PROVO, Utah — At first glance, the terms “nostalgia” and “technology” make an unlikely, even incompatible combination. Technology invites change. Nostalgia resists. Technology looks to the future. Nostalgia clings to the past. But for centuries, these adversarial ideas have been harmoniously fused together, facilitating an acceptance of change and innovation by appealing to the past.
“Nostalgia & Technology: Embracing the New through Art and Design,” at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art from Dec. 2, 2005 through May 13, 2006, explores the role of art as a mediator in society’s acceptance and use of new technologies through objects, art, and ephemera representing a selection of domestic technologies. From the scientific instruments that shared shelf space with art objects and taxidermy in the collections of 17th-century nobility to the cabinet radio disguised as period furniture, technology often enters the home with familiar company.
“‘Nostalgia & Technology’ is not devoted to the cult of the designer or to good design versus bad design, but rather to how design and artistry help us embrace the new,” says Marc Olivier, BYU professor and guest curator of the exhibition. “Neither is the purpose of the exhibition to pay homage to the genius inventor or to present a chronology of technological history, but rather to meditate on the faces given to inventions as they are integrated into our homes.”
The practice of using the familiar to contextualize the new dates back to the Renaissance, when an increase in travel and exploration exposed people to a variety of new technologies and ideas. Noble travelers housed the objects they collected from abroad in cabinets of curiosities. These cabinets consisted of a room or rooms filled with natural history specimens, art objects, scientific instruments and curiosities from around the world. Cabinets of curiosities gave the noble collector a sense of mastery over the foreign, the alien and the new. They also allowed viewers to make connections between unrelated objects, uniting nature and art, antiquity and modernity in an overwhelming visual display. The unsettling unknown placed alongside the familiar in the homes of the elite made possible the idea of discovery without disruption to the status quo. Visitors will experience a recreation of a 17th-century cabinet of curiosities at the beginning of this exhibition.
Building on the themes illustrated by the cabinet of curiosities, “Nostalgia & Technology” highlights key moments in the development of new technologies, specifically those of the 19th and 20th centuries. The exhibition explores how nostalgic ornamentation and design have been used to facilitate society’s acceptance of innovations such as, electricity, sewing machines, typewriters, point-and-shoot photography, radios, televisions, automobiles, space exploration, atomic energy and wearable technology.
“Nostalgia & Technology” also presents a 20th–century mirror image of the cabinet of curiosities that visitors encounter at the beginning of the exhibition, where 17th–century objects have been replaced by their modern counterparts. A collection of decorative cell phone faceplates mirrors an arrangement of shells. A Palm Pilot resembles a cuneiform clay tablet. A Magellan Roadmate GPS device looks back at a universal equatorial sundial. By juxtaposing contemporary curiosities with objects which seemed so foreign 300 years ago, visitors will begin to question their relationship with “the new” and how art facilitates interest in and acceptance of technological progress.
“Nostalgia and Technology: Embracing the New through Art and Design” is sponsored by the George S. and Dolores Eccles Foundation, Bruce and Barbara Christensen, and the Robert and Amy Barker Foundation. Admission is free.