There is no time like the past: Retro between memory and materiality in contemporary culture

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The project defines retro: the revival of aesthetic and cultural features of the recent past as a hallmark of late the 20th century’s culture and that of today, and analyzes this important phenomenon in the contemporary within a cultural memory setting. The project argues with the reading of retro as a depthless and inferior practice associated with 1980s postmodernism, and suggests seeing retro as consequently focused on a specific timespan (usually from 1950 to 1980), as being based on specific objects, and always as being practiced in specific contexts and often expressing the particular varieties and “accents” of modern culture. As such, retro is based upon an experience of the modern materiality and its changes, and expresses a new awareness of the everyday culture and its thing-world. Retro implies a musealization of the recent past, and performs a merging of the historical, the aesthetic and the entertainment – elements which are typical for the contemporary History Boom – to which retro also works as a critical counter movement. The project describes the cultural history of the term, and discusses its new popularity in the very present. A theoretical and methodological background is set up through discussions of material culture studies and the new interest in the theory of materiality, relevant concepts of culture, and cultural memory studies. At this background retro is approached through a case study of the 1950s as subject to retro culture from the 1970s to today. This historical rendition analyzes how different essences of the era have been chosen, and how materializations of “Fiftiesness” have been at the core of retro with the current popularity as a climax. To explore retro’s role as cultural memory in detail, the project
includes two case studies based on field research of retro practices in Montreal, Canada and Berlin, Germany - locations known for their rich retro scenes as well as a cultural context formed through a dramatic modern history. The analysis shows how the retro culture actively reflects this background and plays a distinct role in the cultural memory. By mapping new sides of modern culture retro forms an alternative memory beside the official musealizations and memory culture. The final concluding chapter puts these specified analyses of retro in perspective by discussing modern culture’s specificity and production of locality and the memory of the Mid-century Modern.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherKøbenhavns Universitet, Det Humanistiske Fakultet
Number of pages352
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014

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