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.
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.