DURABILITY – Emily Orr

RESPONSE #1 – Emily Orr

During our group session around the ten-pound note last week and in my own object selection process for this 100 Hours project, durability was a key consideration. I am enthusiastic about this project because it is built upon physical engagement with museum collections. So while I was browsing objects in the UCL online collections, I looked for things that I wanted to take a closer look at beyond the limits of the zoom feature on the computer screen to touch, turn over, or open up. I first chose an Egyptian cosmetic spoon. Due to its fragility, I learned that I would only be able to look rather than to handle this object. So I took a second glance through the collections with durability in mind. I came across an African wooden stool with ten legs.  It appeared squat and strong and looked like an object that I could pick up and flip over safely. The stool was approved for project use and during my first handling I was indeed able to sense its sturdiness. At the same time though, I saw a crack along the stool’s top, now repaired with glue, which exhibited evidence of a previous challenge to its durability.

When we were examining the ten-pound note, it survived Kate’s crumpling and discussion centered around its authorized indestructibility. Someone mentioned the contradiction between its paper-like flimsiness and its true material strength. From years of experience using American dollar bills, I know that this currency can easily be torn. In fact, every so once in a while, a dollar bill with a tare, taped together by a former user, will land in my wallet. Even though our crumpling and handling did not heavily damage the ten-pound note’s physical structure, these signs of use have now compromised the note’s stability in some way. It is an object that obviously shows these signs of use in the wrinkles that now fill its surface. In the same way, the crack along the top of my stool is likely evidence of use. I wonder what happened to the stool to cause it to reach a breaking point.

Ten-Legged Stool, Ethnography Collections

Ten-Legged Stool, Ethnography Collections

Durability was evidently a necessity in the design of the ten-pound note. I am now curious if and how durability factored into the design of my stool. Its ten legs could suggest the maker’s insurance policy against breakage. Ten legs, as I felt them, securely connected to the top, would provide ample support for weight above. At the same time, these ten legs might also suggest an anxiety about the stool’s durability. Surely it does not need ten legs to stand; I would imagine that three or four legs evenly placed around the perimeter would be sufficient. The history of seating furniture reveals repeated experimentation with how to build a durable and attractive form to hold the weight of a human being. I look forward to discovering how this ten-legged stool accomplished this balance of durability and good design as well as speculating at what exposed its weakness causing it to crack.

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