I’ve always been fascinated by human creativity, and some of it’s finest expressions are found in the most humble places.
In Mexico, like in so many other places where there is a lot of scarcity, there is also incredible resourcefulness.
“One man’s trash is another’s treasure. ” We have all heard this. And this couldn’t be more true in Mexico.
The act of taking an object and altering its function, or fixing it in ways that essentially recreate the object in unrecognizable ways, has also been called hacking. This hacking not only transforms the objects themselves, but I propose that it also transforms culture itself. Many parts, taken from several sources are reassembled into new hybrid objects.
Material culture carries within it cultural ‘codes’ embedded in it from the time of conception. From the designer’s initial idea, packed with specific cultural tones and assumed cultural understandings, to the presentation, sale and distribution of the end product. All of the stages in a products’ life reflect a particular ideology to which the product is inscribed to.When foreign products reach places like Mexico, for instance, one could say that the foreign codes within the products are also infiltrating the local culture.
When these products are discarded, broken, or damaged, they are pulled apart, recycled and re-purposed. The usable parts are assembled into something else and the codes within it are transformed. A process of cultural subversion begins.
Since 2009 I have been documenting examples of this. I call these objects MestizObjects. It is an exploration into how Mexicans hack or subvert objects to fit their specific needs.
Mexico has a history of hybridization. During the conquest, the native indians were forced to adopt the values, traditions and religion of the Spanish conquerors.This adoption only happened by mixing the local traditions and practices with the foreign ones. This ‘mixing’ process was called Mestizaje.
Through this process, the foreign cultural codes are subverted, transformed, made local and relevant. MestizObjects in this sense are both the vessels of culture and the agents that renovate it. Products are a reflection of a culture as well as triggers for new cultural possibilities. Through the appropriation and specifically the subversion of everyday objects we are taking control over our environment, adapting it to our needs and cultural sensibilities.
Our world is becoming increasingly homogeneous, and by personalizing and subverting designed products, the individual will is freed from the consumerism trap; even more so if the objects used are discarded objects.
When we stop consuming passively, we start inventing naturally and dynamically, using what’s readily available.
By using materiality to fulfill our real needs we can emancipate from a mindless state of hypnotic consumption. We can start to realise the potential of the overlooked, forgotten and discarded materiality.
Everything is garbage until it is given a sense, a place, an order, function or category. So what we call garbage is simply materiality in need of language.
Discarded objects are often objects with stories, with past lives that speak through their worn corners and broken crevices; in this sense, these objects are unique. Broken and battered, they have achieved the ultimate individuality from the thousands of new products that are produced in identical batches.
Industry has conditioned us to seek perfection in products: the pure and pristine mass produced treasure with a glossy finish. We believe that the only way to feel like an individual is to buy another mass produced accessory that gives us the illusion of control and choice.
Through the hacked object, the hacker becomes an agent. She subverts the codes represented in the object and creates a new space to construct new personal languages in the material environment.
According to Anthony Dunne, author of Hertzian Tales, ‘Desire leads to a subversion of the environment, creating an opportunity to reconfigure it to suit our ‘illegitimate’ needs, establishing new and unofficial narratives’ (2005,73). In Mexico, this desire to subvert material culture gives birth to amazingly creative, inventive and practical constructions, that not only use discarded materials but also utilise products that were obsolete and considered rubbish, to transform them in an almost alchemical process into new, functional products.
This desire follows not a commercial fantasy, but the true needs of a community, reusing local resources, waste materials and reinstating the forgotten objects. The final hacked objects are eccentric and often colourful because they are built from the various materials available locally, so in these terms they resemble the local context.
This natural impulse to transform our surroundings reflects a spirit that, far from accepting an imposed reality, in generated, as a reaction and through a mediating creative force, a reality that is in tune with the culture, traditions and values of the community. Furthermore, what is fascinating about these objects is that they often serve purposes that lie outside of the establishment. They help individuals create impromptu businesses and generate an income, often untraceable and untaxable. So not only the objects themselves are breaking the rules, but also the purposes they often serve.
More significantly, it speaks of the desires of the local people, of the capacity of the individual to directly influence her surroundings To be part of the changing force and have a positive impact on the community. Of taking control of the world around her through these beautiful material incantations.
Material culture not only serves as a reproduction of a culture, but as well as a transformative agent that helps to renovate it, providing scenarios for alternative worlds. Realities yet to appear.
There has been a lot of concern over the manner in which we use natural resources and the waste produced by the manufacturing industry. Designers are now looking for ways in which to reconsider manufacturing processes and to come up with new materials from sustainable sources that are both recyclable and recycled. But perhaps we need to be looking more at fixing and re-purposing the old.
Can we apply these insights to create a more mature, responsible and harmonic design industry, which does not impose cultural and ideology codes, but incorporates the need to personalise and rebuild our personal spheres?
Are these families of dissected exquisite objects, disemboweled, pulled-apart and then reconstructed and brought back to life a response to an ever insatiable desire to consume? Or is the subverted object a new race of social product?
Diana Simpson Hernandez
Designers For Humanity Founder