Memory Alone

Joe Bradley Installation at Gavin Brown July 1st, 2013

“Well, technology is a glittering lure. But, there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product. My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, with this old-pro copywriter, a Greek named Teddy. Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is “new“. [It] creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product. Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound”. It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device [slide projector] isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards, takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel. It’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Round and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.” Don Draper, Mad Men, Kodak Carousel Pitch by Matthew Weiner.

The Art World is awash in Nostalgia. On this I think we can all agree. It feeds our manias for Mannerist Abstraction, for Provisional Painting, for Zombie Formalism, and especially for Expressionism of all kinds. Our history fuels our imaginations, our desires, and ultimately our economies. But Contemporary Art isn’t alone in this mania for the past. It’s no different for the rest of our culture. One can easily travel through long gone ages and eras as if they exist all at once, always-already in the here and now. We live through our screens in loops of time. We exist in the moment before as our world becomes more and more – programable, malleable, technological and electronic. So why are we so – nostalgic?

Jean-Paul Riopelle Gitksan 1958 & Joan Mitchell Untitled 1958

… Marx himself inherits from the Hegelian remark on the repetition of history, whether one is talking about great events, revolutions, or heroes (the remark is well known: first tragedy, then farce). Victor Hugo was also attentive, as we have seen, to the revolutionary repetition. A revolution repeats, and it even repeats the revolution against the revolution. The Eighteenth Brumaire concludes from this that men make their own history, that is the condition of inheritance. Appropriation in general, we would say, is in the condition of the other and of the dead other, of more than one dead, a generation of the dead. What is said about appropriation is also valid for freedom, liberation, or emancipation. Derrida Specters of Marx 1994.

The point of all this past-leveraging, from Spotify’s perspective, is to realize the vague-but-also-urgent goal shared by many social networks and services: user engagement. “For almost everyone,” Sung says, a nostalgia-focused Spotify story “usually triggers some sort of strong emotion. Sometimes it’s, ‘Wow, I totally forgot that song. Thanks so much for reminding me of it.’ Other times, it’s more like, ‘Yeah, I remember music was pretty bad when I was young.’” (Case in point? “One of the stories I got was ‘Britney Spears was big when you were young,’” Sung says. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, I totally remember that, and I don’t need to remember it again.’”)… Either way, though: engagement. And an experience of the past that is customized—if not to a person, individually, then to that person’s generational demographic. Spotify’s interpretation of nostalgia, in that sense, is pretty much the opposite of The LEGO® Movie’s or Mad Men‘s or that of Kraft-by-way-of-the-Ninja Turtles-by-way-of-Vanilla Ice. It’s not aimed at a broad public. It’s not enforced at the level of the mass culture. Instead, it’s aimed directly at the user.Megan Garber on Internet Nostalgia, February 20, 2014.

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