Objects & Installations


DIY – The ape, the blue collar and the revolutionist

Published on:

‘Events: Situating the temporary’

Book by Herman Verkerk

Birkhauser Press, 2018

The Alpha male

Tim Taylor: “What do we want?”

Audience: “More power!”

Tim Taylor: “Arrh! Arrh! Arrh!”

Between the years 1991 to 1998, millions of americans anxiously waited every week for the airing, in prime time, of “Tool Time” with Tim Taylor. “Tool Time”, sponsored by fictional tool company “Binford Tools”, was a show for the american handyman, with its garage full of power tools, screws and wooden planks, and a past time of repairing, re-modifying, and building things around the house. “Tool Time” was also fictional, a show within a show – “Home Improvement” starring Tim Allen, one of the most successful sitcoms of all times. For Allen, Taylor was the stereo typical all-american male, and his portrayal of the handyman was blatantly linked to a primal stage of masculinity. Tim Taylor portrayed the urge for DIY as an ancient, macho form of ownership and providing – the independence and control over the physical environment: to be able to fix your own house and its infrastructure, to be able to provide it with the facilities it requires – without outside assistance was as if you were fighting a bear or hunting a mammoth. But for Tim, DIY was not only an obligation, but a rush. In “Tool Time”, it seemed, it was never about the thing to be done, but about the tools that made it. Whether more horsepower, RPM, or size, Taylor always looked for “more power” in his tools, with a blatant disregard to whether they fit the job at hand. With his ape like war cries following every manifestation of tool power, it seemed that DIY for Tim was about taming a beast, about conquest and control in its purest form. In “home improvement”, the handyman was the desperate cry of testosterone, the last breaths of the alpha male in american suburbia.


The Factory worker

“We hate air at IKEA” – IKEA chief executive Peter Agnefjall

In 2010, Ikea Ektorp sofa was made to be packed flat, reducing its package size by 50%. This reduced the yearly amount of trucks used by 7,477, and the retail price of the sofa was cut by 14%. Ikea makes low cost design items. To achieve this cost reduction, they have perfected the very traditional mass-production cycle. Efficiency and control is a goal almost throughout the production chain: From the purchase of forestlands in Romania to standardise and maximise efficiency, through a constant effort to flatten and minimise packaging for transportation, to the very specific choice of wood for each part of the furniture so that quality and structure appear only where necessary, and no where else.

Yet, while cost reduction found its way in IKEA by tightening control of early production stages, it was in other parts of the production chain that cost reduction meant letting go. For assembly, IKEA’s radical solution was to extend the Ikea factory into the costumer’s home – do it yourself assembly: The customer will buy a flat package with only the needed parts, and using a set of instructions will assemble and finish the product at home. IKEA has formed a contract with us: The consumers will be IKEA’s assembly line factory workers, and in return, it will cut down the cost of the non-assembled products. The furniture company for the white collared middle class asked them to wear the blue collar. As hard to imagine as it is, if you own and have assembled an IKEA product, then at a certain point, you have been working on IKEA’s assembly line.


The rebel

“Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. …That tension will not go away.” – Stewart Brand

There was a very clear social signature on The Whole Earth Catalog (1968-98). Free Information, Access to tools and knowledge – was a form of political liberation. A product of the late 60’s technological oriented counter culture, the WEC offered access to makers of everything, a catalog designed at getting the tools of making accessible. Already deemed one of the internet’s most prominent predecessors, for the WEC, DIY meant freedom, and for the makers community it later off-sprung,  knowledge and its sharing, meant social power. It is of course, not so simple in reality. While in its essence, the maker counterculture leans on the notion of open-source knowledge sharing with an unmediated-as-possible access to tools, the accumulation of knowledge and tools, with a clear focus on invention, leads in itself to power, and the urge to keep it from others. The principles drafted in the 60’s by the WEC – DIY is knowledge, power, and an act of resistance – are being tested by power of business in an innovation oriented market. Is the maker’s DIY phenomena a subversive counter-culture revolution? or is it an intricate, bottom-up business model?