Situated in the cultural arm of the Austrian Embassy in London, at the Austrian Cultural Forum, which is proudly defined as a ‘forum’ to highlight its encouragement of idea exchange and contemporary debate, ‘Newstalgia’ is shifting common ways of memorialisation into question. It does this through exposing attempts to activate social and cultural habits that remember and question contemporary ways to fulfil civil duties – to re-evaluate economic, cultural and societal operations. This aims to highlight the values brought to our everyday. Exploring the aftermath of past experiences and events, the exhibition questions choices which have enabled the development of the media and their intensive methods that are forced upon individuals.
Curated by Alina Ana Kolar, the exhibition includes a large range of practitioners such as Catrin Bolt, Charlie Billingham, Club Fortuna, Eduard Freudmann, Elisabeth Molin, Guy Oliver, Kate Mackeson, Lara Verena Bellenghi, Markus Riedler, Omri Livne, Pauł Sochacki, and ZOLLAMT, who reveal snapshot interpretations of ‘Newstalgia’. The artists reveal artefacts of experiences that have evolved through absorbing and questioning instruments within our present, which shaping public memory and identity. The concept is based around the active triggering of nostalgic feelings through the introduction of objects almost as cognitive ruins that represent the present and current social activities. Their actual accessibility in the present is disabled, embodying residues of past experiences that can no longer be accessed or changed, but only observed and remembered.
Creating shifts between the present and the past – even if only for a moment – the exhibited items evoke melancholic emotions. One of the pieces that especially reconsiders the temporality of perception is Elisabeth Molin’s sweet artefacts. Based on the form of sculptures inspired by mythological relics, Molin has casted small chocolate figures to represent the delusional nature of current societies. The chocolate sculptures are open to the sweet-tooth of the public, allowed to be eaten either as a whole, or as broken-off piece, leaving the rest of the sculptures looking ruin-like. The sculptures re-poeticise the consequences of our actions. Interacting with the worries and anxieties of the public realm and so responding to individual struggles, the work evokes an uncanny feeling of decay. Vanishing over the course of the exhibition, the chocolate pieces call upon the viewer to take responsibility for momentary actions while dismissing nostalgia.
ZOLLAMT (Helene & Joachim Baur) engage with the show in a slightly different way. Presented not on a neat display as in Molin’s objects – accessible and consumed – but distributed throughout the corridors of the Austrian Cultural Forum. With the aim to engage with the audience through its transitory passerby qualities, the little arts and crafts objects, such as bottles with symbolic designs, advertising flags, home-made soaps or the Amtsblatt [an official custom journal] positioned along the floor, draw attention to a society that is constantly bombarded with information and endless feeds of data. In the creation of a false reality, aimless walking and the unconscious feeling of entering into the future, ZOLLAMT presents the feeling of (over)stimulation created through objects. This leaves us with a longing, not only for a new time but for a new place from which we can see clearly into the present.
‘Newstalgia’ is accompanied by the third issue of Arts of the Working Class, a paper introducing the exhibition’s idea in a literal form and presents glances into the work of the contributing artists. It constructs an exhibition that moves past trauma and towards resilience, without feeding our desire for nostalgia but pointing to the importance of active public debate around our present day. The exhibition provokes further questions, reaching into society and find a place for art and artists, their movements and professions, and our everyday lives. This enables a break away from the current institutionalised, ‘false’ realities in order to come together to reform the present.