Objects of Function IV: One versus One Million

Outline Editions Love Re-refraction Print By Patrick Thomas. Sold in a run of 50.

Let’s pose a simple question: if you saw an immaculately made object on its own that stood out to you as something wonderful and perfect, would it diminish your view of it if you then discovered that a million identical pieces existed also?

Perhaps that would depend on the nature of the object. If it was a beautifully crafted piece of ceramic or sculpture – a work of art, for example – then to learn that this piece was not unique might be slightly disappointing. This stems from our entrenched understanding or assumption that works of art are one-off pieces of work. When we purchase such an item, we feel a slight sense of selfish pride that there is no-one else that owns such a piece, and so if we were to learn that there were more than one of these items that we held in our possession, then we would feel cheated and the object may become cheapened in our eyes. Certainly its perceived value would be diminished somewhat.

On the flip side however, there are objects that take such mass-availability to heart. This is where the concept of ubiquity comes in to play. Even though there are millions of these objects in existence, their appeal is not diminished. In fact it is because there are millions of these objects in use given their state of near functional perfection, that they are so highly regarded.

In my own specialist field of furniture, this can also ring true. To my mind there are two broad types of production piece. The first is the production piece or the batch piece. This might be part of a collection that a manufacturer has or one that forms part of a large order. This type of piece will certainly not be unique and many identical copies will be in existence. The second type is the one-off or the bespoke piece. This is much more like the sculpture or the ceramic, where more concerned is given towards aesthetics and display of skill than with ease of repeated manufacture.

Perhaps this is why we may feel cheated with repeated artistic production. Of course, there are always limited runs of things like prints and such where individual items are numbered to make them unique, but subconsciously, we feel that art should not be devalued by the tyranny of mass production. Such a thing would tear the very soul out of something which is surely meant to rise above the crude, cold ignorance of the machine. Can you mass-produce art? I would guess that most people would say no. Can you mass-produce utility and functionality? That must surely be a resounding yes, because after all, that’s what mass-manufacture was founded on.

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