Friday, 21 September 2018

Reimagining the Collection: A Large Box of Loose Parts

An excerpt of this text has been published in 'A Narrative of Progress: The Camberwell ILEA Collection', a catalogue accompanying the exhibition of the same name at Camberwell Space from 18th September to 27th October 2018. More info here

Due to historic damage, loss of material, or degradation, selected objects were deaccessioned (formally removed)(1) from the Camberwell ILEA Collection. Despite this, there is still much that can be learnt from their material properties, functions and stories. Here Camberwell students and staff have reimagined select deaccessioned objects in their own style, inspired and informed by the collection while maintaining the originals integrity.

The Camberwell ILEA Collection relies on its Curator’s knowledge to maintain its relevance, to be subjective in the best interests of the collection. Deaccessioning requires great knowledge - of what is best for the collection and for its users, of what will maintain its significance and what might muddy it. To uncollect is a big responsibility.

Brian Thill suggests that ‘for waste to be meaningful as a concept, we must be able to comprehend some manner of relationship between the waste object and its discarders’ (2). Something seen by the Curator meant that these objects, though deaccessioned, did not become waste. Instead they were passed to another who recognised significance and potential in them, as raw material rather than ended objects.

The deaccessioned objects include parts (lids, bases, unidentified pieces), whole but damaged objects, fabric and paper pieces too far gone to be safe to use, and a couple of objects which have reimagined themselves (the yellow plate). In the unstable moment of disposal, they became ‘loose parts’, and their large box an environment where ‘inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility for discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it'. (3)

Studios, although often full of variables related to discipline (tools and materials, bits and pieces), could be considered ‘static and impossible to play around with’ rooms full of familiar stuff. An attempt has been made here to throw loose parts into our studio practices, to see the objects afresh, and to shape some making around them.

While considering the significance and history of the collection, and materials and processes embodied by the objects, they have been changed in dynamic, and perhaps irreversible ways. Words such as complete, repair, manipulate, narrative and agency have been uttered.

These ‘objects in transit’ (4) have been (re)made into something familiar, tangible or knowable, and the skill is not just in the making itself, but also in the respect paid to the original (perhaps unknown) maker. The (re)makers were asked to consider biographies (real or imagined) of these often mass-manufactured objects, and think about conservation and patina, to step away from multiplicities or duplications, in order to create unique recrafted objects, simultaneously elevating the original maker back in to the picture.

The relationship between collecting, disposal and salvage, is complex and tensioned, as are ideas of value associated with machine-made and hand-made objects, known and unknown makers. The Camberwell ILEA Collection was designed for exploring - for attempting to understand these tensions. Loose parts are inherently in it, waiting to be picked up, tuned over, handled.

The (re)makers were asked to colour outside the lines of the original, but not to obscure what was there before. This is not the ‘self-effacing nature of repair’(5), or the radical change of recycling. Walter Benjamin suggests that ‘the here and now of the original constitute the abstract idea of its genuineness’(6). These reimagined objects, having been twice made, contain the here and now of the original and that of the new original making, further abstracting ideas of genuineness. They have avoided the trashcan, yet remind us of the existence of it.

The acts of (re)making here, akin to the Camberwell ILEA Collection itself, and the interests of the Curator, teeter in a space between respect for the past and interest in the future. What could be considered a plethora of remnants has been examined in a different context, as raw material, albeit steeped in cultural history, to re-situate them as parts, no longer loose.


2) Thill, B. (2015) Waste. Bloomsbury Academic, London/New York. p55

3) Nicholson, S. (1972) The Theory of Loose Parts, An important principle for design methodology. in Studies in Design Education Craft & Technology, volume 4, number 2. Found at (accessed 6th July 2018)

4) Gamper, M. (2015) Martino Gamper: Action Man. pp52-59 in Crafts Magazine. issue 257. London

5) Adamson, G. (2015) From Me To You: A Personal Account of Craft Curation. pp64-81 in Documents on Contemporary Crafts, no. 3: Crafting Exhibitions. Norwegian Crafts, Norway p71

6) Benjamin, W. (2008: 1936) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Penguin Books, London p5

Saturday, 13 January 2018

FixFest Lightening Talk

In October 2016 I gave a lightening talk at the alltogether awesome weekend called FixFest. Organised by The Restart Project, it was a gathering of repair-heads from all over the world, speaking about community work, practical skills, lobbying for change and generally hvaing a ball. It also saw the launch of the Open Repair Alliance and the first International Repair Day (21st October 2017, to fall on the 3rd Saturday of October forevermore!).

At a mere 5 minutes each, the lightening talks covered all sorts of topics from our very own the background of our Hackney Fixers to tool hacking to departmental/governmental involvement/co-option of repair parties. Below is my soap-box stance...

Repairing together: unlearning, sharing, changing

Leaning on a couple of ideas from an essay called Continuous Design and Redesign by John Chris Jones, what follows is a somewhat affirmative but mild polemic about repairing together.

I’m going to start from this quote:
'It’s so hard to unlearn, and unlearning is the essence of designing.
To share the design process with users is not as easy as it sounds.
It needs a change of roles, of self-images, on both sides.'1

As repairers we are simultaneously unlearning while we learn.  Rather than making something new, we intervene with that which already exists. these interventions potentially display our politics: they are slogans not shouted but made. They show interdependences, and repair-making is an informative act in the midst of object lives, rather than a finalising design.

By understanding that breakdown often stimulates innovation2, and that repair-making can develop understandings3, we can understand repaired objects as personal, political, active and rebellious. Also, importantly to me, it can develop, refresh and promote ways of working against obsolescence and waste, while also building communities.

Fixing things and sharing fixing skills, means one becomes what John Chris Jones calls a ‘professional encourager’: working with people - encouraging engagement with the repair and the idea of repairing. We also begin to share the ‘decisional burden’4 of repair as a user activity and service.  In this volunteer role, we accept what Jones calls the roughness of nonprofessionals, working with materials to hand, and work already done.  As such I feel repair puts the process back in to the object.  Repairing permits us to give up control, to work with the existent, changing our roles to work in a collaborative and facilitative way.

Reading Erich Fromm’s writing about obedience and disobedience, I think repairing is both 'obedient' to a 'reason or conviction (autonomous obedience)' of being anti-waste, and disobedient to those of our consumer culture, where, according to Fromm, 'obedience to a person, institution or power (heteronomous obedience) is submission.'5 To volunteer and share our repair skills is to push back, it is to act both obediently to ourselves, and disobediently, against blind capitalist consumerism.

This in turn embraces Fromm’s mode of being by which he means to 'to share, to give, to sacrifice - that owes its strength to the specific conditions of human existence and the inherent need to overcome ones isolation by oneness with others.' Volunteering as a repairer can therefor be considered a form of mutual aid - a anarchist principle of 'cooperation and generosity and solidarity.'6

On a slightly different note, Neil Cummings suggests generosity as a way to 'overwrite scarcity with abundance', advocating we 'keep giving and receiving.'  He calls this 'radical generosity.'7 Volunteering could also be considered a form of radical generosity that could overwrite emotional and material scarcity, and create connections needed for well-being.

The key elements for well-being  are listed by positive psychologist Martin Seligman as being positive emotion, engagements, relationships, meaning, and achievement.  He says that these elements are subjective and objective, and in order to fulfil them, we must engage positively with others.8

So potentially this volunteering goes further than just encouraging repair. It creates social ties, via group activity and showings of generosity and skill. These ties become firm through repetition, and create deposits of abilities and accessible knowledge hubs.

So to sum up, by repairing together we contribute to the repair movement for the post-abundance era. Stewart Brand states that maintenance is material learning9: I posit repair as being material, social and environmental learning. The connections made through repairing ‘de-garbage’ materials and knowledge10, and redefine ownership, values and power.

Repair is a Resilient act, material and social; local, adaptive and sharing. It is an act of obedience to ones self and ones communit(ies), and disobedient to hegemonic practices which do not serve the common good. Jointly we explore the professionally encouraged roughness of Do It Together repairing and community building, and we cultivate the generous, connected mode of being. I propose that through repairing we actively chose to do this.

  1. Jones, John Chris (1991) Continuous Design and Redesign (pp190-216) in Designing Designing. Architecture Design and Technology Press, London
  2. Jackson, Steven (2014) Rethinking Repair. can be read here
  3. Dant, Tim (2010) The Work of Repair: Gesture, Emotion and Sensual Knowledge. can be read  here
  4. Graham, Stephen , Thrift, Nigel (2007) Out of Order: Understanding Repair and Maintenance. can be read here
  5. Fromm, Erich (1981) On Disobedience and Other Essays. The Seabury Press, New York
  6. Portwood-Stacer, Laura (2013) Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism. Bloomsbury, London
  7. Cummings, Neil (2015) Generosity in streiricher, herbst., Malzacher, Florian Truth Is Concrete: A Handbok for Artistic Strategies in Real Politics. Sternberg Press, Berlin.
  8. Seligman, Martin (2011) Flourish: A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being and How to Achieve Them. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London
  9. Brand, Stewart (1997) TV show: How Buildings Learn - 5 of 6: The Romance of Maintenance. can be watched here
  10. Scanlon, John (2005) On Garbage. Reaktion Books, London.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The Big Fix 2016, 17th September, Stoke Newington Library

Hackney Fixers is excited to announce Hackney’s second festival of fixing, THE BIG FIX, to be held at the Gallery, Stoke Newington Library, Edward's Lane N16 0JS on Saturday 17th September from midday to 4pm.

We will once again be cramming as much repair activity as possible into one space, featuring:
The Restart Project, electrical and electronic repair
Traid: clothing and textile repair and upcycling
School of Stuff: chair repair advice
Hackney Bike Workshop: cycle checks and repairing
Plus Sugru, repair demonstrations and more.....

Bring, fix, learn, enjoy...and it's free!

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Experiencing Change / Changing Experience at ONCA Gallery, Brighton

Bricoleur Cup from the Spelman Cup series (2016)

I am exhibiting in Experiencing Change / Changing Experience at ONCA Gallery, Brighton from 27th July –5th August 2016. I am exhibiting my Spelman Cups (2016) and an accompanying text. This work explores Elizabeth Spelman's definitions of non-repairers, and our complex relationship to repair.
From the press release:What changes have you seen? | What makes you change? | What is change for? | What would you change? | Why do we resist change? | What makes us accept change?
International artists from the e:collective launch their debut exhibition of new work exploring relationships with change on a social, economic, environmental and personal level. The exhibition will challenge, enact, refresh and stimulate our perceptions and thoughts on change, and will be viewed alongside current research by scientists at the Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.
During the exhibition, artists in residence Mark Vennegoor and Aurora Sciabarra will each develop new work in the gallery, inviting visitors to participate in their practice.
Experiencing Change | Changing Experience investigates a world where environment and society is in a state of flux with large, and sometimes devastating changes predicted for the future. Change can seem inevitable or out of our hands, so how much influence do we have on change? Do we just react to the changes we experience or can we intervene?
 This project is devised by lead artist Valerie Furnham in collaboration with researcher Dr. Rosie Robison [GSI], and with the support of Arts Council England, ONCA Gallery and The Global Sustainability Institute.
PREVIEW | Tuesday 26th July 6:30pm – 9pm. Please RSVP to

Sunday, 15 May 2016

TRAIDtalks: Repair In The Community (23/6/16)

Photo of TRAID mending activist meet up, April 2016, by Sarah Klymkiw

 "Crucial to every society is the kind of union and solidarity it fosters and the kind it can further, under the given conditions of its socioeconomic structure."

Erich Fromm, To Have or To Be? p108

On Thursday, 23 June (18:30 to 20:00) I am really excited to be speaking at the eighth #TRAIDtalks along with 2 other leading voices with unique viewpoints on Repair In The Community. 

I will talk about the landscape and politics of repair-making. Through my studio and collaborative practice I am contributing to repair narratives for the post-abundance era, and the emergent repair movement.

Repair is a resilient act, it is material and social; local, adaptive and sharing. As an act of obedience to the self and ones communities, it is also disobedient to hegemonic practices which do not serve the common good.* Personally, I see the connections made through repair-making as redefining ownership, choices, values and power. Through repair-making we actively chose to explore, together, DIY repairing and community building, and we can cultivate a generous, connected mode of being.

The other speakers for the evening are Janet Gunter, co-founder of the RestartProject and blogger Jen Gale from My MakeDo And Mend Life.  We are part of a passionate network of active citizens making headway with the repair movement - sharing skills to benefit the community with an aim to tackle waste and counter over-consumption and working to inspire a repair revolution with wellbeing, skill-sharing, community and concern for the environment at the very root.  To revive the forgotten art of repairing things and improving relationships with 'stuff', this #TRAIDtalks will involve story-telling and sharing case studies to inspire positive change within communities.

TRAID is a fashion reuse charity working to stop clothes from being thrown away.  They turn clothes waste into funds and resources to reduce the environmental and social impacts of our textile use.

Spaces are limited so please book early to avoid disappointment.

Suggested donation on the door: £5 to support Ziferblat, a shared community space in Old Street, cash or card payments accepted.

Refreshments will be provided.

Please support TRAID’s work by bringing a bag of your unwanted wearable clothes, shoes and accessories for reuse and reselling through their charity shops.

Ziferblat - First Floor 388 Old Street, London, EC1V 9LT
Please note the venue is on the first floor and does not have wheelchair access.  

 * see this blog post for more on obedience and disobedience