On a recent Thursday evening in a cramped room by the Gowanus canal in Brooklyn, Joe Holdner was fixing a Dutch-style chandelier made in China, David Mahfouda a black umbrella, and Alex Krupnik a metronome that stubbornly refused to tick.
It was just their regular weekly night at Fixers' Collective, a workshop organized by the non-profit organization Proteus and Gowanus, an interdisciplinary gallery and reading room.
The Collective sprang out of "Mend", a yearlong interactive exhibition at the gallery started in spring 2009. One of the attendees, Mahfouda, showed up with a tattered 130-foot American flag, and a few people decided to help him restore it. The experience was so much fun that gallery co-founders Tammy Pittman and Sasha Chavchavadze along with Mahfouda decided to make it a regular thing. With a goal of increasing material literacy in the community, the Collective fosters an ethic of creative caring toward objects that are part of everyday life.
"Anyone can bring something in and tinker with it. If you don't fix it, you can turn it into something else," said Pittman, adding that wonderful things happen at the workshop. "We turned an MP3 player into a telephone. Somebody once turned a shoe into a lamp. We had a salad spinner that became a kind of chandelier."
Pittman is proud of the wide response to the project. Since the experiment started, more than 300 people have taken a stab at repairing things that others might toss.
"I'm sort of the new kid on the block here," said Holder, a 67-year-old local. "I am a compulsive repairer, and I enjoy getting a piece of garbage back into circulation again; it's gratifying to save something from the trash heap."
Although most of the attendees are from Brooklyn, some hail from as far away as New Jersey.
"It's a great opportunity to see how things work," said New Jerseyite and laptop-screen master fixer Vincent Lai. "And fixing things is convenient, you end up saving a lot of money."
Sometimes during these sessions, Pittman stands in a corner of the room and just watches the geniuses at work. She enjoys it most when a broken object is in the middle of the table and everyone starts offering theories on how it could be reborn.
"People are tired of being patsies of the commercial forces that try to get us always to buy new things," she said. "They want to make their own choices when to buy and when to throw away."
The Fixers Collective is currently fundraising $4,000 to cover the 2011 operating expenses of the workshop, which include rent, utilities, tools, and maintenance. More information is available at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1701996267/fixers-collective?