Smithsonian’s “Things Come Apart”

This exhibition explores the product design and evolution of some of our most cherished tools, the telephone, the clock, and the camera.  And many others.  Along the way, we discover that some of our most important, like the smartphone, though incredibly well-designed, and without a doubt, now indispensable, may not be the most sustainable and best use of limited resources.

Ingraham Mantel Clock 1928, all photos courtesy of Smithsonian 

Much more than a critique, the exhibition celebrates human ingenuity.  It is a photography exhibit featuring 39 photographs and includes four, actual, disassembled objects.  A 1928 Ingraham Mantel Clock, a Nintendo game console, a Sony Digital SLR Camera, and my favorite, a circa 1970 Suffolk (England) Push Lawnmower.

The exhibit centers on the photography of Todd McLellan and his weird passion to disassemble objects.  (I think my own father liked to take things apart for the sake of it; under the guise of course, of repairing it.  I like to take things apart, too.  Mostly, works of art.)

McLellan (Melville, Canada) is a professional commercial photographer who also films his disassembled objects.  McLellan wants to show the objects’ beauty and quality.  He also believes that objects should be made with an eye towards being reusable.

The bookThings Come Apart (London: Thames & Hudson, 2013) features essays by McLellan, Kyle Wiens, Gever Tulley, Penny Bendall, and Joseph Chiodo.

Wiens is the co-founder of iFixit, a San Luis Obispo company which specializes in custom tools and replacement parts to aid homeowners repairing electronic devices.  Wiens’ company became experts in “teardowns” of smartphones.  See “How iFixit Became King of the iPhone Teardown.”

Ryobi Power Drill 2006

Tulley, a former software engineer, founded Tinkering School, (San Francisco), which is a week-long camp for kids to learn how to use power tools and to think of and build their own ideas.  Wiens wrote, “They apply a little bit of mathematics and art and a little bit of physics and put them in a context that makes sense.”  And my favorite, “We should give kids pocket knives again.”

Bendall, is a fine arts conservator in Britain.  Her essay brought out the ethical perspective when art museums conserve works of art and how to include the history of an object’s repairs in the next conservation effort.  Every repair tells a story of the time period and how they thought about conservation.  Bendall wrote, “Critical factors to consider are the longevity of the treatment and materials used and honesty in the interpretation of the original in order to guarantee the survival of the object for future generations to enjoy and study.”

Blackberry 2007

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 resources that went into the object continue to be useful.

McLellan has written, “In this disassembly process, I gain a basic understanding of how the item works, and a greater respect for it.”

You’re invited to come see how things are designed and how technology has evolved over time.  And how things come apart.