Exploring the contemporary <i>Moon Under Water</i> through illustration: nostalgia and the power of the image
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This article uses images from the visual essays produced for Plume of Feathers, an audio-visual project, to examine the notion of ‘reflective nostalgia’ as an attitude towards meaning-making within image creation, in particular illustration that can counter certain political uses of images that present a restorative–nostalgic world view. The project at the core of the article is concerned with the decline of public houses and their social function in the UK. However, the image of the pub is embroiled within the visual rhetoric related to the UK’s (2016) Brexit referendum. This article explores the ways in which the illustrated image can provide a different view of the pub that reveals the conceptual construction of the notion of ‘pub’ and offers a critical alternative. The constructed nature of the illustrated image is then explored for its potential to visualize the past differently, following Svetlana Boym’s proposal of reflective nostalgia in The Future of Nostalgia (2001) in order to address problems in the present. The article proposes that reflective nostalgia’s utility as a critical tool lies in its consideration of the key role played by the surface of the image, through the material signifiers of age. As illustrators, embracing these nostalgic triggers when making images allows the viewer to reconnect to the past with critical distance, thereby returning politics to the surface of the image, something that Fredric Jameson saw in Postmodernism, Or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) as recuperated and rendered politically neutral. Illustration is therefore cast as a meaning-making practice that shapes the world it operates within, with the article suggesting that by making nostalgic images, illustrators can exercise their agency as agitators.
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