Curator, writer and historian, working across the fields of design, craft and contemporary art.


fix fix fix

An exhibition about repair, held in 2011 at Gallery SO on Brick Lane in London, which included both artworks addressing the theme, and everyday artifacts that had been fixed at some point in their lives. This was the first time I purposefully mixed 'authored' works with anonymous material culture, a strategy I've often pursued in other projects since. I find these two types of material set one another off to advantage.

The perfect repair would be an invisible one. The hope is to completely restore a broken object to its original function and appearance. But no repair is perfect. It’s not possible to turn back the clock, and no matter how skilled the restoration, it will be detectable - at least to expert eyes. This means that, aesthetically speaking, fixing works against itself. It involves a process of self-erasure; the more skilled the repair, the less visible it will be.

Fixing has been much in the air recently. A general enthusiasm for DIY has prompted many people to make good their old things, rather than throw them out and buy something new. Beyond this, a generation of self-anointed ‘hackers’ try to improve commodities in ways the original manufacturer never intended. A common tactic is to invite all comers to bring in the broken detritus of their lives, and transform each object into an artwork – a strategy pursued by [re]design (London), Klinik der Dinge (Berlin), and Tobias Sternberg’s Art Repair Shop (Belfast).

In most cases, however, designers and artists tend to carry out repair in a manner antithetical to its usual role. This has been true at least since Richard Wentworth, in his 1977 photographic series Making Do and Getting By, seized upon extraordinary examples of popular repair, finding in them the invention and energy that one might (in an art context) associate with the Duchampian tradition of the Assisted Readymade. What Wentworth found so exciting in these found examples has remained at the center of artistic interpretations of repair: dramatic juxtapositions of material, inventive repurposing, intentionally sloppy (and hence “expressive”) rejoining: such strategies draw attention to the upcycling process. But this misses the serious work of the repairer, who must subsume any expressive instinct and instead emulate the original condition of the object.  

Fix Fix Fix is an exploration of this art of self-effacement. It includes curated objects, made outside of an art context by self-taught and professional repairers, alongside commissioned works by artists who have been asked to respond to the exhibition theme. In each case, the viewer is invited to look closely — much more closely than is usual in an exhibition context — to detect the presence of repair.