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James Thompson

Art and Nostalgia in the Age of Technology

As an outgrowth of the larger themes addressed in my research regarding time, place, identity and purpose, my recent artwork has been influenced by concepts such as the fragmentary and the whole, the contemporary present and the ancient past, the process and its end product, ritual engagement and belief, practice as a form of sustenance, individuality and cultural heritage, and a search for what may have been lost, all set against a backdrop of both, the landscapes of the American West and Great Britain. I read recently about a museum exhibition centering on medieval archaeological fragments from Scotland of what were once Pictish objects (that may have been utilitarian, ceremonial, agricultural implements, votive offerings, forms of dress, instruments of war, tools for personal grooming, or simple household goods) that have been reconstructed so as to be viewed in a possible state of completeness and perceived as whole. In order to recreate facsimiles of the original objects, the museum had to enlist the support, skills and expertise of contemporary artists and artisans who were commissioned to explore the possible methods, materials, processes, tools and technologies of the Picts in Scotland as part of their practice to reproduce from these fragmentary pieces various objects that might represent what may be an actual copy of the whole to better understand the distinctive cultural heritage of their people.

As a contemporary artist known for my abstract works and the conceptual practice I employ to create them, this method of reproduction of a whole from fragments has begun to interest me more as I explore interdisciplinarily the realms of art and archaeology, current thought and ancient technologies, and the speculative nature of these historic methods of production that have been forgotten or abandoned along with the tools utilized in the making of these ancient objects not to mention the objects themselves reduced to fragments and offering few clues as to their original shape, form or cultural purpose to the Picts of Scotland. As inhabitants of 21st century global culture, the technologies available to us in an increasingly digital world divorce many of us from the process and practice of making or creating. We can now be scanned and at the touch of a button 3-D printers generate a complete sculptural representation of our bodies, perfectly replicating our image or likeness in the form of a detailed statue for around 40 quid at participating Asda stores in Britain. This reality raises important questions for me about the role and purpose of art and visual culture, our collective engagement in the processes and practice of making, and whether our distinctive cultural identity is transformed or found wanting in the absence of creativity as traditional tools, materials, methods and technologies are abandoned or rendered obsolete in a world of high-speed technological changes that can and do increasingly separate us from an engagement in process, practice, ritual and skill that sustain and define us as a people.

My proposed research agenda involves the investigation of traditional or ancient methods, tools, materials and technologies used by the Picts in Scotland during the medieval period to produce seemingly mundane objects. I want to reproduce or try to replicate a simple utilitarian object using these traditional materials, methods, technologies and processes to determine whether my perception of the final object is transformed by my experience of having devoted my time and energy into making it. Will the status of the utilitarian object be elevated after having worked on it for so long by hand or will it remain mundane or common? Will I appreciate it all the more for having labored on it or will I simply be glad when it is done? I am looking to collaborate with a faculty member and an independently minded student whose own research intersects, runs parallel to, shares or integrates these themes or relates in some way to: the study of a particular ethnic or cultural group from a specific place; objects belonging to a particular people in time; material or technological culture; new media or obsolete technologies; the cultural landscape of the internet; tools, technologies or objects being transformational in nature; engagement in ritual acts, practices or processes that are sustaining, etc. (For example, students researching traditional Native American objects, their creation, or uses in a museum or contemporary setting are welcome as are students studying the history and evolution of the plow from its medieval inception to those used for contemporary industrial agriculture. Be creative, independent and dedicated to your own self-designed research agenda so that when we meet during the course of the summer our exchanges will inform the intended collaborative educational spirit of our liberal arts research collective.)