The Repair Shop project addresses a number of things in need of repair, including ordinary objects. Ten broken things were brought to the gallery to be repaired. Upon repair, the objects were returned to their owners from whom we collected a modest fee that was added to the larger Repair Shop Grant. The objects became for us ‘conversation pieces’ in which each object provided a vehicle for considering what it is to be broken, and what it might mean to repair the given object. The following are some thoughts on repair and brokenness.
In some cases “The Shop” is experienced as a retreat. It might be an organized space away from the world, a refuge to which one withdraws under threat of one form or another, from genuine conflict to simple boredom. A sense of agency is supported here, through the momentum of small successes and affirmations of creative capacity. The caster on a TV cart, a sticky handle, a small engine, a chipped teacup all yield to repair more readily than the broad world of intransigent socio-economic or psycho-emotional crises dogging even the most mundane lifestyle. In this simple sense, Object Repair links itself to the world of basement tinkerers, weekend craftspeople, and even Do-It-Yourselfers, but proposes that the rubric of tinkering be applied to a broader array of social, ethical, ecological, etc. problems or instances of brokenness.
Three options are available with each instance of brokenness:
Return: re-approximate the state prior to brokenness. This is our typical understanding of repair:, bringing the object back to its intended function.
Concession: landfill, death, surrender. At this point, we relinquish control to biology, the gods, the non-human forces. We relinquish responsibility for the object.
Transformation: material and/or functional qualities are diverted. We seek or uncover an object’s novel capacities. Examples might include recycling, adaptive reuse, or museological appropriation, amongst countless others.
The philosophy of Martin Heidegger proposes to reverse the common understanding of objects as most essentially materials possessing certain functional attributes. Through one illustration, he describes a hammer as foremost a capacity, fundamentally determined by its relationship to other things in a specific ‘world’. In this case, a hammer’s ‘world’ is comprised of human tool-wielders, the nails that it might drive, and the constructions that might emerge through its use. He points out that this quality of “ready-to-hand-ness” is one we do not regularly see because the object disappears so completely into its function. When it works, it is invisible. In fact, the moment of fracture is where the object’s more central identity comes into view. It is here that we are faced with the object’s loss of functionality and recognize its sudden alienation from its ‘world.’
Sitting idle, a broken hammer seems to ride between categories, to have no place. It no longer fits within the circumstance that provided the hammer a sense. The hammer has died in a fundamental way. Having lost its pounding ability, it seems relegated to brute materiality. Dead weight. It is more accurately a has-been than an is.
But is there a world in which a broken hammer has a place? Just as a hammer hanging from its place on the pegboard promises a capacity, might a hammerhead alone on the table point toward other possible forms or ‘worlds’? If a thing’s essential ontological status is observable in this moment of rupture, might it also give birth to an up-to-this-point-indeterminate set of capacities, something as well suited as a functioning hammer? The Object Repair project undertakes a kind of watchfulness, that in this moment of rupture, we might intuit what the broken thing might become. If, as Heidegger says we are the “beings of the between,” our imagination and synthesis is not only crucial, but a fundamental reality, more solid and basic than the ground we stand upon. A world found rubs against a world created. These objects become vehicles for conversation and exploration of the nature of things, and our nature in relation to them.