I had to give a 10 minute talk yesterday in front of the faculty and cohort of my department on my art practice (Do I have an art practice? I guess I do). What seemed like a simple task went south on me kind of quickly as I raced through topics trying to stay within the time limit. Probably no one really cared but me, but all last night I found myself thinking “Why did I say that? Why didn’t I say that?”

One topic specifically that I didn’t really explain, even though I had the opportunity, was the idea of critical retrocomputing- a phrase that Rachel Simone Weil coined that I find useful. I mentioned a talk she gave at MagFest on modding, hacking and homebrew, and the idea that unexamined nostalgia is problematic, but I didn’t really talk about what that phrase means as a practice. For Rachel it means really considering the history of the hardware you are creating for and not just exploiting it as an aesthetic without having something to say about that hardware and its place in history. That could mean creating a counter-history or creating a game that should have existed when the platform was popular. Rachel and I worked together on some projects using early macintoshes as a place to create what-if alternate histories, and that has kind of lingered with me in a couple of other experiments, like Obelisk and my Deja-Vu inspired comic. For Rachel critical retrocomputing often means creating a language of possibility in a heavily gendered area that she once felt excluded from. For me it also means leveraging powerful feelings I had about technology as a young person (which I also felt excluded from by class) and contrasting it with where those technologies have ended up. I can also imagine projects of possibility (that are actually even fun to play), but those usually end up in the “still too ambitious” pile in my list of projects. The next project I am thinking about lies somewhere in-between.

Here’s Rachel’s talk at MagFest. Her “why’s” are saved for the end, but the whole talk is worth watching.