Julie Rafalski

On Nostalgia

Found in Berlin, Collage, 15x10cm, Series of five unique collages, 2012

We live in the age of Instagram and tape dispensers that are disguised as obsolete cassette tapes. So much of culture today is about looking back at the past.

Italo Calvino said that every experience is unrepeatable. The experience of seeing is also unrepeatable. Every time we look at something we see it slightly (or even very) differently.

And every time we remember, we remember slightly differently, so that through the years our memories of the same object or event change. The Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska has said that for years she had been telling of a striking scene in a Bunuel film. The way she remembered it, the scene showed a woman in a street embroidering old rags with golden thread. Then she saw the film again, and the scene was there, only there was no woman embroidering. How we remember past events changes over time, incrementally, based on subsequent experiences.

As memories are constantly evolving and changing, we lose the past at a constant pace and in its place come altered memories, memories that have the capacity to fictionalise the past.

A photograph helps us remember an event only in a superficial way. Details we may have forgotten- the print of a dress, the placement of furniture, the youthful look of a face. But it also supplants our memories of an event so that our memories begin to merge with the photo.

In this light, nostalgia, which is defined as a longing for the past- seems to be rather a longing for a particular moment that we have selected from the vast archive of the past- but seen in the light of the present.

Nostalgia- is a longing for the past not as it was, but as we remember it now, as our memories fictionalise it.

What will our memories become in 10 or 20 years time? How many will we loose? How different will the ones we have now become?

In a way nostalgia is impossible, for we cannot long for the past, because we have already missed it, or mis-recorded it or our memories have changed it. We feel nostalgic for the past that has become altered, disfigured, fictionalised, a past that is made with materials of the present.