F U T I L I T O P I A | James Holdsworth

The Howling Owl, Adelaide



I feel as though every death of a Modernism should be succeeded by the words ‘not so fast’, uttered by some necromantic theorist with a score to settle. With the dust clearing on the discussion of Modernism’s demise (or lack thereof) we begin to inherit our 20/20 hindsight. Such is the way of discourse. But in this retrospection, a key characteristic begins to emerge - nostalgia. From the Greek nostos (return home) and algia (longing), nostalgia characterises a particular threshold in the passage of time, where one identifies a sense of loss or absence, coupled with a desire to reclaim it.

Svetlana Boym, on her theory of the Off-Modern, describes traditional images of nostalgia as a ‘double exposure, or a superimposition of two images, of home and abroad, of past and present, of dream and of everyday life. The moment we try to force it into a single image, it breaks the frame or burns the surface…’[1] Remind you of anything?

James Holdsworth’s landscapes are not propositions, but potentials. The un-structures, these absences in the surface offer potential histories that radiate in all directions from the present; potential pasts, potential futures. What good is nostalgia without the desire to reclaim? What good is the future without the lessons of the past?

We are denied horizons, the heralds of progress and endeavour, of utopia. Instead we shift sideways, unsure of what ‘-topias’ our nostalgias will yield. We do not move into the picture plane, towards the horizon, but past it, behind the surface. It is an escapism from how landscape acts, how it moves. A way of using its history, its nostalgia, a way of exploring the alleyways not afforded by its precursors.

Off-Modernism is the practice of potentials, venturing into the ‘side-alleys of modern history’,[2] imagining alternatives. Some would call this escaping. The same anticipation is present in these works, to move into an environment and to project a utopia – to be always thinking beyond. The missing spaces in the picture plane exist as possibilities - portals for us to escape through.

But these works begin to reveal themselves as Futilitopias when the inevitable question is asked - if nostalgia, if mere speculation, is a form of escapism, what are we escaping to?


Ash Tower

August 2014


[1] Boym, S. 2007, ‘Nostalgia and Its Discontents’, The Hedgehog Review, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Summer 2007), Institute for Advanced Studies and Culture, Charlottesville. p.1

[2] Excerpt from The Off-Modern Condition, by Svetlana Boym (forthcoming), Retrieved from http://www.svetlanaboym.com/offmodern.html [01/08/2014]