I was reading recently about the attempts by a student at the Royal College of Art, London, to make a toaster from scratch. It’s a true ‘process’ piece – how the result looked was (presumably) of minor concern to the artist, Thomas Thwaites – whereas the process of trying to smelt, melt, mould, etc, all the required components was the kernel of the exercise. Bread is one of the oldest of human inventions, the electric toaster one of the more recent, facts which add to the enjoyment of this attempt to ‘bake a toaster’. [1]

I’m no stranger to toasters, having blown one up once. This was towards the end of my fad for trying to fix faulty electrical goods at my parents’ house. It seems not all loose wires should necessarily be connected to each other. I think fixing electrical stuff was a (vain) attempt to exorcise my loathing of Electricity as topic of study – I found Physics abhorrent at school, and Electricity an abomination; I still don’t know why.

Thomas Thwaites: the ‘finished’ toaster; image held here

Later, when studying Art, my hate-hate relationship with electricity came back, to mind at least – toasters were spared my touch. I had come to realise that electricity (shudder) and electronics were two separate, or at least separable things. And I wondered why, given all the different skills that are taught at art college, Electronics is not among them. [2] There is an awful lot you can create if you’re good with a soldering iron and some circuitry – much more than, say, with a hammer and chisel (though I’ve no argument with the latter).

The too-short-lived Medialab that was once in Dublin’s Digital Hub required all those who joined its programme to know how to put circuit boards together. Medialab wasn’t lucky in the end with its finances – which is a real pity – but I suspect it was dead right about the creative value of electronic circuitry.

[1] More on the toaster project here.

[2] Maybe it is now, some places.