Nostalgia: a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past. From Greek ‘nostos’ meaning ‘to return safely home’, and ‘algos’ meaning ‘pain, grief, distress’.
Sitting in my local on an overcast autumn afternoon, I heed the recommendation of the barman and order a home brewed Pale Ale. The ale isn’t particularly nice, but I’m informed that it was brewed 10 miles down the road by two brothers who have a real devotion and passion for craft beer. Supping my way down the retro dimpled pint glass, I’m happy to be doing my bit to support the local craftsmen, but ultimately the intensely bitter aftertaste confirms that I won’t be ordering another.
Palate befoulment aside, I sit contentedly in my smokers bow chair, watching distorted figures pass by on the rippled glass windows, and revel in the darkened ambience that can only be experienced within a truly authentic Irish pub. Sitting in a state of poised quiet, before the post-work rush, the atmospheric reticence simultaneously evokes nostalgic notions of both intellectual mid-afternoon debate, and boisterous late night sing-songs. If these walls could talk. The antiquated mis-matched furniture charts the ‘make do and mend’ mentality of the establishment and acts as an historic tapestry delineating the interventions of each previous owner. Intricate detailing of the main bar and timber paneling call to mind the skillful hand craft of Late Victorian carpenters and serve to counteract the robust exposed timber beams which sit just above head height. Every aspect of the interior serves to enthral the senses and engender a wistful reminiscence of the historical nature of the building.
However, despite its venerable appearance, and for all of its nostalgic conjurings, this particular establishment is not the result of an organic tapestry of historic activity. Its mis-matched furniture is not a consequence of generations of ad-hoc improvisation, but is instead the product of deliberate and meticulous modern interior design decisions. Antique chairs and decorative bric-a-brac have been carefully chosen from salvage yards and auction houses to expedite the perceived aging of the building, with the intent of providing an interior seemingly steeped in authentic history. This particular pub was designed and established less than five years ago. If these walls could talk, they might not have that much to say.
Although it may be easy to dismiss this interior as a mere forgery; a simulated vernacular constructed around a mythical narrative, what it serves to highlight is the potency of the aesthetic within architecture, and its ability to consciously provoke a specific emotive response. The semiotic capacity of this particular interior is exploited to such an extent, that upon viewing, the thirsty clientele instantly affiliate their surroundings with feelings of comfort and familiarity. In spite of its historical shortcomings, the bar is constructed in such a way that, on a purely aesthetic level, patrons are seduced by the faux authentic, and, in the ignorance of any historical fact-checking, succumb to the sentimental grip of nostalgia – indulging in an aura of pseudo-superficial atmosphere offered by visual and tactile representations of the past.
The ability to conjure nostalgic imagery using modern methods simultaneously represents the human appetite for a connection with the past, and the contradiction which exists in trying to consciously replicate authenticity. While surface mounted aesthetics may reside in the realm of superficiality, the modern fatuation with simulated authenticity highlights the fact that, in lieu of the real thing, our connection with the superficial stylings of the past are still viewed as an attractive – and commercially lucrative - alternative.