Three options are available with each instance of brokenness:

Return: Re-approximate state prior to brokenness.
Concession: Landfill, death, surrender. Relinquish control to biology.
Transformation: Material and/or functional qualities are diverted. Seek/uncover an object’s novel capacities.

As a contribution to the conference entitled Open Engagement: Making Things, Making Things Better, Making Things Worse hosted by Portland State University, we took part in a bout of material philosophy over three “broken” objects contributed by participants/collaborators; a broken table, a plaster mold, and a broken heart. Together with the object’s owner, we will consider the object’s function, social and physical context, history, intention, material qualities… in diagnosing its condition, and work to determine the appropriate “repairs.” Each object becomes a vehicle for conversation and exploration of the nature of things, and our nature in relation to them. If It Ain’t Broke… undertakes a kind of watchfulness, that in a moment of rupture and vulnerability, an object might reveal itself in a new light.

Igloo Gallery
625 NW Everett #102
PDX, OR 97209

Consultations: May 15th through May 17th, 2001 at Igloo
Repairs: Ongoing – Please stay tuned for more documentation or visit our blog to see developments.

Updated information for:  If It Ain’t Broke – Katherine’s Table (The International Bureau for Consultation and Repair) can be found on our blog by clicking here.

If It Ain’t Broke – Katherine’s Table (The National Bureau for Consultation and Repair), 2010

If It Ain’t Broke – Katherine’s Table
The International Bureau for Consultation and Repair, 2010

In May, 2010 we conducted the first round of conversations introducing the now ongoing project entitled, “If It Ain’t Broke.”  This phase of the project was to consult with three owners of “broken” things (a broken table, a plaster mold, and a broken heart). Together, with the object’s owner, we considered the object’s function, social and physical context, history, intention, material qualities, etc.  This in order to diagnose its condition and work to determine the appropriate “repairs.”  If It Ain’t Broke undertakes a kind of watchfulness, that in a moment of rupture and vulnerability, an object might reveal itself and the world around it in a new light.

Katherine Ball is the owner of a broken table. On May 16th, we sat together and learned the history of this table and Katherine’s (and others) relationship to it.  We learned that, though not terribly sentimental in value, it was a useful fixture in the SEA Change Gallery.  The inherited table was used predominantly as a vegetable-distribution stand for a program called “The Free Market.”

In the spring of 2010, the Social Practice program at Portland State University invited Mark Dion as a faculty/artist-in-residence.  Upon his arrival there was to be a pancake breakfast with Mark as the guest-of-honor, hosted at the Cyan building in downtown Portland.  Just before the meal was to be served, students including Katherine discovered that the Cyan building didn’t have enough tables to carry out the breakfast.   Katherine volunteered a couple of tables from SEA change and in their haste, the students failed to adequately secure them and the table in question was thrown out of the back of a moving pickup truck in high traffic on 4th St. and suffered fairly heavy damages.  (Mind you, this letter is not intended to make you responsible.  It is more an invitation to be a participant in a compelling loop of associations.)

The event caused a great deal of anxiety for the driver of the truck, Hannah, who then had to call Katherine and tearfully apologize for breaking her table, and who had narrowly escaped the possibility of much more grim consequences (legal and social) having barely avoided damaging another car and possibly injuring its driver. A new relationship has emerged between Hannah and Katherine as a result. Having admitted to mild but non-binding sentimental attachment to the table and to a desire to having the table replaced or repaired, Katherine has adventurously opened herself to a less pragmatic response.

A somewhat mundane but relevant reference, John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  The table became a moment of rupture between the goal, and how the event was finally able to take place.  If, following W.J.T Mitchell we ask, ‘what the table wants,’ we may be led toward some compelling estimations of social value.  Clearly the table can’t answer for itself.  But we can, as we do with art objects, attribute a kind of will to the thing, as if it had wishes, or secret desires for fulfillment, karmic orders to fulfill… We do not intend to enter into discussions about causal reciprocity.  We want to imagine the table as an occasion within a social framework, that has taken on the role of the spoiler/talisman/artifact.  The table’s act of flying out of the truck immediately altered its ontological status from purely functional, to metaphoric and artifactual.  The table has become, because we have all chosen to make it so, a central figure in a web of associations.  We are proposing that the table be considered a trigger, or a material vessel now embedded within this history.  Our repair, then, might be an investigation of socio-emotional physics as demonstrated through object relations.  In an attempt to fill out a sort of ‘living equation’ we are proposing a circuitous “repair”.

We are interested in the way that Mark Dion’s work coincidentally approaches material culture, as a repository of varied social histories, forms of classification and taxonomy, and means of social stratification, not-to-mention the coincidence of his presence being the motivating force behind the table’s use and subsequent retirement.  It has come to our attention that J. Morgan Puett and Mark Dion are producing an installation entitled “Renovating Walden,” (which we found bears no small resemblance to our recent project entitled, “Rebuilding Mayfield” at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland), and the need for a replica of Henry David Thoreau’s writing desk that is currently collected by the Concord Museum.  We were struck by the visual relationship between these two pieces of furniture, and the recognition of how easily it might be that this table be transformed into our coveted desk.  See below.

Thoreau’s Table

Katherine’s Table

We propose to create a replica of Thoreau’s desk using material drawn from Katherine’s table, and offer this table to Mark Dion for the exhibition “Renovating Walden”.  In exchange, we invite Mr. Dion to help us in the quest to replace or reproduce Katherine’s table.  There are a number of ways in which this might develop:
A) Mark Dion, or Tufts University, could simply pay for the Walden desk replica at a rate that would fund the labor costs to cover our rebuilding of Katherine’s table as it was using material from a local salvage shop.
B) Perhaps there is a table that has been in storage for sometime that might prove just right for Katherine’s purposes, and we could broker the exchange.

It is our intention to compose a personal letter to Mark explaining these circumstances and asking directly for his participation.  For this we would need a direct address.