Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.


Festival of Nostalgia



London's most famous empty building is reopening this week. The (Millennium) Dome is reopening as the O2. And all that public money that created it (£850 million apparently) has subsequently been hijacked by a private entertainment corporation to create a US style entertainment quarter. The Dome's High Tech futurism has become buried beneath a layer of scenography in a half-hearted provincial shopping mall manner.

Simultaneously, a completely different kind of venue has just reopened in London after a very different kind of refurb. Instead of the fake streets and pseudo-beaches that have filled the Domes perplexing void, the Festival Hall draws on its own mythology for its new lease of life.

While the Dome - with its skylon-esque pylons and millennium exhibition explicitly modelled on the Festival of Britain - has morphed into fantasy narratives, the Festival Hall has stripped away the accumulation of eras following its construction to reveal itself.

Over the years the Festival Hall has become a beacon of a very particular kind of retro-ism. Its 50's aesthetic makes it a classic of the mid-century modern look: an austere-yet-sexy thing that crystallised on the glossy pages of Wallpaper but spread through a generation. Coupled with this, the buildings post-war socialist heritage and connection to the Festival of Britain also chimes with a different kind of clientele - making it the obvious candidate venue for the post election 1997 New Labour victory party. If retro-ism had a spiritual home it would be here.

Its been carefully and sympathetically renovated by architects Allies and Morrison with a feel for the mid-century vibe. The Halls 1950 atmosphere has been augmented by restaurants named 'Canteen' complete with period signage.

But it's not just what the building looks like or what it represents that makes it a nostalgia factory. It's what it puts on too. I was supposed to go there this Friday to see the Jesus and Mary Chain as part of Jarvis Cockers 'Meltdown'. I've seen Morrissey there and Brian Wilson too over the last few years. One of the Festival Halls specialities is its line in the rehabilitation and tasteful presentation of yesterday's figures, representing them as 'significant artists': A kind of high-end nostalgia. Of course the idea that the JAMC might now be nostalgic seems very strange, and totally surprising.

A quote on the wall at the current Architecture Foundation exhibition 'Don't Panic' is taken from JG Ballard and reads something like this: 'Sometime in the 1960s we became scared of the future.'

Nostalgia is a means of escape from future-fear. It's what you hear for example in the echo-ey, trembling music of Brian Wilsons (the wobbly sci-fi theramin in Good Vibrations, the churchy reverberations, the sound of a family singing together). It's in Morrissey's record sleeve coverstars and references to kitchen sink dramas. And it's in the JAMCs replaying of the Velvet Underground through the collapsing state of 1980s west coast Scottish heavy industry.

Retro-ism is an act of collecting, sorting, editing. Creation comes out of curation. Nostalgia is far more than a brake applied to progressive culture or a force for conservatism. Nostalgia can provide the drive to make things as startling as the sound of the JAMCs Psychocandy, as electric as the first bars of Handsome Devil or as wildly ecstatic as Good Vibrations. Why? Because it connects with our collective contemporary sense of worry - caught between the past and the future.

As the O2 and Festival Hall show, there are many kinds of nostalgia. They represent opposite versions - what one might call authentic-retro-ism, and synthetic retro-ism.



Posted by anothersam at June 25, 2007 12:08 AM.

4 Comments

pechota said:

are you seriously suggesting that the jesus and mary chain are nostalgic? when they came out they were the first band since the sex pistols to sound like nothing that had gone before. the jesus and the mary chain were about anger not "worry".

jpb said:

The JAMC were _totally_ nostalgic, right from the off. All that blurred noise couldn't hide 3-chord riffs that were as old as rock'n'roll itself, not to mention the song titles and visual look that spoke of teen rebellion from the 50s onwards. The reunited band has such a high nostalgia quotient that they might as well be playing tea dances, as the original pastiche of rockabilly, garage rock, east and west coast psychedelia and punk urgency is combined with our iPod-infused fondness for the 'authenticity' of the alternative 80s.

sam said:

That's a much more articulate expression of what I meant by suggesting the JAMCs nostaligic-ness. I'd also like to think that nostalgia isn't just pastiche and tea-dances. Perhaps it - just as someone once said of anger - is an energy. And an energy that fuses strange connections and warps received narratives.

jpb said:

I have this feeling that nostalgia is the dominant emotion of modern times, the lens through which we view everything. It's hard to articulate but it would explain a lot; why the new technology that is most enthusiastically received is that which offers us a way of channeling, cataloging and retaining the most memorable aspects of our past, be it images, music or experiences. Technology facilitates nostalgia. In fact, the only technology that has no connection whatsoever with nostalgia is military technology, which has no cultural need to deviate from its primary goal of killing people. When military technology starts getting retro, then we really should be worried.

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Contents:

More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta

Eiffel X-Rays

Beyond: Values and Symptoms

Sub Plan

Shenzhen: Window of the World

White Power

Generic Powerpoint Template: Delivering Bad News

Duplicate Array

The Best New Building In London

Book Review: The Infrastructural City

A Balloon in the Pantheon

Letters From The Pantheon

Henry Moore in Motion

On My Steel Horse I Ride

The Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition

Now Showing: John Baldessari Sings Sol LeWitt

Obscure Design Typologies: Life Guard Chairs

Osama bin Laden Cigarette Lighter: Novelty Products as Congealed Culture

Absurd Car Crashes: A Eulogy for J.G. Ballard

Candy Pistol

Now Showing: Dan Grahams 'Rock My Religion'

This Concrete 'O': On Serotonin, the M25, and the Motorik Picturesque

Church of the Literal Narrative

Philadelphias Floating Architecture

Now Viewing: Married To The Eiffel Tower

Le Corbusiers Image Hoard: Poeme Electronique

Giant American Signs: Original Learning from Las Vegas Footage

Giant Soviet Signs Cut Into Forests

Bricks Melted Into Icicles: Napalm Decorative

C-Labs 'Unfriendly Skies' & 'Bootleg' Volume

2 The Lighthouse: Self Storage & Architectural Hallucinations

Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe: Infrastructure as Architectural Subconcious.

Viva Sectional Cinematography!

Now Showing: The Installation of an Irreversible Axis on a Dynamic Timeline

Plug: Junk Jet

Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter

Geography in Bad, Festive Drag.

The Ruins of the Future

High Tech As Steampunk ...

On The Retro Infrastructural

Simulations of Industry: High Tech Architecture and Thatcherism

David Greene: The Big Nothing

From The Factory to the Allotment: Tony Wilson, Urbanist

Koolhaas HouseLife / Gan Eden: The Revenge of Architectural Media

Ruburb-ric: The Ecologies of the Farnsworth House

The Architecture of Divorce

Flagrant Delit: The Movie

Landscape as Clothing

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham Redux

Acts of Un-Building: Timelapse Demolitions

Yard Filth: Next Years Hot Look

Stonehenge: A Black Hole At The Heart Of British Architecture

The Popemobile: Mechanised Robes & Motorised Architecture

Tarmac Adam, Tarmac Eden

The Secret Language of Surface

Some Housekeeping

Information Fields: Agriculture as Media

My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance

A Cubist Copse: Gehrys Serpentine Pavilion

Olympic Model Protest

Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead

Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

Floating Homes

Vintage Tradeshow Surrealism: International Grune Woche

Moving Houses: Buildings In Motion

Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

Married to the Eiffel Tower: More Objectum Sexuals

60 Years of The Crazy Horse Memorial

Married to the Berlin Wall: "The Best and Sexiest Wall Ever Existed!"

Inflatable Icebergs: Sublimated Guilt Has Never Been So Fun

The Cinderella Effect: Phantom Architectures of Illumination

Two Deaths and a Retirement: The Strange Shape of British Architecture

If London Were Like New York: Antique Schizo-Manhattanism

If London Were Like Venice: Antique Geo-Poetic Speculations and Hydro-Fantasy

41 Hours in an Elevator: The Movie

NASA: Mapping the Moon with Sport

Lemon Squeezy: Design Tendencies after the Juicy Salif

Stadium Seat Mosaics

The Nihilistic Beauty of Weapons Arranged in Patterns

Light Vessel Automata

Dogs: Britains Greatest Design Obsession

Madison Avenue Modern

Detroit Sucks: The Motor Shows Last Gasp

Mies' Grave: Cut Out Model

All You Can Eat

Valentine Machine

The Tools of Re-Geography

Floating in a New Town Sky

Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place

Folk Football: Landscape, Space and Abstraction

Haystack House

A Wishing Well with a Fat Up Pipe

The Camoufluers and the Day-Glo Battleship

Pseudoccino: Instant Coffee Foam

Yesterdays Technology, Today

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Form Follows Felony: The Secret Home of the Un-Dead Canoeist.

Architectural Magazines: Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold

Little Magazines Seen Today

James Bond Lives Next Door: Suburban Imagery as Industry

The Ghost of Christmas Futurism

Petrified War Machine

Military Deceptions

Chapters for an Imaginary Book About Architecture

Shrouded Plinth - Urban Striptease

In the Night Garden - Surreal Landscape of Nostalgia

Kim Jong II, The Great Architect

Pill Box Picturesque

Un Clear Monument

Place Faking: Instant Heritage for the Thames Gateway

The Marc Bolan Memorial Crash Barrier.

Warped Domesticity

The Nuclear Heritage Coast

Enjoy The Silence: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Story of O (2)

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

X100: A Design Exercise

How to Plan A New Town

Carpet Bomber

In Search of Britains Vehicular History

Scenes in Cartoon Deserta

Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

Re-Make Re-Model

I Like Your Manifesto, Lets Put it to the Test-o

How to Become a Famous Architect

Northampton - Sci-fi Pop Planning Promotion

Advertising Central Milton Keynes

Baltic Exchanged

Festival of Nostalgia

The Clapham Trainwash

Airports as Music

Test Card Dummies

The Velvet Underground at the Glass House

Duplikate: Kate Moss on the Production Line of Individuality

The Museum that Ate Itself

Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials

Revisions to the Architecture of Hell

Crufts: Dogs, Design and Aesthetic Genetics

Eos Airlines: Executive Bubbles over the Atlantic

London's Ugliest Buildings

1.51 Miles Of String

Google Earths Vertiginous Mapping

Church of the Ascension and Descension

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

Replica Bombs

The Invisible Bungalow

House / Boat

Reading Lines: Skateboarding and Public Space

Mountain Sculpting

Sint Lucas in BD

Bat House Competition

Old Walton Bridge

Kiruna: The Town That Moved

Spray On Magnetic Defense

Chris Cornish: Prototyping History

The Jubilee Gestalt Vase

The Most Visited Location in the UK

Anything to Feel Weightless Again: The Cargo Lifter and the Tropical Island Resort

'Its beauty will know no season'

2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia. Or How Half Timbering Made Me Whole Again.

Inside-out Aldwych

Backpeddling into the Future: The Historical-Futurism of British Architecture

Miss Selfridges' Feeling for Fake Snow. The Oxford St. Lights and Why We Need Artificial Winter

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Imperfect Pitch - Football, Space and Landscape

Product Placement: Making the Impossible Possible

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Perfect Sound Forever: The Secret Function of High End Stereos

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Useless Proclamations for a Beautiful City

Mini Mies Chair

Topsy Turvy VSBA: Inverted Heros of an Upside Down Avant Guard

Harvest III: Buried Things

The Harvest II

The Harvest I

Estuary Urbanism

The Royal Families Trees

Everything Flows: ideological cartography

How Geostationary Was My Valley?

The Psychotic Utopia of the Suburbs and the Suburbanisation of War.

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In a Lonely Place - Under Construction

Design Will Eat Itself

Mach 3 Nitro Gel - Design that's foaming at the mouth.

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The Electric Cenotaph

Russian Rok

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Dinner in the Iguanadon

Trace

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Leg Table Leg

Florentine Building Sites

Good Morning Britain

Football Pitch: Best of British

The Sad Photographer

The First Cut is the Cheapest - Blenheim Palace: pop architecture that goes for the jugular

Book Now For Christmas

Requiem for a Toilet Seat

Architecture that Destroys

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Winning Design

Another Croydon

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Holiday Snap: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy, France

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Big Bens

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Its All About the Big Benjamins

G8 Security Tower

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Design by Chefs

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Archigrams Pastoral Futurism

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Carlton Terrace Extension

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