Circular with Katie Treggiden

Caitlin DeSilvey

Episode Summary

Do we only repair the things that we cherish? Is there a place for visible mending in our built environment as well as our clothes? Can a repair add value to the object that is mended? And do we always need to intervene with repair – or is 'curated decay' sometimes a better option? On today’s episode, I’m talking to Caitlin DeSilvey, a geographer whose research explores the cultural significance of material change and transformation, with a particular focus on heritage contexts. She has worked with artists, archaeologists, environmental scientists and heritage practitioners on a range of interdisciplinary projects, and is one of the most inspiring academics I have ever come across.She has worked with artists, archaeologists, environmental scientists and heritage practitioners on a range of interdisciplinary projects, supported by funding from UK research councils, the Royal Geographical Society, the Norwegian Research Council and the European Social Fund.

Episode Notes

Do we only repair the things that we cherish? Is there a place for visible mending in our built environment as well as our clothes? Can a repair add value to the object that is mended? And do we always need to intervene with repair – or is 'curated decay' sometimes a better option? 

On today’s episode, I’m talking to Caitlin DeSilvey, a geographer whose research explores the cultural significance of material change and transformation, with a particular focus on heritage contexts. She has worked with artists, archaeologists, environmental scientists and heritage practitioners on a range of interdisciplinary projects, and is one of the most inspiring academics I have ever come across. She has worked with artists, archaeologists, environmental scientists and heritage practitioners on a range of interdisciplinary projects, supported by funding from UK research councils, the Royal Geographical Society, the Norwegian Research Council and the European Social Fund.

We discuss:

-  The overlaps between cultural geography and history of design.

-  Her book, Visible mending: Everyday repairs in the South West. 

-  Using visible mending in stonemasonry in heritage sites.

- Why she uses visual imagery and storytelling as well as participatory activities to engage people in imagining changing environments and places.

- Why damage and decay captures her imagination.

… and more!

Here are some highlights.  

How value can be created by repair:

“One of the things that we became really interested in the project was how the objects that people were bringing to be repaired and then the stories that the repairers told us about these objects, were as much about people's identities as they were about the objects themselves. There were stories about the woman who would bring her all blown out slippers and say ‘Oh, I need you to put the new souls on these,’ and the repairers would say 'But it’s not economical. And the response would be, ‘No, no, but you really need to do this because they're the only slippers that are comfortable’ or ‘You need to fix my porridge pot because I've been making porridge in it for the last 50 years.’ There was always a little bit of a narrative attached to it.  And that sense of value and what we value, and that being often uncoupled from economic valuation became really central to the project. We also became quite interested in how value is created by repair, so by attending to something, and extending care, we actually produce value. So it's not just about a thing that we value and therefore we get it repaired, there is actually this much more dynamic relationship with the things that we repair.”

Our impulse as human beings to fix things:

“I've been really interested in the value in actually not repairing. What happens when we have a structure that is probably already on that path, something that is falling apart, ruining, however we wanna describe that process, and instead of pulling it back from the brink and making intact again, we just let that process play out? And the stories that become available when you allow that to happen are interesting and worth telling. But it's an approach that only applies to specific contexts and that way of thinking around that. You can find heritage value in something that's falling apart as well as something that's held together. It really came out of that work at the Homestead – it was the decay and the dereliction and the interplay, the way in which animals had occupied the buildings and the way in which there was this real blurriness around nature and culture that actually was so rich about that site. But to be honest, my interest in damage and breakdown and decay is partly about the moments when we can allow that to play out and learn from it, but also partly about the moments when we just can't resist intervening and why? So it's not necessarily about always stepping back, it's also about trying to understand our impulse as human beings to fix things.”

The importance of storytelling 

“One of the things I'm preoccupied now with is the fact that we really need better stories to move us into this future that we're facing. And we need ways of knowing the world and watching it change that are not all about loss and despair; where there's some hope, which can be difficult at times. So for me, I think it’s just trying what works.”

About Katie Treggiden

Katie Treggiden is a purpose-driven journalist, author, podcaster and keynote speaker championing a circular approach to design – because Planet Earth needs better stories. With 20 years' experience in the creative industries, she regularly contributes to publications such as The Guardian, Crafts Magazine, Design Milk and Monocle24. Following research during her recent Masters at the University of Oxford, she is currently exploring the question ‘can craft save the world?’ through an emerging body of work that includes her fifth book, Wasted: When Trash Becomes Treasure (Ludion, 2020), and this podcast. 

You can find Katie on Instagram @katietreggiden.1, sign up for her e-newsletter here and if you’re a designer-maker interested in becoming more sustainable, sign up for her free Facebook Group here. If you’d like to support more fantastic content like this, you can buy Katie a ‘virtual coffee’ here in exchange for behind-the-scenes content and a shout-out in Season Three. 

Waste: A masterclass is a 12-week programme conceived to inspire, educate and empower designer-makers to create circular products from waste. Click here to find out more or visit katietreggiden.com/masterclass.