Art & Development

Spring Cleaning, Part 1: Dad’s Garage

Can I just say, my dad had a roto-tiller?
That he built a play structure out of a barrel, a 2×6, and an old rotor he pulled off of a car?
That when I as 8, he gave me and my sister a huge saw and had us cut down a small tree?

I took it for granted that dads have workbenches. Of course, this is a dwindling phenomenon in the U.S., squeezed out by manufactured obsolescence and injection-molded everything (even car motors are socked away from view when you lift a hood of a new car).

In the face of disposable, virtual culture, I’d like to share some photos of my dad’s workbench and tools, and raise a wrench to tinkerers worldwide.

Yup, that's a tofu carton.

Of course Dad built his own workbench. No fancy slides for his drawers. Just a scrap of door frame moulding and some nails do the job.

Knick-knack drawer!

Making use of architecture!

Filled to the rafters.

In my opinion, it was a bad idea to stop making tools in baby blue.


Machine caboodle!

More bits and bobs in a Danish-but-so-Chinese cookie tin. You know you're Asian when your breakaway boxcutter is pink.

These transparent handles are so iconic. If they're not part of a design museum collection, they should be.

Dad's drill is so old the forward/reverse switch is one of those square bobbers on the back side of the handle. It sounds like forks in a blender but still packs a hefty punch.

That's what you call graphic and industrial design. Note the drill is operated with a chuck key.

Art & Development

Spring Cleaning: Introduction

Recently, I cleaned my parents’ garage, where the odds and ends my life have slowly accumulated. I got a particular snapshot of my life in things, and three strains became clear:

1. My dad’s garage was a formative place for me. I didn’t realize it then, but the “Dad things” that Dad did—fix up the house, paint, do minor electrical, crack open broken appliances—were special. When he enlisted me to help, he was really passing his abilities on to me.

M once mentioned that garages, which were formerly “man spaces,” have been taken over as storage areas for Costco-scale over-consumption. He lamented the fact that men no longer have tinkering spaces. Obviously I haven’t got such a gendered view: without a messy space, a workbench and tools, everyone loses out on the chance to learn how to work, even at very basic levels, with their hands, and to repair the things in our lives.

2. Everyone loves knickknacks. As JL and I agreed, from mansions in Atherton to 99¢ stores on San Pablo, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

“The meanest habit of human beings is to be suspicious of sentiment.”(unknown, quoted by David Ellis Dickerson, Hallmark card writer, on Studio 360, credit unintelligible)

What is it about mementos, those deeply personal objects that make you who you are? How can those items—even mass-manufactured, obsolete ones—elicit so many feelings, remain protected from dustbins by mere sentiment? Seeing my mementos from my childhood and teenage years was like visiting my own flea market—except all these things, these repositories of memories, were still full; they hadn’t yet been depleted of their power….

3. Student art: so bad, so great. Like everyone who decides to be an artist, I really loved being creative and expressive. I’d kept a lot of early work. All of it was bad, in terms of “Art,” but some of it was pretty good for my age. I could barely remember making some works, much less what motivated me.

I’ll post photos illustrating these three themes. Not all of it will be flattering to me. Be kind.