Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Is there a perfect hand dryer out there somewhere? Is there a Platonic ideal that all hand dryers aspire to, but merely imitate poorly? Doug Wilson's photographic series of 18 hand dryers from around thw world on the website Polar Inertia gives us an average to build on.

The caption on the first photo reads:
This is a study in the banal. The boring. The completely uninteresting. The things we see everyday. The utilitarian objects that become invisible. It's fascinating that the absolute banality of the objects is what makes them all so unique and interesting. These images are a culmination of an eight month trip around the world. During this time I documented hand dryers in public bathrooms everywhere from Sydney to Beijing, Cairo to Vienna.
Only when we see an unfamiliar version of the familiar do we take another look at what we see every day.

Collections of any common object, however banal, force us to look at them anew. Take my paper clip collection. I have American, Japanese, and Danish clips, along with a couple that came from I'm not sure where. I see the same sort of variation in a mundane object that is shown in the hand dryer photos or that a world traveler might notice in electrical sockets.

Seeing these versions of bent wire paper holders shows just what it is that makes a paper clip a paper clip.

Putting them next to each other, or photographing them carefully elevates them to -- perhaps not art -- self-consciously designed creations. They show us how one idea or one need can be realized in different ways. These are utilitarian objects, things that don't need to look nice. They are functional, and their design reflects those functions -- holding paper together, drying wet hands.

But if we imagine that an object that serves a function needs no fancy design, we still come up with variation, and get no closer to a Platonic ideal.

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