s sentence. The question of tomorrow was more and more interesting for everyday people of the '60s and ’70s. For instance, an early space-age residence was Chemosphere (1960) by John Lautner. Los Angeles got a hover like a flying saucer with futuristic styling. Another example is Futuro (1968) by Matti Suuronen looking like a transportable ski cabin in the middle of Finland. The home of tomorrow arrived and it was occupied by even more futuristic inventory. The modular architecture was also connected to the idea of tomorrow and houses looking like spaceships were popping up around Europe. As a connection to the K67 and the modular structure of a portable residence, there was the Le Bulle Six Coques (Six Bubble House) done by Jean Maneval. This living unit was the capsule with everything needed, entirely created of man-made materials. Interior designers of that time were obsessed with the same topic where shapes and even lights gave not just the function, but the whole experience of a new era, or better said, living in another time. All the interior views by Verner Panton well explain the influence. Besides the aesthetics, my impression came from the objective of all the architecture and design I mentioned. They aim to activate the contemporary man, neither to live in the future, nor predict it, but create it differently, for their own future. The diachronic perspective on the evolution of, for instance, hand tools reveals something fundamental about the workings of art and design. A well-designed object transcends the intention of the designer, and the potential to bring a change, to generate new behaviors, needs, experiences, and realities. The example can be one of the earliest known objects - a chopping tool from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. No matter how the human mind tripled from the period of almost 2 million years ago, this little object embodies the magic of a good design, preoccupation with both form and function. Now, the future-making power of the Olduvai tool lies in the intimate and rewarding relationship between the tool, hand, and human perception of it, the idea. Coming back to our 21 century, since the arrival of the smartphone, people have started valuing just things in digital form, whether apps, games, or social media. Therefore designers of the physical objects are still learning to incorporate the virtual world and tangible objects, opening the mind of a posthuman.
If the timeline collapsed and I would have to imagine my possible future, what would I need for that journey, I wondered. Therefore, I created the objects, futuristic excavations that present symbols, broken dreams, essential functions, and most importantly, they fuel the cognitive revolution. Blurred in their function and levitating between human need and affirmation, the setting has a notion of Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art). To extend the absurd, the objects have a history that goes reversibly, from, and into the future, the one that never existed. I imagined the extinction (reference Breakfast before Extinction5) happening tomorrow and I have a chance to produce something that will relate to all my desires, interests, chewing my past experiences into the potential need and picture of my future. How will our relationship with artifacts evolve? My broken kit is displayed in the kiosk, exhibited to alienate from the simple enjoyment of the aesthetics but put a visitor into a critical, speculative state of mind. I, a future craftsman, am ready to activate my capsule, into the world I imagine. Hearing the sound of futuristic, nostalgic radio, the virus is spreading again. All because unreflected nostalgia gives birth to the monsters.
- Boym, S. (2001). The future of nostalgia. New York: Basic Books.
- Jacobsen, M.H. (Ed.). (2020). Nostalgia Now: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on the Past in the Present (1st ed.). Routledge
- Hiesinger, Kathryn B., et al. Designs for Different Futures
- Topham, Sean (2004). Where's My Space Age? The Rise and Fall of Futuristic Design. Utopian Studies 15 (1):158-161.
- Barter, J. (2001). Designing for Democracy: Modernism and Its Utopias. Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies