What follows is an essay by John Preus, soon to be released in the next issue of Proximity :
ON LOVE AND LABOR-THOUGHTS THAT ACCOMPANIED THE MAKING OF A TABLE
By John Preus
I recently joined a Jungian men’s group…(pause for my academic colleagues to peel off).
On some occasions in the group, we go around the room and everyone says something they don’t want anyone else to know about them. It’s called the withholding exercise.
One man was sexually and repeatedly abused by his older siblings, one had an affair with his brother’s wife and his brother has never forgiven him, one hates his job and is embarrassed that he can’t leave it, a married man loves his wife but is also attracted to young boys and suffers from intense longing, one is embarrassed that his stomach is growling, one spends more time than he would like to admit looking at pornography and was discovered masturbating by his 9-year-old daughter, one loves his wife so much that he feels emasculated and jealous and is afraid he will disappear, and one is in the depths of financial ruin.
I find this all riveting. Despite trying to maintain my cherished neutrality, I divulge to a room full of strangers something I’ve never told anyone before because it feels disingenuous under the circumstances. The confession, and the resulting (asexual) intimacy I felt with a room full of men was like an electric charge that glowed in me for a couple of days, temporarily erasing my general social anxieties. Under certain circumstances, shared vulnerability invites trust.
Tables support activity. And when they are not supporting activity, they are ready-to-hand, expectant, loitering around waiting for something to happen. The now traditional binary, form and function, addresses this dual role of objects in their identity as placeholders and actors. They are supposed to look graceful in waiting, to redeem the embarrassing position of being un-engaged. I am inclined to think that craft, like Glenn Adamson points out, is a way of thinking about what happens in the world, how to have some influence over it, your place in it, culpability and accountability. But the history of craft is also a reflection of collective longing and anxiety, loitering on the banks of the Styx, barking at the thing moving in the bushes.
Patching, as an additive variant of repair, is a long-standing strategy for lengthening the lifespan of a well-worn object, taking a piece of something to cover a worn piece of something else. Pant knees are patched with denim, roofs are patched with tarpaper and shingles, streets with bituminous, yards with pieces of sod, tarps with duct tape, cars with Bondo, boats with fiberglass resin. A patch is used when the object still functions, but is not stable unto itself. A patch does not generally change what a thing is, but prolongs a thing’s ability to be what it is, however temporary. A pair of pants could be patched with shirt material to the point of being more shirt than pant. While this may be problematic for an ontologist—assuming that the pants continue to be worn on the lower half of the body—most of us would be able to accommodate them without philosophical strain. At the same time, the identifying function, “pants” occupies a relatively short span of time on their material morphology.
Quilting, a designation generally reserved for things made of fabric, is the result of surplus parts. It is not quite an assemblage or collage, although that history certainly relates to what is interesting to me about the table. An assemblage has to incorporate disparate parts, disruptions, things that were not meant to be together, a forced marriage, so to speak. Being that all of the table parts are wood, it isn’t suitable to describe it as an assemblage or a collage. And it is not marquetry, which is an image or pattern-making technique using veneers of different colors to develop a picture. Quilting takes parts of other things to make a new thing. I would venture to guess that it comes out of a utilitarian folk tradition in which materials were limited and people had to make do with what was around. That may have been true long ago, but I am sure that quilting happens now more among folks with time to kill, than among low income folks trying to save material, textiles being as inexpensive as they are.
The most apt description might be bricolage, or using what is on-hand. Levi-Strauss damned bricolage as mythological and irrational thought, in contrast to the engineer. Deleuze and Guattari described it as the general mode of thought for a schizophrenic. I prefer Jacques Derrida’s statement: “If one calls bricolage the necessity of borrowing one’s concept from the text of a heritage which is more or less coherent or ruined, it must be said that every discourse is bricoleur.” Borrowing parts of other things to make a table strikes me as the most adequate expression of what a thing is in the broadest sense. Within the table is another table, a futon frame, pieces of virgin plywood, parts from other projects, bits of a chair, and a panel from a stereo cabinet. Those identities have all been subsumed to become the “table” but they have not entirely given up their former character.