Let’s reframe how we think about repairing

“Repair has tended to focus on restoring functionality, but this is about exploring meaning, what makes us attached to an object and want to keep it in our lives,” says Jane Withers, co-curator of R for Repair, alongside Hans Tan. The project explores how creative repair can both preserve meaning and breathe new life into our possessions.

To kickstart the project, Withers and Tan put a call out for people to submit broken objects, as well as share the stories that gave these items significance. The objects were then passed on to designers for creative repair, with the brief of giving them a new persona or form while respecting the owner’s attachment.

The first version of R for Repair was presented by DesignSingapore Council last year, and now it’s at the V&A for a second round.

Withers shares why we should all rethink our approach to repairs:

We hope to broaden the discussion around repair.

We want to explore the value of creative repair in becoming part of the identity of an object and giving it longevity.

I was fascinated by the discussions it raises around often quite mundane objects. It is a simple idea that can draw out quite profound questions about consumerism and what makes us attached to things and want to preserve them.

It’s a discussion that is important if we are to cultivate a repair culture, and so it seemed to me that it would be worth expanding this narrative.

It’s not so much about the object, but the story behind it.

This is the fascinating part and what makes the project so revealing. We have received all kinds of things – a gnawed football that was the favourite plaything of a now dead dog. A sewing table that a young woman inherited from her grandmother, and discovered sketches inside that revealed her grandmother’s secret artistic ambitions. A plate that was stolen from Maxim’s in Paris by Jane Birkin as a gift for her brother and got broken in the process.

Let’s counter the negative associations with damaged objects.

I hope it will open people’s minds to the possibilities of repair. What is interesting is the dialogue between the owners and the designers – the stories behind the objects and how the designers interpret these. There is a responsibility for the designer to understand the object's meaning for the owner. They have a relatively free rein in the ‘repair’, as long as they respect this and make it part of the transformation.

We’re shedding light on what gives things longevity.

I think the value lies in what makes us want to keep objects. It’s about challenging our obsession with the new, and encouraging us to cherish our possessions as they age and gain meaning and emotional resonance.