My work navigates and comments on the historical space of post-war America as interpreted through the depiction of instantly recognizable period objects.These images possess a stylistic look bound to a specific place in history, a time in our collective American past that made us who we are today. These glimpses of the everyday, such as the shape of a chrome bumper and the stylized design of kitchen objects and period fashion, remain connections to real people through shared memory and speak to a collective national identity. In many ways they are modern icons; instantly recognized representations of a decade’s ideological connotations. I am actively exploring this ideology as both American history and pedigree.Why do we assign memory and meaning to consumer objects of metal and plastic? How is it that we experience the past through relics and what will the visual culture of the present say to those in the future?
The process of making archival images into re-contextualized artworks becomes a means to explore the past and its implications for the present.These images communicate across decades, and have the ability to elicit a wide range of viewer responses, from feelings of nostalgia and longing for lost times to feelings of repression and skepticism. As art objects, the are accessible to nearly everyone and at first glance even appear superficial, but are simultaneously profound in the ideas they explore and the process by which they are made.The action of slowly remaking photographic source material into an artwork compels the viewer to reconsider what is depicted and search for its inherent meaning.The iconic object is given new life in a new context to comment on the ever changing American identity.
Back to Go Forward (statement on my most recent project)
How can a relationship with the past exist in which memory functions as an active process, allowing continual reconsideration, rather than as a form of entombment, to which archives and museums are sometimes compared?
Renee Green, Survival: Ruminations on Archival Lacunae, 2002
The past is never a static thing. Interpretation of past events is as wide as the vast range of human experience. Some revel in the past and wish that they could somehow return to mythic times when life was simpler. Others look back and only see archaic ways of thinking and being. This vast chasm of understanding makes for loaded and endlessly compelling art-making, and it also addresses the very root of present day societal division. How we understand the past and relate to it tells us a lot about the ways we engage with the present and look forward to the future.
What is our relation to the past and why does the past matter? We can’t change it, but we can seek to understand how it shapes us. Perhaps my fascination with dated objects has been brought about by reflecting on the process of aging, or the fact that as a teacher I work and associate with young people who do not have living memories of 9/11, an event which still seems so jarringly recent to me.
Philosopher George Santayana famously wrote that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is an ominous warning about the very real dangers of ignoring our past mistakes. Certainly we’ve seen our societal failures and history repeating itself. This year marks the 50th anniversary of 1968, a year when the country appeared to be coming apart at the seams with nationwide protests surrounding civil rights and the sexual revolution, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, a growing distrust in national government and the horrors of the war in Vietnam played out on the nightly news. In hindsight, we were perhaps too quick to believe that we’ve learned from our collective failures. Now more than ever, it’s essential that we look to the past, to trace the present back towards its cultural roots—not so we can dwell there—but rather to reconsider what it means to live in the present and create the future.
-Nathan Stromberg, St. Paul, MN 2018