"And now after some thinking, I'd say I'd rather be, A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me," - Fleet Foxes 'Helplessness Blues'
Discovered this book in Tate St Ives this week, Todd McLellan 'Things come apart'. I'm always on the look out for things that inform my practice and offer new ways into thinking about how I make decisions in my work. Essentially this book is a collection of various everyday objects that have been painstakingly taken apart, piece by piece with every component laid out individually in a grid-like formation whereby it is then photographed. In another series of photos the same components are then dropped and photographed mid-fall, resulting in a fragmented image that looks like a distorted almost Cubist version of the original thing.
Need I elaborate more as to why I am particularly interested in this book? I will anyway. The images in this book are visually beautiful in their crispness and forensic-like accuracy in how they've been executed as a result they are also mesmerisingly captivating; just seeing the number of pieces alone that make up what seem to be fairly simple objects such as a mechanical pencil, a torch and padlock makes one realise the intricacy, attention to detail and engineering that goes into the most everyday of things. I ponder if that is the 'art' of good design and engineering; that things appear simple in their design but are in fact complicated in their simplicity through either many parts that make up the whole or the engineering that has been undertaken to get to that 'essential' form.
Pah! But less about design and more about the art.
It also unravels some of the mystery of, 'how things work', each bit having to work with another in order for any function to happen at all and without going into it too deeply here, the metaphorical associations that it implies around ideas of how people/society/governments etc function is also very interesting (if not rather more deep, and problematic when I only intended on keeping this brief!). This is a book for anyone that has ever found a screw, washer, pin, cog and said, "I wonder where this goes?" Its for those who like to stare in awe at hundreds of bits and pieces, not knowing how they come together and think, 'Wow, that's an IPad?!' Its for devourers of shape and form, like me (I am beginning to realise that it is 'shape' that makes me tick, in the same way that some artists are entranced by colour, surface, line, pattern or texture. I am drawn in by the shape of things, their form and the negative space they create against another shape. Don't get me wrong, I'm still interested in colour, line and surface as well, but I really think that its shape that is the first thing that I look for when choosing something to draw or that I find aesthetically pleasing). I am in luck as there are shapes in abundance here, this book offers up a cornucopia of shapes. Similarly, the way in which the pieces have been displayed (as I already mentioned) gridded and in an order of sorts. Each piece gains an importance/status of its own like a fragmented relic to which the presentation looks like one of archaeology or archiving. How do we interpret these objects? Do we see them in formalistic terms as a series shapes of colour and surface? (I'm reminded of the flat pack style paintings of Frank Stella) Or if you didn't know the original form that these components made then how would you read each piece, what new possibilities and functions could be created from those same bits? See also artists, Mark Dion, Lisa Milroy and Sophie Calle if this sort of thing appeals.
Perhaps the other important thing this book highlights is our desire/need to understand, make and fix things and sets a challenge of, 'if it can be taken apart -then so it can be reassembled together' as a way of addressing 'throw-away' culture. In short, if you could see all the bits that went into making that toaster would you be so quick to throw it away when it stops working? Similarly, if offers an appreciation for the objects it depicts that extends the idea of 'only noticing an object when it stops working' when in fact should we notice/appreciate them more when they are working? See Richard Sennett, 'The Craftsman' and Matthew Crawford, 'The Case for working with your hands'.
I'll never look at flat-pack furniture with the same degree of annoyance ever again!
Check out the artist's website at: http://www.toddmclellan.com/thingscomeapart