Is taking care of your belongings also taking care of yourself?

Paying attention to the material world, becoming aware of the fragility of the objects that surround us is leaving the comfort of unconsciousness. Isn’t their vulnerability really a reflection of our own condition?

What do you do when you grease your bike chain, when you pick up an item of clothing, when you clean the dishwasher filter? These gestures are harmless. We rarely pay attention. However, in making them, we agree not to limit ourselves to the role of passive user or simple consumer. We cultivate the art of making things last. Far from being a symptom of a materialistic fetishism, this art, which artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles has called the art of maintenance, is essential to the life of human beings.

To tell the truth, caring for things is inseparable from caring for people. Caregivers and “helpers” know this well: taking care of a person also means taking care of the multitude of objects that make up their living environment. But, even more, the two forms of treatment are themselves closely linked. How to research on the treatment, personal care practices challenge the primacy of “good health”. the treatment makes vulnerability a starting point, a common condition. It is the same with the care of things. Any maintenance activity starts from the principle that objects are fragile and constantly changing, that their apparent solidity, even their inertia, are always temporary. In this sense, taking care of things is also ethical. It is based on constant attention to the material world.

Maintenance is one of the ways that allows us to make our world a little more liveable

Girolamo Denis and David Pontille

We have a lot to learn from people who master the daily care of things and know how to listen to the material. Guessing the loosening of a part in the sound produced by an engine, identifying the first signs of an infiltration, mastering the gestures to disassemble a device without damaging it … This tact on which maintenance is based is not at all obvious for those who are they are used to using new objects, which only need to be replaced at the first signs of weakness. Taking care of things means getting out of the comfort of carelessness, rejecting the luxury of inattention that we can no longer afford.

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As shown in maintenance art by Mierle Laderman Ukeles since the late 1960s, there is also an invisible link that extends from domestic tasks to the activities of professional maintenance workers and artisanal practices. To this we can add the multitude of sites that have emerged on the fringes of globalized production and consumption circuits, from “repair bars” to repair shops in large cities in Africa or Asia or to small shops where you can change the screen of your own. smartphone. From large urban infrastructures to furnishings for the family, from laptops to works of art, maintenance produces, day after day, a material continuity, which denotes with hatreds to revolutionary innovation, and whose actors are absent from the main narratives of modernity . Bringing this incessant activity to the surface will help us understand that taking care of things can also be taking care of ourselves and others, that maintenance is one of the ways that allows us to make our world a little more liveable.

the care of things, by Jérôme Denis and David Pontille, Éditions La Découverte-Terrains Philosophiques, 400 p., € 23. Out on 13 October.

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