Once upon a time, in a land that existed without the internet, people got their media from hardware. They stored information on obsolete contraptions like VHS tapes, cassettes, CDs and DVDs and of course, flat little squares of plastic and metal known as floppy disks. People used these objects by the billions. In 1998, over 2 billion floppy disks were purchased in the U.K. alone. But when the new age of cloud computing and Web 2.0 arrived, the floppy disk, along with most other hardware contraptions, went the way of the Dodo.
But like ghosts with unfinished business, these objects contain the memory of when they were alive and useful to the material world. And London-based artist Nick Gentry lets these archaic mediums live again, through his portraits made from recycled, used floppy disks. Gentry says he likes to work with floppies because they naturally piece together into rectangular canvas shapes and also retain physical evidence of their past lives. Many of them have hand written labels on them, with phrases like “Skills for Life” or “Windows Drivers” – clues that indicate the memory stored in the disks. Gentry says:
“I use floppy disks because probably billions of them were created and really valued at one point, and now, suddenly, they don’t have a place in the world. They don’t have a use. I was probably the first generation of kids to grow up with a computer. As long as I can remember I had a computer to play on, and those old things that you could handle, like tapes and disks – things in your hand. Now, everything is kind of invisible, in a way.”
Lacan defined aura as that poignant sense of loss we feel when an adored object is no longer physically with you. There was a time when floppy disks were as ubiquitous as toilet paper. It takes an object to be on the edge of extinction and an artist who can recognize the aura and romance of that object – for us to feel the poignant loss of what once was. Gentry’s floppy disk portraits might also be an artist’s desire to grab hold of something nostalgic and familiar in a society that is hurtling through some frightening and rapid changes. Gentry: “I’m not sure how much people know about the direction we’re headed in. There’s good things, but also bad things – jumping head first into a big technological change”¦ I hope my art can make people think about the different ways we can reuse stuff, because everything’s chucked away now. Disposable.”
Recycling as a spiritual exercise. Recycling as a way to preserve the aura of objects. Think about that next time send your bottles to the recycle bin.