An invented nostalgia

Stating in his preface to The Art of the Novel that the world of theories is not his world, Kundera approaches the polyphonous nature of fiction as a practitioner.[1] He explains that ‘in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Tereza is staring at herself in the mirror. She wonders what would happen if her nose were to grow a millimetre longer each day. How much time would it take for her face to become unrecognisable? And if her face no longer looked like Tereza, would Tereza still be Tereza? Where does the self begin and end: You see: Not wonder at the immeasurable infinity of the soul; rather, wonder at the uncertain nature of the self and its identity.’[2] Not using words as material, but stuff, David Clarke allows salt to grow on silver vessels, to change the silver and to ultimately transform the vessel’s identity. The object, while embodying a change of identity towards the unrecognisable, can be seen simultaneously as past, present and future.

David Clarke, silver vessel and salt

David Clarke, silver vessel and salt

David Clarke, silver vessel and salt

He says ‘The conservativeness of the discipline really pushes me to become more creative, challenging and playful. It is essential to keep this discipline alive and forward thinking. Combining other materials such as salt and lead has been important to really attack the silver physically.’[3]

Rather than relating to abstract thought both the writer and the maker express their interest in the action, in the situation itself. They assert that in creative engagement reflection changes essence, it becomes part of the realm of play and of hypothesis.

Artistic works, informed by abstract ideas, are not in themselves the illustrations of those ideas. ‘Imagination’ Kundera says, ‘which, freed from the control of reason and from concern for verisimilitude, ventures into landscapes inaccessible to rational thought. The dream is only the model for the sort of imagination that I consider the greatest discovery of modern art’.[4] Rather than creating a fusion of dream and reality, Kundera uses what he calls ‘polyphonetic confrontation’, novelistic counterpoint to unite philosophy, narrative and dream within the ordered unity of his stories.

A perfect example to illustrate this is Tarkovsky’s film Nostalghia.



The image[5] I use here is the last screen-shot from the film, an exquisitely crafted scene that re-values utopian dreams and their failure, melancholically examining the decay, detritus and diffident survivals of historical modernity – a metaphor of loss and an attempt to visualise utopian nostalgia.

Palimpsest of creation, form, narrative, disintegration and re-integration stand in stark contrast to Modernism’s ideal of the purified form and autonomous object. They allow forms of the past to emerge and to coexist, sometimes as fragments or ruins, alongside a riot of other references (including those of modernism), while searching for a new sense of identity and meaning – like I saw emerging from the layered cosmos of ornamentation in this stunningly impressive graffiti from Metelkova in Ljubljana, Slovenia by an unknown artist.[6]



[1] Kundera, M. (1986) The Art of the Novel, New York: Grove Press

[2] Kundera, M. (1986: 28) The Art of the Novel, New York: Grove Press


[4] Kundera, M. (1986: 83) The Art of the Novel, New York: Grove Press

[5] The strange line in the middle of the image is because I had to scan the image from a book – so much for the usefulness of the web…

[6] Metelkova is an internationally renowned alternative culture community in the centre of Slovenia’s capital. A self-declared ‘Autonomous Culture Zone,’ Metelkova Mesto occupies the former ‘Fourth of July’ military barracks originally commissioned by the Austro-Hungarian army back in 1882 and completed in 1911. The space consists of seven buildings and 12,500m2 – making it a sort of city within a city – comprising a former prison, several clubs, live music spaces, art galleries and artist studios.

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About Jivan Astfalck

I was born and grew up in Berlin, quite some time ago… luckily in the western part of that divided city. After finishing school, much to the despair of my parents, I was not interested in anything. Fate rescued me with an apprenticeship to become a goldsmith. Many, many years of hard work later, having moved to the UK, I did my MA in the History and Theory of Modern Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design and practice-based PhD in Fine Art at The University of the Arts London. I combine my studio practice, which I exhibit internationally, with teaching as the MA Course Director at the School of Jewellery and Senior Research Fellow at the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, both Birmingham City University. This year I have been awarded a professorship by Birmingham City University; my chair is for Jewellery Art and Design. I am interested in using contemporary hermeneutic philosophy, literary theory and other appropriate thought models as tools to investigate narrative structures embedded in body related crafts object. In my view, the convergence of crafts, design and fine art practices is conductive to extending the theoretical vocabulary and map out new territories where crafts practices contribute to cultural production and dissemination.

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