Break. Repair. Repeat.
21 artifacts in this set
Traditional make-dos are useful and precious objects that broke during their working lives. Their owners felt compelled to restore or repurpose these objects in a variety of ways. This lamp started out as an expensive cut glass sugar bowl, but the base now serves as a reservoir for lamp fuel.
When new, this porcelain teapot was a fashionable and expensive piece of tableware. Early in its working life the spout broke and was replaced with equally expensive silver. A porcelain teapot with a silver spout would have been used to impress important guests with the owners' wealth and good taste.
By combining materials, the usefulness of a thing can be extended. However, the decision to do so can make an object seem like an artful collage, or an exaggerated version of itself. This product was used to patch holes in a window screen.
This lantern slide depicts a scene from Robinson Crusoe. It shows a practical re-use of materials: a boat rigged with a hand-patched sail, a man dressed in animal skins, an umbrella made from plant fronds.
Some of these objects may seem to have little in common, but they do share a common language: they are all intentionally customized or improvised. This disposable paper dress was trimmed with scissors by the donor to better suit her short height. Its soup can motif was a riff on 1960s Pop artist, Andy Warhol.
Using whatever materials are at hand, big visual impact can result from basic materials. In the 1970s, a child made this collage, organizing squares of construction paper into the shape of the Detroit skyline and the Boblo boat.
The unknown painter of this piece of late 19th-century folk art gathered pinecones and twigs to fashion a frame.
This sign was carried at the 2016 Women's March. A montage of craft materials, it also repurposes Shephard Fairey's "We the People" poster that appeared as a full-page advertisement in the Washington Post.
Improvised design can be collage-like. This circuit bent instrument is made from an iconic Speak n' Spell educational toy. Circuit benders salvage cheap battery-powered electronics from second-hand stores, open their covers, and make permanent short circuits with jumper wires. The sounds transform: glitchy, distorted, and unpredictable.
The Roland 808 drum machine was a force of nature in the electronic music world, providing rhythms to music genres like synth pop, techno, and hip-hop. A palette of now-legendary drum sounds could be combined and programmed at the touch of a finger. The "sizzling" beats of the 808 were produced by faulty transistors, knowingly purchased by the company for their unique sound.
Glue may be used to hold something together, but some objects encourage people to break existing systems apart. Toy whistles may seem innocent, but ones that emitted a 2600 hertz tone--like this Cap'n Crunch cereal premium--were used by "phone phreaks" in the 1960s and '70s to illegally exploit the telephone system.
Like some whistles, a purpose-built electronic "blue box" could trick AT&T's exchange system into giving people free long-distance phone calls.
In 1914, Charles Apgar combined radio equipment with a wax phonograph to capture suspicious signals being leaked by German spies from a wireless station in Sayville, NY. You could say that Apgar was an early hardware hacker and a cryptographer.
While a student at MIT, bunnie Huang became infamous for his "Hacking the Xbox" project. bunnie created hardware modifications which unlocked the Xbox's full potential in ways that Microsoft never intended. He shared these reverse engineering hacks in a book, challenging the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
The Game Genie may look familiar to people who grew up playing games on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. This unauthorized adapter intercepted and replaced data from game cartridges, granting players infinite lives, skipping of levels, and a range of other unintended effects.