Collaboration is so widely and enthusiastically lauded that even the word "teamwork" feels like a cliché. How many motivational speeches, business proposals, and self-help books wax poetic about synergy and shared goals? Many hands make light work, two heads are better than one, power in numbers, there's no "I" in team, and so on ad nauseam. Yet, much repair ends up being a solitary experience: one repairperson, alone with some hardware and tools. I think it's telling that the most famous repairperson is probably Maytag's "lonely repairman." Ol' Lonely was, of course, supposed to be lonely because Maytags don't break, but the joke only works because we accept that repair is something you do alone.
If you're looking for a more communal repair experience, a few groups scattered around the globe offer something of the sort. The Fixers Collective in New York is one of the largest and most established "fixerspaces" (a term they coined after "hackerspaces"/"makerspaces"), where repair experts and hobbyists gather once a month to fix stuff together.
Fixers Collective began as part of a 2008 exhibit called "Mend" at Proteus Gowanus, an art gallery and reading room in Brooklyn. The installation collected tools of repair, examined books and art about all kinds of fixing (including fixing the human body with surgery and fixing the country with social reform), and offered fixing sessions with the local community. People loved the fixing sessions enough that, when Mend ended, Proteus Gowanus became the more permanent home of the newly formed Fixers Collective. Now, on the third Thursday of every month, fixers and people who need stuff fixed gather together in a back room workshop at Proteus Gowanus, cracking open shorted-out coffee makers, darning holey socks, and teaching each other how to solder.
But their mission goes beyond socks and soldering irons. They see repair as a way to get to know your stuff more intimately and to find art and personality in a mass-manufactured world:
The Fixers Collective seeks to displace cultural patterns that alienate us from our things, by collectively learning the skills and patience necessary to care for them. Intentionally aligning itself with forces generated in reaction to the current economic crisis, the Fixers Collective promotes a counter-ethos that values functionality, simplicity, and ingenuity and that respects age, persistence and adequacy. The Collective also encourages participants to take liberties with designated forms and purposes, resulting in mended objects that may exist both as art and within a more limited, utilitarian context.
In addition to fixing sessions, Fixers Collective sometimes hosts special events and competitions, such as their Get Yr Fix Iron Chef-inspired repair competition a couple years ago.
Many of the members of Fixers Collective also work on their own repair projects in the time between fixing sessions. Vincent Lai, an advisor/organizer with Fixers Collective, told me about his own pet project, a computer reuse and recycling center. "My slant," he explains, both regarding Fixers Collective and his recycling center, "leans heavily on empowerment and community. I'd like people to be able to fix this stuff themselves."
This is the first in a series of posts highlighting fixerspaces around the globe. If you know of any others, tell me about them, and encourage them to create an iFixit Team page—we hope to build a worldwide fixerspace database.
Photo Credit: Fixers Collective.