Andy Warhol and the art of letting go

Stroll with Nicole

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The temptation to nostalgia should usually be resisted, says Nicole Law.

I recently chanced upon an e-reader app on my mobile phone and was pleased to lay my hands (or fingers in the case of touchscreen devices) on ArtCurious, a book by Jennifer Dasal about curious tales of art history. 

The book itself regales the reader with accounts of various mysteries and conspiracies across the millenia, from the missing Mona Lisa to van Gogh’s not-so-simple suicide attempt. 

One chapter that stood out for me involved a description of Andy Warhol’s hoarding tendencies and his creation of 610 time capsules. These consisted of archival boxes containing paraphernalia which he considered to encapsulate the era he lived in. 

What intrigued me was not the idea of time capsules per se. I recall placing a school badge and a few trinkets in a small box and burying it somewhere when I was younger. What piqued my interest was the contents of these archival boxes and what they revealed not only about Warhol but about society as a whole. 

In addition to plans for art exhibitions, he also left cans of Campbell’s Soup (long-expired by now of course and quite rank!), scraps of a birthday cake, and even nail clippings for future generations to discover. 

An intensely private individual, the time capsules offer an insight into the artist’s interior workings, revealing his desire to hold on to and almost take a snapshot of a specific moment in time. 

I’m sure most of us have experienced something similar – that longing for time to stop at a particular moment, if only to savour its sweetness and capture it forever. 

Someone wanting to savour a momentn

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion, especially when we look back at happy memories in some phase of our lives. Those objects which Warhol placed in storage were his attempts at capturing the essence of a moment in time, not unlike bottling up air or scent as if to replicate the ‘perfume’ of this period. 

The range of objects also demonstrates that a moment is not reducible to the ‘big’ events in one’s life such as (in Warhol’s case) a successful exhibition, but can also embrace the small details of everyday existence – that slice of someone else’s birthday cake or even a few threads from a good friend’s sweater. 

The tangible objects provide a connection between the present and the distant past and evoke strong memories for those who stored these objects while offering later onlookers or viewers an opportunity to better understand the bygone era.

Today, society still struggles with the recent past.

Many people find it difficult to let go of their past – sometimes it’s a yearning for happier times, sometimes it’s a mourning of the loss of a loved one or an important connection. But our reluctance to lay the past to rest can turn us into other Andy Warhols –  the above mentioned 610  capsules grew from his earlier projected 130. 

We begin to obsess over the past, beyond the point of faint nostalgia, and this can, if not checked, prevent us from moving forward. In some cases, it means we never obtain the closure we need to progress into a new phase of our lives. 

Someone having nostalgia looking back at old photos

Such morbose nostalgia probably arises from fear of an unknown future and a desire to cling to the familiar past.

The past is security, what we know, painful perhaps, but experienced. Yet it can become a rope tying us to the shore and impeding us from embarking on the next stage of our life journey.

For if truth be told, we do not feel nostalgia for things to which we have no emotional connection. It is usually this emotional imprint which leaves a deep impression on our psyche and informs our future actions or behaviours. 

I love looking back at my past life, but of late I’ve also learned the painful necessity of ‘leaving the dead to bury the dead’, be these persons, connections or events. This can take the form of clearing my message history, archiving old photographs or even sending some old boxes into a self-storage facility, out of sight and out of mind. 

While time capsules offer us a glimpse into past seasons of our lives, if we are truly to venture forth we sometimes need to learn the delicate art of letting go. Time indeed does run its course, in the artist’s life as in ours, and we might on occasions have to leave the past … in the past.


Did you enjoy this article by Nicole Law? Why not click here to read some of her other recent pieces of wisdom.


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