‘It’s all happening, and not, in greyscale – here and somewhere else. Draining away…’- Tom McCarthy, ‘The Making of Incarnation’
“Nostalgia is a sentiment of loss and displacement, but it is also a romance with one’s own fantasy” – Svetlana Boym, ‘The Future of Nostalgia’
Nostalgia, according to Boym, was once considered to be a psychological disorder, a reminder that society tends to assign the label of ‘disorder’ to anything that does not adhere to the normative expectations of the time. Whilst restorative nostalgia seeks a return to (or refrain of) the past, reflective nostalgia engages with ideas around longing and belonging. Boym suggests that ‘reflective nostalgia lingers on ruins… in the dreams of another place and another time’.
Boym also believes that there are times when ‘is not directed towards the past… but rather sideways’. As such, nostalgia may manifest as a longing for an alternative version of the present that remains elusive – somewhere close, but just out of reach on a parallel timeline. Closely related to the concept of nostalgia is ‘hauntology’, which describes a kind of nostalgia for lost futures. For Derrida, hauntology is a matter of ontology – the nature of being.
While the lost UK manufacturing industries were by no means bastions of a ‘whistle-while-you-work’ utopia, what replaces them feels, in many ways, like a step backwards in a world of automated productivity – of technological determinism – of digital acceleration – the amazon warehouse – the coldcall centre – sports direct – a separation of the products of labour from the worker – self-surveillance in the workplace – ‘wellbeing awareness’ – of persistent connectivity & the colonisation of free time – “the loss of the self’ (marx) – precarity – austerity – capitalist realism (mark fisher) – ‘we are all in this together’ – a ‘return to normality’ – it is no wonder that we romanticise the last remaining traces of a slower past. Alternative possibilities reside like memories stored by objects, the melancholy of the obsolete hinting at a different version of progress…
Simon Reynolds uses the word ‘dyschronia’ to describe a kind of temporal detachment or confusion about time, whilst this use of the word tends to describe a cultural sense of disjunction, arising from the overwhelming availability of aspects of past culture via the internet, entering particular spaces can also generate a kind of dyschronic experience in the individual, resulting in a sense of having somehow stepped out of time. such experiences seem to have a compulsive appeal, leading the individual to persist in seeking this dyschronic fix in increasingly esoteric spaces. This is not to suggest that dychronic experience = atemporal experience. Time does not simply disappear. However, in such spaces the fundamentally disordered nature of time is thrown into sharp relief
The allure of the power station control room is, at least in part, one infused with a complex kind of nostalgia – one orientated towards the past but also an alternative kind of future. Aesthetically the analogue control room, seen in the recently decommissioned UK power stations, recalls a vision of the future firmly situated the cultural artefacts of 60s and 70s: films such as Alien, 2001 and Tarkovsky’s Solaris.
However, when this imagined future failed to materialise in any tangible sense, spaces such as this became the last remnants of these vintage-futuristic visions. These illusory ‘ghosts of lost futures’ soon to be reduced to scrap, offer the visitor both a nostalgic glimpse of UK industrial past, and a chance to fleetingly contemplate the unrealised possibilities of displaced (and, perhaps, more appealing) presents and futures.
Analogue photography is the medium of choice for the discerning documentarian of lost futures. To shoot with film is to consciously carve out time for slow creativity. From loading the film through to development of the final images, every aspect of analogue photography takes time, patience and a degree of care that is at odds with the pace of modern life. Aesthetically, photos taken on film capture the auratic nature of certain spaces. a digital rendering of an analogue control room could only have been ade in the late 20th – 21st century, whereas the analogue equivalent is situated somewhere less temporally secure.
“Surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action.” ― Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’
Foucault talks of surveillance networks action as capillaries of power. Such networks of surveillance are not only constructed from the most visible manifestations of state apparatus – CCTV, police, security – but crucially are also embodied by the general populace, who continually monitor each other as they go about their daily business.
An individual observed deviating from the default mode of being can expect glares of disapproval, verbal confrontation or a nudge in the direction of the autorities. This perpetual state of surveillance shapes the possibilities of what one can achieve in day-to-day life.
Entering a drain, an industrial site, an abandoned building or viewing the world from an urban rooftop reconfigures the relationship between the individual and the mechanisms of surveillance. Reframing industrial and infrastructural spaces as sites of exploration, as locations open to direct embodied experience, re-enlivens an individual’s connection with otherwise banal or extraneous space. In this way, it is a logical extension of practices routed in psychogeography that encourage curiosity and subjective reworkings of the urban environment that understand the palces in which we live as a site of mystery and adventure.
Boundaries erode, systems fail and the precarious illusion of control soon unravels into disorder.