[-empyre-] Documenting Repair

Patrick Keilty p.keilty at utoronto.ca
Sun Nov 24 05:19:39 EST 2013

So I am going to shift gears a bit. I recently discovered Steve Jackson's
research on the art of repair. He argues that breakdown, maintenance, and
repair are central but neglected moments in our collective relationship to
technology and the built environment. He developed an installation work on
the concept of repair, which you can find here: http://cornellhci.org/scale/.
A number of repair collectives have emerged throughout the world. These
collectives work to repair objects (e.g. lamps, cell phones, computers,
bikes, etc.) at no cost to their owner, but the "owner" (or "user" -- both
conceptually and politically charged terms) has to be part of the process
of fixing the object. Owners can't simply drop off the object with the
collective and pick it up later. Repair collectives want owners to have a
more intimate, material relationship with objects. In many cases, members
of a repair collective will intentionally break an item, just to learn
about how to repair it.

I found the concept of repair interesting for several reasons. Partly I
like that, unlike the maker movement, which always seems to be concerned
with what's new, the repair or fixit movement concerns itself with taking
things that are are old, broken, and discarded and repairing them. It
rethinks recycling and reuse, particularly in an age when industrial waste,
from digital technologies in particular, is on the rise. Usually we think
of reuse as taking broken things and reusing them in a new way, making
something new out of them, which often involves combining it with other
objects that enable its reuse. Doing so often relies on other materials --
such as glue, new screws, new wires, or whole recycling plants, an ironic
industrialization of recycling -- in order to remake an object. This
undercuts the goals of reuse, which is to reduce the amount of materials or
resources we consume. Many people come to fixit collectives to repair
sentimental objects, such as a grandfather's watch. Others fix objects so
that they don't feel as alienated from them when those objects break down.
We often don't know what to do or have the appropriate tools at hand to fix
broken objects, a result of industrialization and assembly-line labor.

Steve's installation of broken objects (above), and its subsequent
documentation, or the installation of broken items as a form of
documentation, got me thinking about how the art of repair makes small but
meaningful interventions into issues of industrial waste, alienation from
the built environment, new forms of knowledge in an industrialized age, and
recycling and reuse.


Patrick Keilty
Assistant Professor
Faculty of Information
University of Toronto
@patrickkeilty <https://twitter.com/PatrickKeilty>
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