ECO ART: The Toaster Project

by , 02/21/09
filed under: Art, Design

eco art, environmental art, sustainable art, the toaster project, thomas thwaites, industrial art, appliance art, student environmental art, mass consumption commentary

What would inspire an artist to attempt to build a toaster from scratch? Perhaps a quote from Douglas Adams?

“Left to his own devices he couldn’t build a toaster. He could just about make a sandwich and that was it.” – Douglas Adams from his book Mostly Harmless.

So industrial production inspired by Douglas Adams — can’t go wrong. At least, not in theory. Logistically, it turns out, you can go very, very wrong, as Thomas Thwaites proves in his work for the art exhibition BOOM at the Royal College of Art in London. It’s called the Toaster Project, and it follows the artist as he attempts to construct a toaster, from sourcing the materials to piecing them all together. Not too hard, right? Or perhaps it is, as Thwaites found out.

eco art, environmental art, sustainable art, the toaster project, thomas thwaites, industrial art, appliance art, student environmental art, mass consumption commentary

So what is the make-up of a toaster? Besides oil, which is used to produce plastic, metals abound, including nickel, mica, copper, and iron. With documentation, you can see that Thwaites has already attempted to smelt iron using hair driers, leaf blowers and microwaves. And that is only where the challenge begins: the artist is also in need of a helicopter ride to an oil rig out in the North Sea, and seeks to visit mines in Finland in order to obtain a lump of nickel ore. Despite these daunting tasks, Thwaites humorously illustrates how removed most of us are from the technology and production of a product that allows us to effortlessly heat bread.

The exhibition features the evidence of Thwaites’ efforts to manufacture his own toaster, trial-and-error. A film on the project’s website documents Thwaites’ journey to an iron mine to carry back ore in wheely-edged suitcases.

The artist hopes to have a complete DIY, handcrafted, hells-yeah version of a toaster done in time for the RCA summer show. Whether or not he will succeed in making a toaster, Thwaites will most certainly have learned how to do a great deal more than make a sandwich.

+ Thomas Thwaites

via we make money not art

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  1. t11s June 24, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    As Adam Smith said way back in 1776:

    “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

    Nor do the multitude of miners, foundry workers, transportation workers, and businesspeople care about your toaster. Only the very tippy top of the vast pyramid of global production even know that their work is going to make a toaster. The toaster maker might not even know how the final details of how the toaster is distributed to stores to be sold to you.

    All these thousands of people, toiling to make your toaster, moved solely without any central planning by the “invisible hand” of the market, each looking just to make a living for themselves, yet they make you a toaster nonetheless. It is almost miraculous.

  2. redgar June 24, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    I found this project very interesting. Of note is that Thwaite has actually failed to make a toaster from scratch. He didn’t build the microwave and he relied on the labor and inventions of many others to gather his materials. This says a lot about the ingenuity of mankind. The development and manufacture of a toaster involves the minds and labor of thousands. Most of them never meet or communicate, yet use the power of a free market to build wonders.

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