The Temporary Art Repairshop


This is an art project that I have organized several times, always in collaboration with a host institution that has invited me. It usually runs for a month or a little more, and takes the form of an inclusive, social game; inviting the general public to take part in a discussion about the role of public art and who can own it. The stage of the game is a temporary repair shop that I set up within the host institution that has invited me. The repair shop is a kind of mixture between artist studio, wood workshop and bicycle or shoe repair place. It is quickly set up using plywood and other basic materials, but I carefully design it and paint it to give the impression of a real place of business. When people from the street come in, they are greeted by a counter where the somewhat formalized exchange takes place. I see this all as theatre, helping to set the stage for the performative exchange.


Anyone coming in from the street can hand in a broken object, or one that is in any other way dysfunctional, e.g. it didn’t fit, it is badly designed, it is unwanted, or it is just plain ugly. I ask the customer what is wrong with the object, then give it a number, we fill out a small form together, and finally I give them a receipt for the object they handed away. I will now turn this unwanted object into an artwork. My repair doesn’t fix what is broken, rather I circumvent the problem as they described it, by giving the object a completely new form and function. When I am done with it, I place it in the window towards the street for people passing by to see. At the very last day of the project, everyone who handed something in is invited back to collect their new sculptures – all for free.


The customer pays nothing more for their new sculpture than the courage and initiative to engage in an art project. I, as an artist, am paid for my work directly by the hosting institution. The institution gets an engaging project that reaches out to new audiences, and they pay for this with funding they apply to from the state, which means they ultimately get it from the people on the street. They, on their hand, have the option of becoming the private owners of a new sculpture for free, simply by choosing to engage. With this circle I want to suggest an alternative way for how artists could be paid for their work and for how public art could be seen also as the means for quite normal people to own art.


The things handed in are often throw-away and banal, but what I try to create from them is a kind of everyday poetry, taking the inherent narrative carried by the broken and cast away objects and spinning it forwards, along the path suggested by what the customer has told me. Sometimes the people coming in doesn’t have much to say about their objects, just that they are broken and that they thought the objects would be fun to fix. Sometimes the stories that come together fit unusually well.


The lady who handed in this unspectacular musical dinosaur to the Repairshop when it was in Edinburgh, complained that she had expected it to be a dancing puppet, the ones who flopped together when you pushed a button underneath and then stood erect when you released it. Instead it had turned out to be a music box, and to her dismay, it was playing the Anglo nationalistic “Land of Hope and Glory”, which as a good Scotswoman, she didn’t feel she could give to her grand children. As she didn’t like the toy, I decided to “kill” it by stringing it up from a noose. You now played the tune by pulling the dinosaur down in his rope instead. Then I proceeded to “kill” the tune too, by pulling out some of its teeth. Land of Hope and Glory, now turned into “No Hope, No Glory”.


The Dog Biter was another solution to a problem. The customer gave me two wooden Christmas stars that had been all chewed up by her young Labrador retriever puppy. Bad Dog! So what to do? To help her get control over her unruly canine friend, I pulled out the points from the stars and re-appropriated them as jaws in an educational tool instead, the Dog Biter.