Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Drawer #7.3: Mop Knobs Tutorial

So here’s how it goes if you are me: you’re planning just a quick simple post - a visual ode to the humble stripy mop - sparked by something you’ve heard on the “radio,” (1) which leads you to thinking of a certain Chinese artist’s Mop (2) and when you look him up, you find his planning drawing (3) which leads you to wondering: exactly how are those mop knobs made anyway? (4) which leads to taking one apart (5, 6, 7) and which then - you can’t very well leave it undone, 
can you - is harder to reassemble than expected…and so on until the afternoon is done & the post is not.

1. The spark, a story from Adam Gopnik as told to On Being's Krista Tippett:
John Updike was once asked why — for an ad, I think, like a whiskey ad or some crazy thing — why are we here? Why do we live? Sounds like a ridiculous question, but he had an instant answer for it. He said, “We’re here to give praise.”  We’re here to give praise.
2.  Black Broom, 2000, by Chen Zhen, a Chinese artist from the 90's, drawn to the same sorts of humble objects that I love - street chairs, mops, t-shirts - but who infused them with great scale & explosive energy, creating exuberant, life-affirming installations…and sadly, passed away too young.

Chen Zhen images via design boom
3. Chen Zhen’s drawing for Black Broom depicting how the mop “strings,” attached at the top in the direction of the mop handle, are flipped over - like a chignon! - to form the mop knob.

4. But that, as it turns out, is not how the real mop is constructed.

5. Mop dissection shows that the strips of stripy t-shirt material are actually laid in both directions from the end of the handle. It’s the strips laid along the handle that make the mop full & dense; use Chen Zhen’s drawing as a guide, you end up with a very stingy mop.

6. A thick band of an alternate fabric, folded on itself & wrapped around the intersection of the two sets of strips, is nailed in four places into the pole. This is the part where you wonder what tools the maker had at hand: it’s a right pain getting that cruddy nail to pierce thru all those t-shirts layers & then it all bounces back as there’s no hard resist on the opposite side of the handle…

7. And then, stripy strips in place, you flip, and voilá, the chignon/knob! Wrapped twice around with…ha! aluminum wire! So there’s no rust! (You are probably bored to tears by now, but me, I am so pleased to discover this detail…)

The great John McPhee, in his wonderful essay, Writing By Omission, makes the argument for putting less than the writer knows into an essay, leaving more “white space” for you, the reader. I’m here to say that I did leave a few things out - the man occupying a street corner, all his mop-making supplies laid out on the ground beside him (but you can read about him here), and the university student w a mop on his head (who is here.) 

From "The View in Fragments," the Stripy Mops vitrine. Shmigel 2011,  Mixed media, 8.5 x 12.5 x 6.25"
Photo: Bruno David
But what I still must tell is what I realized while writing: that I need to turn one of the knobs in the drawer on its side; while the stripes & colors give me great pleasure, it’s the knobs that really make me love these mops.  

Quietly handmade, crafted where so little here is, crafted just to the level they need to perform their function, therefore elegant but entirely humble. And ubiquitous: in the entryway of every household goods store, & there must be at least one to a street, over stacks of bad-quality plastic bins & all matter of cheaply manufactured goods, there they are, reminding me of some one individual maker, some “fellow traveler” out there working away by hand.

So there you have it. If you are me, your sense of life purpose is confirmed & renewed: we are here to give praise. 

Photo: Bruno David
Drawer 7.3 from top:
1. Mop knob, bought in a cranky old neighborhood in the north of the city, at Qiqiuha’er Lu,
irresistible during lunch break from an project planning meeting at an architecture studio 
2. Medicine tin (see post on TCM 
3. The rest of the mop #1
4. Another irresistible mop due to classic pink & orange color scheme, from a shop on Jixiang Lu,
just around the corner from home & a bit of found wire, one part I always pick up scrap metal bits on  the street, one part homage to Henrik Drescher's Nervenet


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