Things Come Apart 2.0: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living

Image of Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living
Release Date: 
April 9, 2019
Thames & Hudson
Reviewed by: 

Todd McLellan must be the most painstakingly patient still-life photographer in the world. His singular approach to art is combined with a message of environmental conservation rooted in a recycle mentality as he, piece by teeny tiny piece, arranges objects to tell a story about their lives . . . and their afterlives.

Things Come Apart 2.0: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living is, first and foremost, visually stimulating. McLellan has systematically dissected everyday items of all shapes and sizes: flashlight, iPod, Walkman, gas meter, power drill, accordion, espresso machine, wood chipper, even a two-seater airplane—each make an appearance in anything but their intended form. Each photo is a lesson in design aesthetics.

After sometimes days of set-up with the “formal” portrait of the disassembled object, McLellan proceeds to drop many of them from the ceiling and catch each of the sometimes hundreds of pieces free-falling, in disheveled disarray, on camera. Nearly all of the items are represented by these two artistic personalities.

Turning through page after page of meticulously crafted photos, one can’t help but wonder, why? Why such an odd-ball obsession? It is then that the reader realizes that there are actual essays included in which McLellan explains the methods and the madness.

Apparently, like most curious lads, McLellan loved to take toys apart as a kid. Over the decades of refining the art of disassembly, he branched out into what has become an official “teardown” movement. Each article touches on a different aspect of the teardown process. Nothing too deep, but a reality check about the amount of stuff that exists on the planet and our disposable culture that could care less about mounting trash piles.

Things to think about are: Can we as a society teach the next generation to appreciate the effort required to create a product? Can we look at disassembly as a form or art? Can we embed into the product designs a way to deconstruct that is environmentally sustainable? Can we encourage kids to be tinkerers once more and repair something before mindlessly, habitually giving it the heave-ho? If we can, then not only will our planet be happier, we will all be better people. A pretty broad-scoped, warm and fuzzy pat on our collective backs.

The most intriguing article is by Dr. Joseph Chiodo, an inventor of ‘Active Disassembly’ technology—“products that automatically come apart when exposed to a trigger mechanism”—in which he implores us to consider alternative recycling methods to reduce waste and reuse effectively and efficiently at a product’s “End of Life” phase. This is the most scientific of the essays and wild chemical constructs are at the forefront of a wave of inventions.

Thermoplastic Hot-Melt Adhesives for Disassembly (THMAD). Hot Wire Adhesive Release (HWAR). Thermally Reversible Adhesives (TRA). Shape Memory Alloys (SMA). Shape Memory Polymers (SMP). Standard Engineering Polymers (SEP, such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS). Chiodo’s optimism and conviction is that these super-hero acronyms will soon be operating in a neighborhood nearby, “preserving the environment, conserving resources, promoting employment, and safeguarding the world economy.” Nothing of the likes of these creations have ever, it’s safe to assume, been discussed in an art photography book, and it proves a fascinating reading to a chemistry novice.

Back to basics, though, because Things Come Apart 2.0 is a photography book, and one that is truly beautifully designed. Would it be nice to know more about the objects McLellan selected? Would it be informative to know what became of all these toss-ups and teardowns? Well, yes, but perhaps that will be addressed in future editions (3.0?) in which we may see some of these items end up with Dr. Chiodo.