The Misused Ironmongery X London Design Festival
Taiwanese industrial designer Liang-Jung Chen first started paying a great amount of attention to hardware when she was living in the countryside of Taiwan. ‘It all started with designers’ geeky habit of observing in things what others might overlook. I find it especially interesting when I spot people using things in unconventional ways and beyond their intended purpose’ People do it mostly out of thriftiness, yet often they are improvising in a very clever way, and sometimes with unexpected humour. She finds the vernacular design methodology behind this behaviour intriguing; the design approach based on local needs, local materials, and local traditions.
‘Back then, I was working for a Taiwanese manufacturer in an industrial estate, where I had access to product archives in factories of all kinds.’ The experience opened her eyes to the coun- try’s rich history of manufacturing, especially hardware products, and gave her a new perspective on hardware as a modern invention. ‘The popularization of affordable hardware was once a sign of the specialization in mass-production. In some way, hardware is a very democratic product that allows people to build things they need on their own and allows an interoperability between both objects and solutions.’
Since moving to the UK in 2018, Liang-Jung has continued her hardware study. As the project develops, she turns to the material culture research approach in anthropology to further investi- gate what hardware can tell of the local culture. ‘By constantly asking why this hardware is preva- lent in the UK, I learned something new about the culture.‘ One of the characters she found relevant about hardware culture in London is the many “territorial” hardware items whose pur- pose it is to prevent people from doing certain activities. For example: skateboard deterrents, anti-climbing spiked collars for CCTV, anti-slide devices on handrails, folding parking posts... etc. ’For me, it shows London is a densely populated mega city of tension. People are trying to pre- vent others from evading their own territory, where the needs and desires of different groups can be in conflict.’
For the exhibition during the London Design Festival, Liang-Jung named it ‘The Misused Iron- mongery. ‘In Taiwan, we call hardware items 五金 (Wu-Jing), which means ‘five metal’, due to the fact that historically, hardware items were made out of gold, silver, copper, iron, and tin. The terminology is coincidentally similar to the traditional British name of ‘Ironmongery’, which I found very lovely.’