Remember the disconcerting turn of the century? The fear of computer catastrophe? The sheer panic
that power stations would go into melt down and planes would fall out of the sky? Thankfully we were
mistaken, however in one second the industrial age became the information age, and our consciousness
moved from an analogue one to a digital one – changing the ways in which people relate to each other
forever. Yet here we are again, physically experiencing a whole new landscape – digital takeover.
Following the economic downturn, this historical moment of analogue to digital switch over
demonstrates how social, political and cultural failures of the present day – a collapse of reliable
frameworks – seems to have led a number artists to re-conceptualise the ‘residual**’ – acknowledging
the strength of analogue technologies and how it maintained idealism and authenticity.
Having been exposed to a postmodernist discourse and post conceptual practice, artists seem to be
reverting back to a modernist approach, utilising and revising traditional forms of cultural production.
This resurgence of analogue processes seems to be a reaction to the current digital environment, a
transition that is seemingly sparking an irreverent fear of technological advancement.
Situated firmly in the twenty first century, artists are now offering an ambiguous answer to cultural
history, allowing us to reflect upon these residual cultural elements – reliable technologies and/or
symbolic moments – that were formed in the past but have remained at the forefront of dominant
cultures. This paradoxical return to past technologies in the face of their impending obsolescence has
marked a conceptual transformation in what Lev Manovich notes as a postmedia† era, allowing us to
revert back to ‘old’ practices in light of ‘new’ technologies. This can be seen as a logical standpoint
by understanding the making of artwork through this condition contemporary art situates itself.
This connection of past through to present and beyond has become a significant aspect of work by
artists such as Jeremy Deller, Liz Deschenes and Jamie Shovlin. Renegotiating the heritage and
tradition of the artists’ hand within an unfolding new age, artists are illustrating what fetishising the
digital and analogue represents. The ephemeral nature of digitalisation and the collapse of ideals that
dominate today’s society have lead to the materialisation of past practices, invoking not only nostalgic
tendencies but also the need to revisit idealistic approaches. Where artists appear to be reverting back;
they’re actually simultaneously paving the way for their own future.
- Laura Hensser
*The title ‘Futureshock’ taken from Alvin Toffler’s 1970 publication
** The idea of ‘residual’ is based on Raymond William’s essay, Dominant, Residual, and
Emergent. Residual “has been effectively formed in the past, but is still active in the cultural
process, not only and often not at all, as an element of the past, but as an effective element of the
present…” (Williams 1977, 122)
† Referring to Manovich, L and Lovink, G, Digital Constructivism: What is European Software?
1998 and Rosalind Krauss A Voyage in the North Sea. Art in the Age of the Post-Medium
Condition, 1999 – Ideas of postmedia / post medium ideas.