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I Had One Just Like it When I Was a Kid: Ongoing Questions of Nostalgia, Interpretation, and Detachment

Date and time
Friday, July 19, 2013

I Had One Just Like it When I Was a Kid: Ongoing Questions of Nostalgia, Interpretation, and Detachment

Over the last weeks DHC/ART Education has been finalizing a lesson plan to guide us through the interactive visits we do with groups coming to experience Cory Arcangel’s Power Points. We consider it a living document, open to change as we put it into practice — it tests both our theories and assumptions about the exhibition as well as the variety of ways visitors might interpret it. We are committed – and inspired – to go back to the lesson plan to reformulate the themes and questions that serve as points of departure for our discussions. The exchanges that contribute to this process bring us back to where we started as we rethink our approach for the next time.

Such is the case with the following question that emerged from reflections on Power Points’s (pop) cultural specificity: Does sentimentality interfere with critical historicity? My initial curiosity was around the ways in which nostalgia could potentially impede a certain distance required to explore meaning on another level. In other words, could a personal connection actually halt our efforts to reflect on and discuss ideas that interrogate the wider historical and aesthetic contexts in which both Arcangel’s work and the original object, image, persona, or composition emerged?

But in discussing our recent visits with young teens, Daniel and I found ourselves looking at the question from another, perhaps more familiar but equally important, angle: if visitors don’t recognize the tune, the character, the sound, or the hardware, why do they connect with the work? How do they construct meaning? What makes them care? And how are these questions tied to never having experienced a particular landscape, noting underrepresented communities in a collection of portraits, or recognizing the cultural significance of an ancient symbol or artifact – all common, if not everyday, occurrences in art museum/gallery education?

Over the summer, we’ll continue to work with pre-teens and teens, who are more likely to recognize Guns N’ Roses from their parents’ music collection than from their own. In the fall, we’ll be working with CEGEP and university students who were born 15 years after Nintendo launched its first handheld video game, have grown up with the Internet, but who are more experienced in situating contemporary pop culture in a historical / art historical context. Finally, we’ll work with adult education groups comprising individuals of diverse ages and cultural backgrounds and with varying experience with contemporary art. Woven throughout many of these visits will also be the visitor who remembers their first joystick or fell in love over Schoenberg. Or, those like me, who can clearly recall her unapologetic teenage ambivalence to Slash: How will all of these visits unfold differently?

Once the academic year starts, we’ll continue this conversation, sharing anecdotes, reflections, and teaching strategies related to the various ways in which visitors respond to both nostalgia and detachment in their search for meaning.

Emily Keenlyside
DHC/ART Educator

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