I, Toaster Follow-Up: Artist Thomas Thwaites Responds


In response to my article about his project to create a toaster from scratch, artist Thomas Thwaites sent me the following email:

I'm writing to address the misinterpretation (misrepresentation?) of my project in your article.  Obviously projects of this nature are open to interpretation and the toaster project has indeed received both negative and positive comments in various blogs by various people, but an article by a professional writer that makes so many innacurate assumptions as yours is something that I feel I must take issue with.

Firstly you assume that I don't know about the famous essay 'I Pencil', by Leonard Read.  I'm not entirely sure what led you to this assumption.  As an undergraduate I studied microeconomics and environmental economics at University College London.  I found the economics components I did (admittedly just two) to be amongst the most rewarding parts of my BSc., and certainly served in part as inspiration for my later project.  In fact I write about the (now legendary) bet between the 'Limits to Growth' environmentalist Ehrlich and the economist Julian Simon in a book I've written to accompany the exhibition.  I use it in relation to a point about steadily increasing material wealth.  I also quote Adam Smith on the production of pins.  Your claim that 'the miracle of modern capitalism is lost on Thwaites' is incorrect.

Furthermore your statement that I see my project as a 'as a condemnation of trade, technology, and mutually beneficial exchange' you assert follows from the following extract from the project website:

'The point at which it stopped being possible for us to make the things that surround us is long past…This faintly ridiculous quest to make a toaster from the 'ground up' serves as a vehicle through which questions about economics, helplessness and life as a consumer can be investigated.'

I fail to see how your statement follows from what I had written (which incidentally I rewrote some time ago if you'd care to have another look).  To make a toaster from scratch is 'faintly ridiculous', and indeed impossible without devoting a lifetime to the task.  Investigating questions is very different from condemnation.

There are numerous other points where your article completely misses the point of my project.  I'm not sure if you deliberately misinterpreted what my project is about to fit in with a notion you had for your article, or if perhaps your assumptions about what 'artists' have to say took over from your reason, or if the fact that it appeared on one 'eco-arts website' whipped up unexamined prejudices and led you to write your frankly wrong and unthoughtful article.  Or of course it could be all because my website does not explain every facet of the project but assumes some critical thought on behalf of the reader (the irony of making an electric toaster in a way that disavows the infrastructure on which electric toasters depend on was clearly lost on you).

Please update your article now you have been informed of a little more about the project.  I think as it stands it does a discredit to your publication.  I am very happy to answer any further questions you may have.

Yours Sincerely,

Thomas Thwaites