Nostalgia for the Future

If you are feeling nostalgic you are probably sentimentally yearning for a period in the past – for a happy, simpler time. But the past often thinks about the future, and its sometimes naïve and romantic imaginations can make you feel nostalgic too. Here’s Bernard Roundhill 1956 vision of Auckland in the year 2000. How we loved transport in the 1950s! Post-war New Zealanders started buying cars, building motorways, and looked forward to jet travel. Mind you, the brand name Winstone that appears several times in the painting suggests it was commissioned by the construction company, so you might expect a concrete world as their vision of the future.

Bernard Roundhill. ‘Auckland 2000′, 1956. Airbrushed ink and gouache with added brushwork on card. Purchased 2000. Te Papa.

Indeed, a concrete city did come to pass, but not as clean and orderly as the 1950s might have envisaged. Haru Sameshima’s photograph taken the year before 2000 shows a rather untidy Auckland in which the space age Sky Tower presides over a less than futuristic city. Sameshima exploits the undiscriminating eye of the camera to show us the hard reality on the ground.

Haruhiko Sameshima. ‘Sky Tower and construction site’, 1999. Gelatin silver print. Purchased 2001 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa.

Photography can help construct the ideal as well of course. In the photograph below, Sameshima shows a petrol station that looks a perfect  fit for Roundhill’s vision of the year 2000. Except that I don’t think Sameshima is being complicit with the designer to say how wonderfully advanced the petrol station is, but is pointing out the pose it adopts, its aching wish to be (like the Sky Tower) of the future. In her book On Longing Susan Stewart says that nostalgia has a utopian quality, that it is a longing for what does not exist in lived experience. Or that it’s a sadness without an object, without anything that can be fixed upon. So I think you could say that it is possible to be nostalgic for what has yet to pass, for the future. That’s what I see in the petrol station design.

Haruhiko Sameshima. ‘Portsmouth Motors’, 1980. Gelatin silver print. Purchased 1983 with New Zealand Lottery Board funds. Te Papa.

With past imaginings of the future then it’s possible to be doubly nostalgic – for the past era that created them; and by stepping within that past, to feel their nostalgia for a future. Here’s another Roundhill vision of Auckland (looking more like Hong Kong than Rangitoto I must say):

Bernard Roundhill. ‘Rangitoto Spaceport II – Auckland 2050 – “The Ambassadors”‘, 1960. Airbrushed ink and gouache with added brushwork on card.

Finally, if you are feeling in the mood for some further future nostalgia, you can’t go past Star Trek. When Te Papa had a Star Trek exhibition in the early 2000s there was an exhibit where you could press various buttons and hear what have become iconic sound effects: the swish of the doors, the transporter sound, the flip-open communicators, and the sshwwssh noise of the Enterprise shooting by through space (er, no sounds in space, right?). There are several websites with the sound effects, some set up as downloadable ringtones (I’m wondering about the “I minute to auto destruct” announcement – a good way to clear the room?). For Trekkies Trek Core seems to have every single possible sound, but for a more digestible selection see Soundboard.

– Athol McCredie, Curator of Photography

This is no. 9 and probably the last in my series on UFOs, aliens, outer space (and the future) related to photographs held in Te Papa’s collections. Past blog include:  Alien Power Source; New Zealand’s Roswell; Confusing Circles; Miniature Alien Invaders; Satellites of Love; Getting Close to the MoonRabbits on Mars?; Aliens here Already?

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