Object Expressions Panel

Object expressions panel, research in process
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Tom Lee explains how the Repair and Object Expressions panel emerged as an idea:

Although I can’t remember where it originated, something smelt right about the idea to host a panel on the different ways we relate to objects after I had an interesting corridor conversation with a colleague about the taxidermy collected by her ex-husband, which decorated the walls of their small apartment in Potts Point. While many of the details of this conversation are now lost to me, I do remember a particular image that involved her daughter hanging her school bag on the horns of one of the animals, perhaps a deer of some sort, and the sadness and disappointment she experienced upon discovering that her father had sold the item, her favourite in the collection, without any prior announcement.

The conversation was provoked by a tweet of mine from some days earlier, which read: “If anyone is buying a birthday present for someone in the next couple of weeks I would love to have a chat with them for something I’m writing. PM if interested. I will buy coffee and treat/ or lunch.” My colleague had recently purchased a birthday present for her daughter, and when she mentioned this to me in passing, after having read the tweet, I began to explain the broader project of which the tweet was part, specifically the idea that there are different frames of reference or genres, which in part determine our feelings towards objects, and which objects themselves give us the ability to feel: it is far easier to feel like you have given a gift when you have a gift to give and our sense of giving is enriched by subtleties of the things we choose as the mediators of our gratitude and affection. One of the other so called genres I had in mind, as well as ‘gift’, was ‘collect’, and it had inspired a reflection on behalf of my colleague about her days living among the taxidermy specimens collected by her ex-husband.

What this encounter—and many others like it—confirmed was the intimate connection people have with certain objects in their lives, particularly when those objects are understood as part of ceremonial or ritualistic acts. It seems that access to those ever elusive notions we think of as properly human—such as ‘identity’, ‘subjectivity’, and indeed, ‘the human’ itself—are made tangible through acts or practices in which objects are central—practices like repairing, giving, collecting, disposing, refusing, designing, acquiring, destroying, hiding, and no doubt many more.

This is hardly an earth shattering insight and is well-known, of course, to anyone who has studied, read or practiced anthropological research. Nonetheless, there is a resilient tendency to ignore and degrade objects in many humanities disciplines and in popular discourse derived from them. While subjectivity is celebrated, to be made an object is degrading (this is perhaps a bipolar correction of the contrasting tendency in the sciences to emphasise the objective at the expense of the subjective). Furthermore, in cultures of abundance there is an uneasiness associated with the emotional investment in objects. Sentimentality and fetishisation are often spurned, and the widely used but poorly understood notion of consumerism often obscures whats really going on when people hand over money to get closer to things.

As a writer and thinker, I am never very good at tackling something head on, so when investigating the relationship between design and repair, it seemed appropriate to explore these two object-oriented practices through a set of other, different-though-related practices. I’d always found the commonly trotted out binaries of broken-versus-working—or, if you’re a Heideggerian, ready-to-hand and presence-at-hand—to offer disappointingly impoverished picture of the complex, experiential interweaving that goes on between human subjects and the things that compose our lives. A list of nine different categories seemed to go some way in accounting for the multifariousness of our object experiences (and are there any other kind of experiences?), though even the categories themselves are simply proxies to structure dialogue. My hope is we end up having all kinds of leakage and mixing in-between categories that is interesting more for its poetic dynamism than its semantics.

Since organising the panel, two encounters with different panel members have reassured me of the decision to host an event where people organise their thoughts and feelings by speaking with things and the practices they convoke. One panel member informed me, that after being invited to participate, she dreamt about a particular object. A notion which reminded me of Ian Hacking’s brilliant paper titled “Dreams in Place” (2001), which discusses the perhaps paradoxical centrality of dreams in the history of ideas associated with modern notions of objectivity—paradoxical because this tradition of thinking has worked so hard to distinguish between what is dreamt and what is real. Nonetheless, dreams persist within western knowledge systems as events which give access to the real, whether in Freudian psychoanalysis or investigations of REM sleep. I’d always been particularly fascinated by the reference Hacking makes to a certain Amazonian people who plan their dreams before they sleep in the hope they have a dream “that bodes well for some future concern”. I could already sense the significance, indeed the credibility and authority, that this particular panelist would bring to her story with the help of her dream.

The other panelist with whom I spoke had decided on her three objects, more or less. Immediately, as she began describing her first object, I realised it didn’t quite fit into any of the categories I’d nominated for the panel, but was too good an example, based on the spirit of the event, not to warrant inclusion. It was an object she’d rescued from a bag of rags, due to be thrown out, which evidenced a connection between her and her mother, as well as being thematically associated with her PhD thesis. Nine categories were now ten, with ‘rescue’ a late addition based on the sentiment that particular examples transcend the categories we have arranged for them.

 

Event details: Repair and Object Expressions

WHO: Alison PageAndrew Simpson (Vert Design)Catriona FiskSimon Von Wolkenstein, Chair: Dr Tom Lee.

WHERE: 
Design Innovation Research Centre, University of Technology Sydney, CB15.02.22, 622-632 Harris Street, Ultimo NSW 2007

WHEN: 26 September 2019, 5:30 – 7:30pm

BOOKING: Free event. Register here.

Design’s Role in Transitioning to Cultures of Repair – Decolonising Perspectives

Repair.Design Project News

On 4 September 2019 our research team had the privilege of hosting Tristan Schultz at UTS. Tristan ran a participatory workshop for us on Design’s Role in Transitioning to Futures of Cultures of Repair. Tristan is one half of the creative firm Relative Creative, which he runs with Bec Barnett. Relative Creative design communication, strategies and  experiences that help people think, talk and mobilise sustainable futures. For this workshop we were joined by Associate Professor Ilaria Vanni Accarigi, Professor Cameron Tonkinwise, and Tim Boykett (Time’s Up).

 

 

The workshop gave us a great chance to openly discuss and distill decolonising strategies for thinking about cultures of repair. It also enabled us to share our distinct approaches to repair literature, which included everything from discussions on Aboriginal cultures of repair, to critiques of Heidegger, to Elizabeth Guffey on steam punk and discussions of gambiarra in Brazil and jugaard in India. There was a great deal of discussion about how to trace historical patterns of concealment, newness and care, and how these might be reconfigured in the present, via transculturation and connectivity. Also Tom Lee thought a lot about melted cheese, see previous blog post. And Jesse Adams Stein talked about class and its relationship to colonialism and capitalism (she’s always going on about class). Cameron Tonkinwise talked about the invisibility of things until they’re broken (and critiques of that Heideggarian position). And Kate Scardifield told us some amazing things about sails.

 

 

 

 

 

Sandwich presses & melted cheese

research in process

Microwaves, sandwich presses and kettles—along with the occasional fan and foot spa—are among the most commonly discarded electrical items that turn up in my random but regular observations of kerbside waste in Randwick, a suburb in Eastern Sydney. During a workshop with our Repair and Design research group, I had the occasion to choose one of these products—the sandwich press—and ponder why it existed and speculate about what might be done to reduce the number that are going to landfill.

Melted Cheese

Sandwich presses exist in kitchens largely for the purpose of melting cheese between bread. They are one in a host of single-purpose electronics that clutter the cupboards and bench tops of kitchens in wealthy western democracies. Breville are the design icons of this product typology, their 1974 Snack’n’Sandwich Toaster became synonymous with the toasted sandwich. According to the Australian Food History Timeline, it was “snapped up by 10 per cent of Australian households in its first year on the market”. (In a classic story of getting the timing right [or wrong], apparently Thomas Edison invented a sandwich press in the 1920s, but it was discontinued in 1930.)

If we want to reduce the number of sandwich presses going to landfill, then it is essential to understand the sensory experience of melted cheese.

Notions such as the ‘fetish’ are often lazily and unhelpfully used to understand human investment in sensory and hedonic experiences. British literary scholar Steven Connor offers a welcome alternative with his concept of ‘senstance’, which I’ve written about in a number of academic articles that examine the relationship between food and the senses. According to Connor, a senstance is “a sensation made substantial, a substance so closely twinned with a sensation as to have become cosubstantial with it”. Like sexual perversions or fetishes—think latex, leather, honey, etc. and their relationship with the sensory medium of skin—senstances are intensely specific. Connor uses the example of ‘sliminess’ or visqueux, a repulsive senstance made famous by Jean Paul Sartre, who suggested embodied, human experience was to some extent exemplified by recoiling from sliminess or stickiness. Connor also lists “the brittle, the tenuous, the cool, the granular, the smooth, the matted” as ready-to-hand examples of senstances, a list to which I would like to presently add ‘the melty’.

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Cooking allows us to experience substances as material transformations. Through the application of heat, hard cheese becomes soft, hot and melty. Spreading pre-melted cheese on bread wouldn’t be the same—though I suspect, based on the continuing nostalgic appeal of Cotties Ice Magic, if there was a way for spreadable melty cheese to immediately become hot on application, then it might be a winner.

Making a sandwich in a sandwich press is among the most rudimentary ways to enjoy the sensory delight that comes from quasi-choate substances such as melted cheese. Fluffy bread becomes crisp and crusty, hard cheese becomes hot and gooey. We perhaps taste the difference all the more readily when we are the agents helping trigger the material transformations through cooking. 

Designing out the sandwich press

In our workshop, I started speculating about an alternative future where there were no sandwich presses going to landfill. One of the ways to reach such a future might be through designing sandwich presses that are easier to repair. Most sandwich presses don’t give the impression they can be opened up and pulled apart. The impression they give is of a complete, inviolable object, not a composite of modular parts that can be replaced or repaired. Perhaps if the screws were larger, or if the inside was visible, then people would be more likely to see if a part can be replaced, rather than throwing out the whole sandwich press? Maybe if repair shops were easier to access people would be more inclined to get their broken sandwich presses repaired rather than throwing them out?

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Photograph by Jessica Lea Dunn

These are all valid speculative propositions that warrant further exploration. However, I decided to focus on what it would take to prevent people thinking they needed to buy a sandwich press in the first place. My idea: a cooking show (which might include a youtube channel, a blog and a cookbook) and line of cooking products that encourage adaptive kitchen practices—in particular, I was thinking of a sandwich weight, similar to a fish weight, made from a sculpted limestone rock, although people could just use a stone mortar (I’m not sure how serious I am with sandwich weight idea, but it might be a good media piece).

A cursory internet search unearthed plenty of toasted sandwich connoisseurship. Many of the recipes suggest using a frying pan. The key disadvantage of the frying pan: unlike the sandwich press, there isn’t simultaneous heat from the top and the bottom (but just flip the sandwich over you lazy bugger). If you got a few celebrity chefs with decent profiles spruikng the advantages of the frying pan method and the sandwich weight product, then surely that would go some way to reducing the amount of resources that are wasted for the purpose of eating melted cheese?

(Hypothetical next steps: 1. an experiment with a cohort of sandwich press users to explore what happens when they change toastie making practices and adopt the frying pan method; 2. An analysis of operational energy to see whether the frying pan method actually saves energy in comparison to the sandwich press)

 

The Maintainers

Repair.Design Project News

We will be hanging out with The Maintainers in Washington, D.C. in October! This year’s theme is ‘Practice, Policy and Care’ and it is the third in a series of conferences that celebrates and unpacks the concepts of maintenance, infrastructure, repair, and the myriad forms of labor and expertise that sustain our human-built world.

Alexandra Crosby will be presenting on Tuesday, October 8 as part of a panel titled State of Good Repair: Does it Have a Future in the Smart City?

There are so many great panels and papers lined up including one on Impermanence and another on the Right To Repair and the Circular Economy

One we won’t be missing is No Gods, No Masters, and Instead Coalitional, Honest, Kind, Non-Abusive, Anti-Oppressive, Real-Deal, On the Ground, Radical Librarianship:

Treating our daily work as a platform for action, for creativity, for care, for radical purpose, for productive dissonance, and for resistance entrenched in history and informed by critical methodologies will allow us to reflect honestly on how we will meet the challenges of our present and future. Because ultimately, we want libraries to work: to work for the communities they are of, for the professionals that maintain them, and to work especially for those for whom they have never quite worked.  

Our shared resources

research in process

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While a lot of our research and background reading is on-screen, our group maintains a shared resources shelf, for books, articles and reports, when we happen to have them in print. While the materials pictured here are not a comprehensive picture of all our reading material (it’s just what happens to be on the shelf today), we thought it might be fun to give a little insight into the background research practice that goes on here.

Social Impact Workshop at UTS

Repair.Design Project News

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On Tuesday 6 August 2019, Jesse represented our Repair Design team, attending a workshop led by the UTS Centre for Social Justice & Inclusion (tied to our Social Impact Grant 2019). The workshop had a strong focus on building in ongoing evaluation into our project as it rolls out throughout 2019 and beyond, so that we can make sure we’re staying on track and can keep in mind the broader intentions of the project. In the workshop, we mapped the relationship between our project activities, our ‘outputs’ (that means our written work / but also our public events), and the intended outcomes of the project. It all sounds rather abstract using this terminology, but what was great about this workshop was that it enabled us to clearly articulate our short term, medium term and long term goals in terms of the social (and environmental!) impacts of this project. This also involves us acknowledging that our project is part of a complex patchwork of other practices, institutions, advocacy groups and DIY repairers operating in similar spheres. One of our key short-term aims is to develop a strong, interdisciplinary network of repair-interested stakeholders, and from there, work together to improve broader social awareness of repair issues in Australia. Aside from environmental gains, there is a great deal of potential for positive social change in relation to repair: repair is a job-creator, is uses skills that some have previously dismissed as ‘redundant’, and undertaking DIY repair improves social wellbeing. Longer-term goals are bigger: widespread public re-engagement with repair issues (both DIY repair and professional repair), social awareness of sustainable consumption choices (how to choose a repair-friendly new product), and advocacy contributing to legislative reform that would support independent repair, potential for repair tax incentives, and for repair to become a much more significant part of Australian waste management policies (which are currently very oriented towards recycling & landfill).

Repair Cultures Workshop

Repair.Design Project News

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As part of our scoping research, the team will be participating in a Repair Cultures Workshop facilitated by Tristan Schultz and Bec Barnett.

Tristan is founder and co-director of Relative Creative, an Indigenous owned and led design practice, informed by being on Yugembah Country at Jellurgal, and by Tristan’s Gamilaroi heritage.

Since Relative Creative is driven by being critically thinking and concern with ecological and social responsibilities, it is very much aligned with the goals of this research project.

As well as practicing design facilitation, strategic design, service design, policy and planning design, social design, participatory and co-design, Tristan is also a design academic and writer. In this paper, he traces a historical and conceptual terrain of cultures of repair from a decolonial and ontological design perspective. 

Schultz, T., 2017, January. Design’s Role in Transitioning to Futures of Cultures of Repair. In International Conference on Research into Design (pp. 225-234). Springer, Singapore.