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The Toaster Project - The Toaster Project

The Toaster Project

  • Object:

    The Toaster Project

  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    2009 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Thwaites, Thomas, born 1980 (artist)

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased by the Design Fund

  • Museum number:

    W.12:1-2014

  • Gallery location:

    20th Century, Room 76, case 22 []

The Toaster Project is an attempt to investigate and replicate the manufacture of a mass produced everyday object – a toaster – on an artisanal scale, aimed at revealing the nature of mass manufacturing. The designer, Thomas Thwaites, documented the process through video, a publication and by collecting all the elements that went into the production of the toaster, including the apparatus he created for the refining and manufacturing processes. This installation collects all of these objects, consisting of the apparatus, materials, final toaster, digital images, video and publication.

The Toaster Project highlights the complexity of everyday mass-manufactured objects and the invisible supply chains of the globalised economy which make their low-cost production possible. In 2008 Thwaites bought a toaster from the British high-street retailer Argos, manufactured in China and priced at £3.94, and deconstructed it into its individual components. He then attempted to reproduce these components himself, from elements sourced or produced by himself in the UK; the plastic for the shell, the steel for the inner frame, the nickel for the heating element, the mica for the thermal and electrical insulation, and the copper for the electrical wires. He documented his journeys around Britain to collect the base elements of the materials, from mining steel in the Forest of Dean, to collecting mica from the mountains of the west coast of Scotland and acidic water containing dissolved copper from the Isle of Anglesey. He also devised his own ways of attaining the final materials from these sources, including attempts such as a smelting furnace made of hairdryers and a chimney pot, and a mould for the plastic case carved out of a block of wood. This investigation into the production of what is now a very cheap and easy to acquire object reveals the impossibility of making such a product on a small, local scale. It exposes the social and environmental consequences, including the decline of Britain’s manufacturing industries and pollution of natural resources, as a result of the disposability of consumer culture. Thomas also reveals that the cost of making his toaster was £1187.54, based on his direct spending alone. The project is a key example of critical design, and one of the first to be discussed globally beyond the design sector. In 2013 Thwaites was given the Emerging Design Studio of the Year award by Icon Magazine.

Place of Origin

London (made)

Date

2009 (made)

Artist/maker

Thwaites, Thomas, born 1980 (artist)

Descriptive line

The Toaster Project, installation by Thomas Thwaites, UK, 2009

Categories

Installation art; Product design

Production Type

Unique

Collection

Design, Architecture and Digital Department

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