The Disappearing Art of Maintenance

What do you do with a subway car that’s been operating 25 years longer than it was designed to? What do you do with a phone that’s only designed to work for three? In this thoughtful essay, Alex Vuoco suggests that we look to the make-it-last ethos as a course out of the increasingly wasteful spiral that capitalism has wrought.

There is tension in the question of whether to build objects more intensively, so that they last longer, or to recognize that some things cannot endure and thus should be designed that way. There’s no hope for a paper plate in the long run, for example. It’s designed to enter the waste stream as cheaply and easily as possible. Conversely, a toaster could last for decades if maintained properly, assuming the manufacturer hasn’t built obsolescence into it (as is often the case).

Source: Noema
Published: Sep 22, 2022
Length: 16 minutes (4,173 words)

Deep Time Sickness

In Noema, Lachlan Summers investigates the long-lasting effects earthquakes have had on Mexico City’s denizens — aftershocks that manage to be both physical and psychological. These are the tocado, the “touched,” forever in fear of the next stage of dissolution.

For buildings in Mexico City, destruction is seldom an absolute condition. Residents, and especially people who are tocado, attune themselves to the cues of ongoing collapse — cracks, gaps, fissures — that populate the gray area between total destruction and slower disintegration. This geophysical sense impels temporal questions: “Is this new?” “How long has it been like that?” “How long do we have left?” “When can we be certain?”

Source: Noema
Published: Jul 14, 2022
Length: 14 minutes (3,699 words)

Futures From Ruins

Bombay Beach was once a vibrant resort town on the Salton Sea until agricultural pollution, drought, and toxic air led to its demise. Today, an art movement and emerging community hope to bring it back. In this Noema essay, writer Johanna Hoffman and photographer Tao Ruspoli show how a town in ruins is experiencing a creative rebirth.

The town’s compassionate side serves as a different kind of preview, suggesting that ruins can play a powerful role in creating the more supportive futures we need. Human geographer Leila Dawney describes ruins as potent “containers for emergent forms of inhabitation in a damaged world.” Relating to ruins as more than nostalgic, fetishized objects interrupts our memory cycles, reminding us that place can be remade in imaginative ways even when conditions are harsh.

Source: Noema
Published: Mar 17, 2022
Length: 15 minutes (3,882 words)

The Intelligent Forest

“Ecosystems are similar to human societies — they’re built on relationships. The stronger those are, the more resilient the system.”

Source: Noema
Published: May 11, 2021
Length: 13 minutes (3,326 words)

Pandemic Time

“The distorted experience of time through the COVID-19 pandemic reveals it to be an atemporal liminal passage between two great historic eras.”

Source: Noema
Published: Jun 8, 2020
Length: 21 minutes (5,337 words)