Revival: Memory and Nostalgia in Contemporary Art

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Many contemporary artists have turned to the past in order to negotiate and make sense of their relationship with the present. Similarly, museums have begun to look back in order

Many contemporary artists have turned to the past in order to negotiate and make sense of their relationship with the present. Similarly, museums have begun to look back in order to push forward and through a revisionist lens they scrutinize their collections and reveal ignored object histories. A prominent method some museums implement is allowing contemporary artists to comb through the vaults and present new relationships between their objects to their visitors. Through a psychological analysis of memory, and theorists’ dissection of nostalgia, object agency, and contemporaneity, I argue that artists Spencer Finch, Do Ho Suh, Newsha Tavakolian, Solmaz Daryani, Malekeh Nayiny, Mitra Tabrizian, Mark Dion, Fred Wilson, and Gala Porras-Kim function as revivalists – or artists whose works use memory and nostalgia to bring the past back to life. By attempting to retrieve memories, create nostalgic experiences, and question histories, they make their works tools for remembrance, reconciliation, and renegotiation with the past and present. The concerns these artists bring to the surface through their works build an understanding of how memory and nostalgia function as devices for personal meaning-making, trauma processing, and human-object relationship building.