Taking care of your objects, is it also taking care of yourself?

To pay attention to the material world, to become aware of the fragility of the objects that surround us, is to abandon the consolation of recklessness. Isn’t their vulnerability precisely a reflection of our own condition?

What do you do when you oil your bike chain, when you pick up a garment, when you clean the dishwasher filter? These gestures are harmless. We rarely pay attention to it. However, by complying with them, we undertake not to limit ourselves to the role of passive user or simple consumer. We cultivate the art of making things last. Far from being a symptom of a materialistic fetishism, this art, which the artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles has called the art of maintenance, is essential to the lives of human beings.

To tell the truth, caring for things is inseparable from caring for people. Caregivers and “helpers” know it well: caring for a person is also caring for the multitude of objects that make up their living environment. But, moreover, the two forms of attention are closely linked. as research on watch out, personal care practices challenge the primacy of “good health.” the watch out makes vulnerability a starting point, a common condition. The same goes for taking care of things. Any maintenance activity starts from the principle that objects are fragile and constantly changing, that their apparent solidity, even their inertia, are always temporary. In this sense, taking care of things is also ethical. It is based on continuous attention to the material world.

Maintenance is one of the ways that allows us to make our world a little more livable

Jerome Denis and David Pontille

We have a lot to learn from people who master the day-to-day care of things and know how to listen to the material. Guessing the detachment of a part from the sound that an engine makes, detecting the first signs of an infiltration, mastering the gestures to disassemble a device without damaging it… This touch on which maintenance is based is not at all obvious to those who they have grown accustomed to using new items, which only need to be replaced at the first signs of weakness. Taking care of things means getting out of the comfort of carelessness, rejecting the luxury of neglect that we can no longer afford.

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As it is shown in maintenance art of Mierle Laderman Ukeles since the late 1960s, there is also an invisible link that extends from home chores to the activities of professional maintainers and craft practices. Added to this is the multitude of sites that have emerged outside the globalized production and consumption circuits, from “coffee repairs” to repair shops in large cities in Africa or Asia or small shops where you can change the screen of your smartphone. . From the great urban infrastructure to family furniture, from laptops to works of art, maintenance produces, day by day, a material continuity, which denotes with odes to groundbreaking innovation, and whose actors are absent from the main narratives of modernity. Bringing this incessant activity to the surface will help us realize that taking care of things can also be taking care of ourselves and others, that maintenance is one of the ways that allows us to make our world a little more livable.

taking care of things, by Jérôme Denis and David Pontille, Éditions La Découverte-Terrains Philosophiques, 400 p., €23. To premiere on October 13.

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