McLellan’s Dialectic

Todd McLellan has been taking things apart since childhood.  His love of exploration and discovery led to a deeper exploration of the tools and devices of today and market culture.

McLellan’s art is dialectical which means it comes in pairs.  A comparison of contrasting forces.   A dialectical storyline seeks resolution and this exhibition offers some.

By photographing the same object, say a telephone, in two orders of organization, McLellan puts into play an order-disorder dynamic that echoes thematically throughout the exhibition, if not culture-at-large.

McLellan’s order-half photograph portrays a disassembled 1980s telephone in a very precise and neat, thoughtful layout; while the disorder-half photograph depicts the same telephone’s parts now haphazardly in a midair free fall photographically frozen.

The prime theme running through the entire exhibit is that of order and disorder.  

Together, these two photographs depict a dialectic.  A relationship of polar opposites.  Dialectics may be found throughout everyday life in such places as the melody and countermelody in the same song and in the novel as the plot and subplots.

Dialectic, in Greek philosophy, was a method of resolution that used a series of questions and answers to arrive at some agreed upon point of view.  Call and response music uses the same patterning of thinking towards resolution.

McLellan’s curiosity grew into an appreciation of the beauty and complexity of objects and an understanding of how objects work leading to a greater respect for the design, creativity, and engineering or craft that went into the making.

Today’s consumer world can be counterproductive when it does not consider the easy repair of tools and devices.  If it cannot be repaired, then another must be purchased.  Producing endlessly pollutes the world and depletes finite resources such as rare earth metals required for computers.  People are working on remedies.

The “repair-dispose of” polarity is a major exhibition theme and some resolutions are proposed in the concept of the art of the “teardown” and a concept known as “active disassembly.”

Kyle Wiens is co-founder of iFixit, a San Luis Obispo company specializing in custom tools and replacement parts to aid homeowners repairing electronic devices.  Wiens’ company became experts in “teardowns” of smartphones.

Joseph Chiodo is the inventor of the “active disassembly” process.  Active disassembly is the exact opposite of “planned obsolescence.”  Active disassembly plans for the future use of an object’s parts, so that the scarce resources that went into the object continue to be useful.

McLellan’s art visualizes a model of looking closely at how objects are made.  By looking closely at the tools and useful objects we make and considering innovative ways of extending scarce resources, and by repairing them, we may extend their usefulness while preserving nature.

McLellan’s dialectical model of assembled-disassembled objects almost describes the philosophy of life as it weaves in and out of resolutions.  Hegel, way back when, characterized this model of resolution as thesis generating antithesis generating synthesis.

You are cordially invited to my gallery talk on April 3 to talk more about the photography of Todd McLellan and his Smithsonian exhibition Things Come Apart.