Of Roof Racks and Manifestos

It occurred to me recently, brain baking in this epic July heat, that I have never explained the title of this blog. In a way, it is a rather abstract name; in another way, it is exactly precise. It is illustrated by a roof rack I just built to haul lumber with my trusty '98 Corolla.

The first half, Object, has value in its noun and verb forms.

ob·ject n.
1. Something perceptible by one or more of the senses, especially by vision or touch; a material thing.
2. A focus of attention, feeling, thought, or action: an object of contempt.
3. The purpose, aim, or goal of a specific action or effort: the object of the game.
4. Philosophy Something intelligible or perceptible by the mind.

As a noun, first and foremost, I am in the business of objects. Secondarily, I am in the business of teaching and thinking about objects, though I have not achieved any sort of General Theory that might yet unify my aesthetic ideas.

ob·ject·edob·ject·ingob·jects  v.
1. To present a dissenting or opposing argument; raise an objection: objected to the testimony of the witness.
2. To be averse to or express disapproval of something: objects to modern materialism.

As a verb, Object brings my aims into focus. Simply, I object.

I object to disposability. I object to shoddiness. I object to carelessness. I object to overconsumption. I object to greed. I object to pollution: physical, visual, cultural.

Tighten up.

The second half, Guerilla, has a tangled history, one that sometimes gets wrapped up with ugly words like terrorist.

guerrillaguerilla n.

a.  a member of an irregular usually politically motivated armed force that combats stronger regular forces, such as the army or police

As it so happens, I am a peaceful man. I have no military training, no weapons, and no desire to acquire those things. 

However, there is a lot to unpack in that definition: an irregular . . . politically motivated force that combats stronger regular forces. Now we must descend into the rabbit hole of further definition. An irregular, in a military sense, is a stateless fighter that is not part of any organized force. In a general sense, an irregular is a person who does not conform to expected societal values, customs, or traditions. 

An irregular stands in opposition to something that must be defined as regular. In speaking to regular, in American culture today, it is difficult not to fall back into the welcoming arms of cliche: reality TV, pro sports, celebrity obsession, fast food, industrialized agriculture, Wal-Mart, SUVs, subdivisions, McMansions. I indulge, happily, in many of those things, being a customary creature of my time and place.

However, many of my (and, I might add, mostly unoriginal) ideas about design, architecture, furniture, manufacturing, craft, and sustainability, while once accepted, normative values, have been burned to the ground by our culture. So I stand in opposition. I am an irregular. A guerilla. 

Design and construction are political acts. I cannot divorce making from thinking. In order to remain philosophically coherent and ethically upstanding, I must make things that improve the world, and, in the best of cases, change the world. 

This roof rack I just finished and immediately pressed into service is a physical manifestation of Object Guerilla.

The rack. Threw some linseed oil and polyurethane on it so it will survive some weather.
The regular way to move heavy, large things is by truck or train. I could rent a van. I could buy a pick-up. I could buy a roof rack. But I choose to make do because I object to those alternatives. More consumption. More money. More. I choose the guerilla route, turning my small, light machinery to the task with minor modifications, finding a way to overcome the limitations of my tools and extend their power.

The 'rolla.
When my bike isn't enough, I use a small, light car, good on gas, a well-maintained adolescent rolling into its fourteenth year. Taking inspiration from some of my colleagues, Dave and John, who have homemade roof racks for their compact cars, I took some time after work to slam together a quick system. 

Dave's Jetta version.

John's Volvo version.
Two runners, with rubber bottoms, conform to the curve of my car's roof. Made of a scrap of 2" x 4" and some 3/4" plywood, they have a channel to contain the webbing from two ratchet straps. Two bars, made from 2" x 4" as well, are set perpendicular to the runners, allowing me to ratchet-strap down a load. The whole assembly is small enough to fit in my trunk. It cost me a few hours and about sixteen bucks worth of ratchet straps.

Inside. Getting a haircut.
My first load was two hundred linear feet of baseboard for the Black Cinema House. The rack performed well up to sixty miles an hour, though my car took a beating on some of Chicago's finest city streets with the extra weight bearing down. A few days later, I picked up a load of lumber for a piece of furniture I am building for Object Guerilla's new HQ, effective August 1st. 

So. Here we are, loads of lumber delivered, rack ready for alley scrap, itching for pallets, cardboard, old and wonderful things. 

But . . . why? What am I doing and why am I doing it?

“The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on. Boasting is what a boy does, because he has no real effect in the world. But the tradesman must reckon with the infallible judgment of reality, where one’s failures or shortcomings cannot be interpreted away. His well-founded pride is far from the gratuitous “self-esteem” that educators would impart to students, as though by magic.” -- Matthew Crawford, Shopclass as Soul Craft

I make, first and foremost, out of need. Second, I make because I want. Third, I make because there must be a better way. That's all the manifesto I've got.