Repair! and the culture of fixing

logo2Repair! and the culture of fixing

Later this month the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany will open Repair!, an exhibition that explores sustainability and reuse through a series of everyday objects repaired by both designers and members of the general public. Here, Disegno examines the exhibition’s inspiration,the 2009 Repair Manifesto.

The manifesto was a short document published by the now defunct Dutch design collective Platform 21. Broken into 11 short points (“Repair survives fashion”; “Repaired things are unique”), the manifesto served as a staunch defence of the cultural, economic and design value of repairing broken possessions, and as a rejection of the consumerism and consumption of contemporary society

Joanna van der Zanden was a founding member of Platform 21 and one of the authors of the document. The Repair Manifesto, she says, was intended as a spur for people to reflect on the design qualities of their possessions. For Platform 21, repairing a broken object was not only a way of prolonging a product’s lifespan, but also a form of creative output and a means of education about the production of the object.

“It was part of a large project investigating the meaning of repair in our society, and as to whether repair could be a sustainable alternative to our throwaway society,” says van der Zanden. “For me, what is really important about repair is that it respects the potential of the object. You show respect to the object and you put time and effort into making it better. When something is broken, repairing it connects the past, present and future, and allows you to innovate and design your own individual object.”

The Repair Manifesto can be seen as a product of its time, fitting neatly with the late-2000s’ interest in craft and a rising appreciation for the handmade. It ties even more closely to the worldwide Makers Movement and its encouragement of society forming a closer connection to objects and their construction through making. With the economic pressures created by the global recession, such ideas gained traction quickly.

Contemporary groups such as Fixperts can also be seen as descendants of aspects of the manifesto. Fixperts, a social project created by Daniel Charny and James Carrigan, encourages smart, home-made hacks to objects to solve design flaws. Fixperts’ great innovation was to marry this design ethos to social awareness, with its design solutions typically geared towards members of society who are in some form disadvantaged. Design, it holds, has the scope to be a force for social change.

The kind of improvised solutions that Fixperts advocates resonates keenly with the design ethos set out by the Repair Manifesto. Both the manifesto and Fixperts argue that the act of repairing is not limited to fixing a fault, but can also be key to improving one’s possessions. Repairing is intimately tied to innovation and creativity, rather than simply being a means of maintenance.

“It’s exciting to see people repair items with materials that you would not initially link with the original object,” says van der Zanden. “Repair is also an opportunity for innovation or for making an object that is entirely original and individual. For example I saw a glass Ikea jar that had a broken handle, which was later replaced with a wooden handle attached by metal wire. This is something that seems entirely illogical, but the outcome was beautiful, and really poetic.”

The manifesto’s central ethos of “Stop Recycling. Start Repairing” is equally visible in the work of individual designers. Van der Zenden cites Guy Keulemans, a lecturer at the University of New South Wales’ College of Fine Art, as a designer who draws heavily from the generative process, destruction and the act of repair. His Archaeologic vases – smashed ceramics repaired with photo luminescent pigments – examine how imperfections add character and intrigue to otherwise tepid objects.

Elsewhere, the manifesto’s ethos of creative repair shares a genesis with designers working with salvaged objects. In 2007 Martino Gamper destroyed a series of furniture created by the seminal designer Gio Ponti for the Hotel Parco dei Principi in Sorrento, Italy, before reassembling it into new designs. The spirit behind the project was clear – nothing is sacrosanct; everything has the potential to be creatively reimagined and rebirthed in new forms.

This enthusiasm and advocacy for creativity in all aspects of our lives is the legacy of the Repair Manifeso. “I hope to see more and more repair people, as well as more students learning how to repair items,” says van der Zenden. “I want to encourage people to open up their objects and look inside to see how it works and how it was made. I want people to become more repair savvy and encourage them to move away from being tied to our consumerist lifestyle.” Repair!, she will hope, may prove an important first step.


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