No, I’m not thinking of old clothes, or those Van Gogh boots that have become such old friends they can’t be thrown out. Instead, I was contemplating how narrow cobbled streets, wobbly medieval buildings, ancient cathedrals with worn away stone thresholds are gateways to a history more tangible than words in books.
Antique furniture, old tools, hand-me-down toys, and objects from every oeuvre of domestic life resonate because they have a story to tell. Like a 3D painting of time and use, they are a record of personal history, through their self-evident wear, repair, abuse and care.
The current obsession of keeping things shiny new, with materials, like plastic coating, that don’t age and are hard to maintain when they fail, needs challenging. Expectation of maintenance means you keep an eye on furniture, respect windows and floors, encourage a relationship between the user and the artefact. Repairs contribute. The skill of hardworking hands and the receipt of handed-down practice add layers of history to the objects we use.
It would be ideal to select materials for their ease to work, as well as their capacity to grow old with grace. Green thinking accepts ageing; natural materials do it better than man made. Unless things return to earth or degrade, then they can’t be recycled. They end up in landfills and deprive future generations of resources. Green thinking should embrace a philosophy of maintenance and celebrate the aesthetics of wear.
In Wahi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers, Leonard Koren writes: ‘Things Wahi Sabi are expressions of time frozen and made of materials that are visibly vulnerable to the effects of weathering and human treatment. They record the sun, wind, rain, heat and cold in a language of discoloration, rust, tarnish, stain,warping, shrinking, shrivelling and cracking.’
How beautifully expressed and relevant to today’s fake consumerist values of obsolescence.