Online Ostalgie

from: http://plasteundelasteausschkopau.de/

The everyday culture of the “Second World”, the countries behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet dominated sphere forms in its “other modernity” in the recent past a source of an intensive revival and retro culture.

These practices spanning from more or less official museums over souvenirs and experience offers to trendy bars in former Eastern Block airline offices (see: http://www.csa-bar.de/) or dj’s playing Polish jazz fusion from 1970′s (Big Band Katowice do play Keith Jarrett really well! ) forms a very interesting field of popular and aesthetiziced cultural memory that I will describe in future articles.

First coming will be an article on the museum culture around the GDR everyday culture in Danske Museer (http://www.danskemuseer.com/).

Here, I will share some examples of the internet-based exhibition and revival culture around the GDR.

Mural in Marzahn, Berlin. From Alltagsspuren.de.

Alltagsspuren (http://www.alltagsspuren.de/index.php) is a project by a Dr. René Zimmer to present and collect traces of the bygone state in the everyday surroundings. This has produced photo galleries of murals, memorials and signs and a detailed description of the trace of the month, “Alltagsspur des Monats”.

Postcard from 1967. DDR Postkarten Museum.

A very profound and serious affair that deserves the title “web-based museum” is the DDR Postkarten Museum (http://www.ddr-postkarten-museum.de/). The collection includes motifs from even the smallest cities and everything is neatly archived and described.

For more specific topics of the material culture of this strange land, a site is dedicated to the “Plaste und Elaste aus Schkopau” the production of the chemical factory VEB Buna: http://www.plasteundelasteausschkopau.de/index.html

A calendar from a another time.

Finally, an intruduction to Wattfrass, Korbine Früchtchen and the other characters from the “Frösi” childrens magazine – a tool to create the citizens in the Peasants and Workers State, as they called it: http://www.orlandos.de/coanfr_50jahre_1.htm

Wattfrass could get a comeback in climate conscious present.

Graceland Randers – the materiality of mythology

It is strange with Graceland – at one hand it stands so much as a monument of Elvis image and mythology that it seems made for history, at the other hand it is obviously created very spontaneously from the man’s immediate wants and desires for immedate pleasure and presence rather than any wider perspective.

Not having been to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee I could not resist going the Danish replica, Graceland Randers, created by Elvis fan and collector Henrik Knudsen as the only permanent Elvis museum outside the USA housed in a copy of the original Southern mansion at a roadside location south of Randers that would indeed be easy to reach for Elvis the truck driver. Graceland Randers is dedicated to the life, memory and music of Elvis Presley (1935-1977) and is as such very much an institution of the memory culture of Elvis.

 

This memory culture shows to be one extremely based on things. It is hard to think of an artist creating a bigger material culture than Elvis from the costumes he wore, the products that is his work, the unashamed souvenir industry around him, the gifts he gave to people around him to, on a more symbolic level, the whole 1950′s and 1960′s Western culture, the groundbreaking consumer and popular culture age. Such a story is not explicitly told in Randers, but can indeed be felt, letting the gaze pass through the truly unique collection of everything Elvis.

The official communication is indeed a bit propaganda like, bringing thoughts of the rethoric surrounding recently dead Far-east dictators about his abilities.

Another unavoidable feeling is the combination of total simulacra, from the whole bulding to the inept kitsch of the objects (the collection is especially strong on the “Aloha from Hawaii” Seventies era..) and the focus on authenticity of cultic dimensions when a piece of wood from a stage he stood on in 1955 is framed and certificates of authenticity are all around. But .. for me at least there is also a feeling of some kind of authenticity – it works either because of or in spite of the gross surroundings.

A visit at Graceland Randers will provoke a strange reaction of irony, nostalgia, exitement and headshaking. And in the diner you can of course get El’s favourite food: Fried sandwich with peanut butter, banana and bacon (it actually tastes quite good!) giving Heartbreak Hotel a new meaning. Viva Las Vegas! 

Northern Soul – a very special revival culture

We are witnessing something of a revival of the subculture that Dick Hebdige and the Birmingham School oversaw in their studies of the 1970s English subcultures: Northern Soul. In Northern English cities like Stoke, Manchester, Wigan and Blackpool a dedicated culture emerged through the 1970s around rare soul and athletic dancing to it. In our retro context it is remarkable that the subculture was formed around the interest for 1960s soul in opposition to the contemporary music scene of the 1970s, be it rock in general or even the contemporary black funk-tinged soul music and its afro and bell bottom look. So the current Northern Soul revival is interestingly enough, in some way a revival of a revival.

 

The term “Northern Soul” was coined in 1970 by the music journalist Dave Godin after a visit a soul event in Blackpool. It does not refer to the origins of the music but to its role in Northern England. “Rare soul” also figured as a term, contrary to funk, contemporary soul or the usual ‘oldies’ or classic soul. The interest in up-tempo American black music in British youth culture has its roots in the mod movement of the 1960s and Northern Soul can indeed be seen as a development of this, moving from Carnaby Street and Swinging London to less colorful Wigan and the North and the bleak Manchester of “Life on Mars” (where even Manchester United did not win the championship through the entire decade!). The first venue was probably Manchester’s Twisted Wheel club starting to play up-tempo soul in the late 1960s, followed by other arenas like The Golden Torch in Stoke, the Blackpool Mecca and the most famous venue The Wigan Casino.

At these places (often reached in one weekend or night!) two activites characterized the movement. One was the music and the rarity cult of the records. As Simon Reynolds suggest, there must have been an overproduction of soul music in America in the 1960s, leaving lots of more or less decent recordings that did not make it to fame and fortune. These failures allmost miraculously resurrected as anthems for a huge and dedicated crowd far away! This lead to a collector mania where singles were traded for a week’s pay and dj’s covered the labels of their discoveries to keep the exclusivity of them.

The other was of course the dancing. It is my feeling that the common experience of going to dancing school as a youth and the more formal role of dancing back then has something to say here. (Another clue is the role of dancing in/as youth culture displayed in the film “Looking for Eric” by Ken Loach (2009) where the protagonist memorize dancing in the 1960s Manchester). The Northern Soul dancing was energic, ecstatic and athletic, mainly performed by males. For a closer account on the dancing, look at the article “Out on the floor: The politics of dancing on the Northern Soul scene” by Tim Wall (http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=1&fid=470648&jid=PMU&volumeId=25&issueId=03&aid=470647)
This was followed by a visual culture of emblems, clothes, gloves, and “soul bags” for records.

After this wonderful combination of black America and pale Northern England faded away in the end of the 1970s, it has gained a revival in recent years with many events every month in England, happening in a meeting between a young crowd and original “survivors”. I had the pleasure to experience one such, not in the North but in London this October. Apart from the events, a whole memory culture is developing around memorials from “the people who were there”, reissues and merchandise. Two recent movie productions are also dedicated to Northern Soul: “Soul Boy” of 2010 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_6NS_lLgis) and the forthcoming and more cult-heading “Northern Soul – the Film” by Elaine Constantine (http://www.northernsoulthefilm.com/).

  

Northern Soul is also kept alive by the dj behind the Wigan Casino, Russ Winstansley that since 2008 has been running a weekly radio show at BBC Lancashire, available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p001d7br)

Russ Winstansley, dj of the Wigan Casino.

This dj legend and the Northern Soul experience reached Copenhagen recently at a special event at Stengade, arranged by Backstreet Soul Club of Copenhagen. It was indeed a buzz of reenacted history to dance to “Time Will Pass You By” (by Tobi Legend) put on the turntable by Winstansley with talc on the floor. A combination of presence and historicism that is the goal and attraction of dedicated revival culture.

   http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150464320973156&set=o.77147798741&type=3&theater

“Why can’t we be ourselves like we were yesterday”

I recently visited the V & A’s big exhibition: “Postmodernism. Style and Subversion, 1970-1980″. Go see it! It is a unique musealization of our near past, and a candidate for the  museal event of the year, digging postmodernism or not!  I will present an article about it in the forthcoming volume of “Danske Museer”, the journal of Danish museums.

The exhibition ends with a fascinating piece of work: Artist Robert Longo’s music video for the New Order number “Bizarre Love Triangle” (1986). It is an flickering row of changing images with a returning motif of a suit clad man falling through the air. This particular image is of course reminiscent of Longo’s famous photo series “Men in the City” and the 1980′s proto Young Urban Professional. Here, the Young Urban Postmodern is rather out of control. See it where you can – it is an interesting and important work of its time, combining visual art, the music video and the music itself in a deconstructing artistic time capsule.

The image of the falling suit is still with us. For one thing in the 9/11 iconography and Don DeLillo’s “The Falling Man”. But also in the intro to the “Mad Men” series where the graphics show the silhouette of man falling between the Manhattan skyscrapers through drinks, women and other accessories. An interesting similarity.

A line in the New Order song goes: “Why can’t we be ourselves like we were yesterday”. A confession from the days of postmodern insincerety and a manifesto for the current retromania age where also the electropop of New Order has had its revival. The “ourselves as we were yesterday” of Mad Men is an interesting affair, ballancing between elegance and destruction, marking both distance towards the ancient days of 1963 and creating an affection for the style and look.  Talking about modernism and postmodernism, I just came across a sentence from Andreas Huyssen from 1986 about one of the good things of postmodernism being the ability to look upon modernism in a more reflected way:

“rather than being bound to a one-way history … which interprets it as a logical unfolding toward some imaginary goal, and which thus is based on a whole series of exclusions, we are beginning to explore its contradictions and contingencies, its tensions and internal resistances to its own “forward” movement” (After The Great Divide, p. 217).

Pretty descriptive of what Mad Men does!

Disco – an educational warning from 1981

Welcome back to Retro Culture. It has been a while, due to courses and field studies in postmodernism in Victorian museums in London. But back at office I want to share an object found in the deep storage of the library: “Disco-Kulturen” by Bent Pedersbæk Hansen, an edition of a series of educational booklets published by the association of Danish teachers in 1981. (Dansklærerforeningen).

 

“The world is gone crazy. In disco”. This is the alarming condition for the long haired teacher generation of “bongo-patter” (‘bongo tits’: slang word from the book meaning “the prototype of teachers wearing purple velvet trousers, a pink t-shirt and a colored napper on the head” / “Den prototype af pædagoger, der går med lilla fløjlsbukser, lyserød T-shirt og en farvet ble om håret. Og på fødderne et par solide fodformede sko”).


Thus this booklet that turns out to be a consciousness awakening warning against the artificial disco and its artificial needs. “Disco is not just entertainment. It is escapism” (p. 3). “Disco is not for the head. It is not about social lyrics, that one needs to think about .. The relaxing music is syrup for the eardrums at the party. To your party there must be disco – who dares to host a party without SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER on the turntable. Or maybe DON’T YA THINK I’M SEXY with Rod Stewart that has also become a ‘disco-drønert’..”

This is followed by interviews with teenagers spending all their money on clothes and hairdressing. And the ultimate warning: John Travolta only gets a minor part of the income of the disco industry! “There should be problems enough to adress”, as the good teachers state.
Lukily, they suggest an alternative. In the end Pink Floyd is mentioned as “ambitious and original music” that is “living all the time. “This is “good music””. The bongo tits have talked!

From the perspective of today, disco is a remarkably silent youth culture that has not been discussed with the idleness of punk, hiphop or any new phenomena that quickly gets reckonized as a new object of study. Hurrah, says the cultural studies community immediately. They did not with disco.
At the same time it must be said, that disco and its many offsprings gets an intensive connoiseur, collector and revival fashion attention nowadays. Just see the many elaborate outings as the Disco Discharge series, the Horse Meat Disco or, if I may confess my latest purchase: “Disco Deutschland Disco. Soul, philly and disco from Germany, 1975-1980″.

The modern past steals the screen: “Midnight in Paris” and “Submarine”

This time around, I will give a glance at the prominent position of the near, modern past in two current movies: Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” (2011) and Richard Ayoade’s “Submarine” (2010). Neither of them are history movies, honestly depicting historical material. Instead they are blatantly using the past as fantasy for the present imagination, placing them insistently in the field of retromania.
MidnightInParis-Stills-002-650x433 (1)midnight-in-paris-movie-poster-011 Through “Midnight in Paris” the fantasy comes alive with the protagonist walking into a lifelike cultural fantasy of the art scene bohemia of the 1920′s Paris. And it works as an inspired antithesis to the dull and disenchanted present, making a fruitful ‘present past’. Even though there are traps that shall not be revealed here, “Midnight in Paris” supports the temporal fantasies with a predominant approval of the cultural nostalgia as a legal strategy, both fulfilling and revealing this nostalgic fantasies.

submarine-quad1

“Submarine” is a temporally more twisted affair. Away from glamourous Paris and glorious fantasies of avantgarde heroes and welcome to snotty teenagers in the Wales province some decades ago. Exactly when is not good to know. Chosen emblems of 1980′s popular culture and technology occurs in a distinctly 1960′s and 1970′s like environment with simoultaneus cronological defects and details. Thus, we are puzzled about the meaning of the setting: Should it be plausible as an illustration of provincial delay? Is it just an aesthetic backdrop, setting a mysterious light upon it, half a tone beyond reality?
The usual temporal signifiers in this kind of movies, the soundtrack, gives no clue. It is made of a song suite from the present by Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys. The pictures themselves are in clear, diffuse retro texture, with selected scenes miming a handheld camera as a specific mood creator.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-Bysb3ceR0
This undefined, but characteristic past setting is both kind of dystopic and strangely attractive. This combination is typical for retro, surrounding the past with irony and nostalgia.

The Psychedelic Revivalism Revisited

The Sixties were a culturally decisive decade – also concerning the role of the past and the basis for retro. Maybe it is exactly in the middle of the decade that we have “The rift of retro’ (Simon Reynolds: “Retromania”, 2011) and the shift from futurism to revivalism as the fuel of cultural fantasy. The moment is defined in the upper right corner of The Beatles lp Rubber Soul (December 1965) with the ornamented graphics. Few months after an exhibtion of Aubrey Beardsley at the in itself retro Victoria and Albert Museum were the starting gathering of the London underground scene took place. And, simoultaneusly, the first psychedelic posters appeared in San Francisco.
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Here, a relatively recent past style were intensively used to creaty a visual culture for the psychedelic counter culture from ‘Swinging London’ to ‘Nouveau Frisco’. The Art Nouveau or Jugenstil were seemingly the opposite of the dominating high modernism.  Therefore it was appropriate for a counter culture as a demonstrative language both for internal and outwards directed communication. In a larger and slightly generalized perspective it could be seen as the first turn from “present futures” to “present pasts” in the terms of Huyssen (mentioned in my first post below) in the cutting edge culture. That it was also a manifestation of popular and counter culture is also an important condition for retro.

This is a complex and rich art historical field that I will not cover here. I will just mention a fascinating view into the psychedelic art that I recently had the opportunity to get in the archives of Design Museum Danmark (formerly and rightly Kunstindustrimuseet). Here Morten Lander Andersen from Danmarks Rockmuseum had invited me to join the study of the true pioneer of psychedelic poster in Denmark, Ove von Späth. From 1966 into psychedelic ’67 he created series of posters of high graphical value for Danish artists like Beefeaters, Poul Dissing and Exploding Mushroom and visiting artists like John Mayall and Bert Jansch.

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The use of the Art Nouveau is distinct and even stated in his unique and overlooked book from the time Psychedeliske ’67 (private press, 1969). Here the Jugendstil is praised as “… The first school of art that was deliberately created independently and as a break with 2,000 years of a Roman dominant perception …” (“Den første stilart, der skabtes bevidst selvstændigt og som et brud med 2000 års romersk dominerende stilopfattelse”) (p. 37). The revival must be careful and graphically responsible, von Späth emphazises. The emblematic San Franscico covers are surprisingly mentioned as unsuccessful examples. There are limits for the revivalism that the psychedelic culture did not respect when it went all in with “… bun dough-like fashion-ads and the sign painters’ scams …” (“bolledejsagtige mode-annoncer og skiltemalerfiduser”) (p. 15).

spaeth

Von Späth did not stay in “psychedelic ’67″ as this example show, but was leaving the potential of a fascinating art and design historical study. He is now known as Ove von Spaeth and seemingly dedicated to the study of the historical Moses and other spiritual and historical issues (See: www.moses-egypt.net). Hopefully we will one day be able enjoy his work through an exhibition or publication.

Regarding the psychedelic style of the 1960′s and its lasting inspiration on the arts, an exhibition is psychedelic contemporary art is coming up at Holstebro Kunstmuseum: http://www.holstebrokunstmuseum.dk/da/udstillinger/aktuelle.aspx?Action=1&NewsId=192&PID=4027 Looks interesting!

Retro Culture: Welcome out of time!


The content of this page would at most times in the cultural history of Man seem exaggerated, novel and irrational.

So it is not today. The intensive, cultural reuse of the near, modern past is a sign of the times to a degree that we in the words of Simon Reynolds went into the new millenium with the ‘Re-Decade’ – the age of retro. The years 2000-2010 also given the name of ‘the noughties‘ – where we had enough of ideas of the future, but could not get enough of the past, from prestigious restorations of the far past to the ironic commemoration of the near past in retro. As the German-American culture critic Andreas Huyssen has noted the last decades have witnessed “a turning towards the past that stands in stark contrast to the privileging of the future so characteristic of the earlier decades of twentieth-century modernity” (Huyssen: Present Pasts, 2002, p. 11), marking a shift from ‘present futures’ to ‘present pasts’ in the collective imagination. The paradoxical thing about this ‘memory boom’ is that does not result in a sense of understanding or settledness about the past, but corresponds more with an experience of memory fatigue, amnesia and lack of history. An interesting background for the current retromania that I think can be seen as both being an obvious part of the memory boom as well as some kind of reaction, even counter culture to it.

Retro is itself a new term. First registered in use according to Webster’s in 1974 and in Danish in 1979. Before it was only in use as a prefix in words as retrospective.  And we must go up to the time around 1990 to see retro established in the sense it is understood today as a distinctive, aesthetic goal in itself. Maybe the most surprising thing about retro is that it has stayed on the scene to this day and thereby lasted much longer than its object’s original time in the limelight. Think about it: ‘Greaser-fifties-style’ can only have been credible for a few years from around 1958 to 1962 and the frowned upon 1970′s style only distinct and fashionable from 1972 to disco and punk took over long before that decade had ended.  The second life of these fashions have by far in longer than their first time around.

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Returning to the dictionaries, I recently came upon Politikens Slangordbog from 1983. While I turned the pages of this mirror of the popular culture and discovered some 30 graphic slang expressions of ‘medisterpølse’ (for you from abroad see this delicatess here) and words as “pensionistkasse” (12-pack of beer), “Christianiatank” (the Citroën 2CV) and “sømandsballon” that would linguistically equip me for an Amager pub anno 1983, it stroke me, if our use of slang has also changed towards the present pasts: the slang use of today is much based on anachronisms and irony. Deliberately using a backdated word is a category in itself, supplementing the ones recognised by the authors of the slang dictionaries (see here).

With this little commemoration of Politikens Slangordbog of 1983 I will wellcome you to this blog. Here I will share ideas and impressions around retro and revivalculture, the topic of my PhD project “I Wish It Could Be 1965 Again – Retro Culture as Contemporary Aesthetic and Cultural Memory” at the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen.
Welcome and enjoy!
As a bonus from the slang dictionary, I can give you the following authentic retro slang for the new semester:

“Pædagogsolarium” – Overhead projector
“Agent 003″ – Teacher
“Borgerspeed” – Coffee