Nostalgia Machines

By: Steve Starger

David Winton Bell Gallery, Brown University • Providence, RI • • Through February 19, 2012

Zimoun, 216 prepared dc-motors, filler wire 1.0mm, 2009-2010


Is the sound of ripping packing tape analogous to the madeleine eaten by the narrator of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time? Does the tearing of tape produce the rich, obsessively detailed world conjured by that cookie?

A more down-to-earth reaction to Gregory Witt’s Packing Tape, one of the installations in Nostalgia Machines, might be, “What a cute little machine!” The ripping sound that the diminutive piece emits can’t be immediately identified as tearing packing tape, even though one is prodded in that direction by the sculpture’s title.

Nostalgia Machines is a small exhibit of installations (seven pieces by five artists: Meridith Pingree, Jasper Rigole, Jonathan Schipper, Zimoun, and Gregory Witt) that are intended to provoke feelings of lost memories and upend conventional understanding of the past. There are some brilliantly constructed devices on display, however Jonathan Schipper’s full-gallery installation, Measuring Angst, illustrates part of the problem with the exhibit. Long metal arms support a complex, curving armature that holds a beer bottle in its metallic grasp. The carrier moves slowly along the metal tracks until it finally smashes into a wall and destroys the bottle. The piece then retreats just as slowly until the bottle is whole once more. The parallels to the movement of time are obvious, but here time moves backward, only to begin its forward journey again. It makes for a mildly interesting intellectual exercise, but as a work of art, it is essentially soulless. Memories should evoke emotions; most of the pieces in Nostalgia Machines keep emotions at arm’s length. The mood is cold when it should be warm.

One exception is 216 prepared dc-motors, filler wire 1.0 mm, a piece by Switzerland-based artist Zimoun. The first sense that comes into play is sound rather than sight. A wall-length rank of motor-driven wires gently shake and twirl, emitting sounds that soon become reminiscent of rainfall. These inanimate objects give off real feeling and have the power to induce memories of rain falling on the roof of a cabin in the woods. Would that the rest of the show had offered the same experience.

—Steve Starger

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