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Repairing objects with 3D printing and resin

Designer Xiaodong Ma’s project Repairing Society: A Nostalgia Future proposes ways to repair objects rather than replacing them, using, amongst other things, 3D printing and resin.

The linear economy of take-make-waste dictates that broken things need to be thrown away, rather than to be repaired. Often, they are even designed to be irreparable or more expensive to repair than replace.

In the project, Ma proposes three ways to go about repairing: repairing, grafting (inspired by plant tissues that are joined to facilitate growth together), and autotomy. The latter is a term used for the behaviour whereby an animal sheds or discards one or more of its own appendages, usually as a self-defense mechanism to elude a predator’s grasp or to distract the predator and thereby allow escape. The idea for The Repair Society is that designers not only focus on how products are used, but also how things are broken. It means the object’s afterlife should be well planned in the beginning.

For an autotomy designer, things are designed to be broken gracefully and cleanly to make the later repairing and repurposing work easier. As examples, Ma shows amongst other things a ceramic bowl with five bases (as the base is the strongest part of the bowl) that can break into five small ones, which can be easily repaired and grafted.

In the grafting part of the project, two broken objects are fused, sometimes altering their original purpose. Ma’s examples include a broken cup that gets a watering can’s spout, and a glass that receives the handle of a tea pot.

For the repair part, finally, Ma took inspiration from the Japanese art of kintsugi or kitsukuroi. This is the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. The defects are repaired not invisibly, but rather highlighted and celebrated. According to Ma, “Like badges won for commitment to practice, these markers accumulate over time and declare the object-subject relationship, sometimes even subject-subject relationship, with owners.”

Ma used actual kintsugi in the project, but also repaired a bowl using clear resin. To repair a rattan basket, the designer used 3D scanning and –printing. The basket is repaired using PLA, making it hard to distinguish whether it is old or new.

Photos: Xiaodong Ma

Article by Sigrid Lussenburg