The Modern Palimpsest

What does it mean to belong in our digital age? Our days are spent adrift in a vast sea of content. News, advertising, reviews, listicles, think pieces, artifacts of a life lived both locally and globally. We gather a constellation of these digital shards around ourselves to create our own individualized universe of experiences. Living this way seems, on a surface level, to be the ultimate expression of freedom. On demand, personalized, ceaseless inputs and outputs to manage. But in reality, the experience of life in the digital age is often profoundly isolating. Belonging is difficult in a content landscape so disparate and outsourced, where the creation of something original is a novelty instead of a primary mission. Often we end up lost in the cold, searing white light of an LCD void, constantly consuming but never arriving anywhere meaningful.

In bygone eras, when the physical elements of writing were rare and valuable scribes would often reuse old manuscripts to record new ideas and narratives. The documents produced from this process are referred to as palimpsests. Much historic information was lost due to this phenomenon, but it was necessary to accommodate the continuing evolution toward a literate society. This process now seems entirely foreign, there is enough cheaply available computer memory to store all the text we could possibly hope to write in a lifetime. Our ideas can be immortalized in perfectly formatted electronic documents with excellent typography and accessed anywhere in the world on mobile devices. And yet, the content that we view is often presented in a kind of digital palimpsest.

The majority of articles on major web sites have a long, arduous digital paper trail. So much of the media presented to us in the brave new world of online publishing represent a rehashing of old ideas, reinterpreting the same stories for ever more specific audiences to maximize advertising revenue. The content we consume is often several levels removed from original creative thought. Is there a way to escape from this, to insert authentically communicated experiences into a web-saturated culture? Maybe the key is to return somewhere, to go back to the regionalism we shed when we became endlessly interconnected. We don’t live online, not really, we live in a place grounded in its own history, culture, and climate,  and for us that place is the North. A place where harsh weather and stark landscapes reveal profoundly human connections and ideas. Shouldn’t the things we buy, the content we consume, the experiences we share, reflect the traits of the place where we live?

One of our goals at Norde Tribe is to create a space, both digital and physical, that explores the cultural ecosystem of the place we live. We want to recreate the sense of regionalism that we feel is so far removed from modern life. So how do we escape this digital palimpsest, how do we avoid becoming just another content aggregator with a slightly more local focus? We decided to take a radical approach, to wipe the slate clean by imagining the Northern Great Lakes culture that we love in a post-apocalyptic setting. What we’re making isn’t palimpsest, it’s not a reinterpretation or rewriting, it’s something entirely new, painting a novel picture on the beautiful canvas of our Northern home.

-By Micah Eriksson


Jonathon Engelien

    I grew up in the valley of Central Wisconsin, in an area straddling a post-industrial world and seemingly untamed wilderness.  The harsh winters of the Upper Midwest, the liturgical display of seasons, and the economic and social decay of the region fostered my interest in survivalism and post-apocalyptic imagery. 

    I create in the framework of an idea I call Apocalyptic Nostalgia. I defined it as: The comforting and painful longing for the past and a destructive future, both as a means of understanding as well as coping with the present.  My artwork converges both the realities of nostalgic, comforting materials, with harsh, apocalyptic, and yet to happen sensibilities.  My artwork blurs the lines between fiction and reality.  It offers a setting for the viewer’s suspensions of disbelief, with the goal of intrinsic thought and meditation.  The work straddles the real and the unreal as it pretends to exist and come out of a post-apocalyptic world.

    Apocalyptic Nostalgia relates or depicts the natural world and/or human experience in it.  It is concerned deeply in paradoxes, with ideas such as survival, human endeavor, camaraderie, identity, individualism, community, vastness, intimacy, longing, rest, contentment, loss, safety, danger, hope, hopelessness, future, past, myth, reality, sacred, secular, longevity and destruction.