Published February 18, 2010 by Molly




The word “nostalgia” is a compound from ancient Greek consisting of νόστος, or nóstos (”returning home”) and ἄλγος or álgos (”ache”). Etymologies don’t get much more beautiful than that. In 1688 a Swiss doctor identified nostalgia as a medical disease— a kind of hypochondria of the heart. For the next couple of centuries people went on suffering and being diagnosed with this beautiful disease.

A professor of Slavic languages at Harvard named Svetlana Boym spent years studying various manifestations of nostalgia, and determined that there were two distinct types of the sensation. One she called “reflective nostalgia”, which consisted of longing for the past without denying the present. The second type she called “restorative nostalgia”, which involves inventing a tradition to make the past more coherent.

We thought of these things when confronted with Hollis Brown Thornton’s work. With its circuit boards, snow monsters, and stacked VHS tapes, Thornton’s images are nothing if not material evocations of that peculiar sweet-sour nostalgia feeling. The reflective kind, to be precise.

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One comment so far

  1. ddeal says:

    My nostalgic reaction was to become teary-eyed remembering (okay, trying to precisely remember) the beautifully illogical three-fer tapes I used to record.

    Grand Illusion/Valley Girl/The Singing Detective Pt. 1
    Skin Deep/The T.A.M.I Show/Last Year at Marienbad
    Chinatown/Sunset Boulevard/The Virgin Spring

    Dah. Those were the days.