Displaying at the V&A until 2 November, and part of London Design Festival 2022, ‘R for Repair’, curated by Singapore’s Hans Tan Studio and Britain’s Jane Withers Studio, is intended as an experiment. In an open call, the studios requested people to send in objects to be repaired and, through a selection process that involved both the tugging of heartstrings and the opportunity to explore the crafts that emerge through repair, they chose ten snapped, torn and fallen-into-disarray objects to be mended for the show. Each item was then sent off to craftspeople in the UK or Singapore, who discussed with the owners how best to display and structurally reaffirm their sentimental relics.  

‘Repair has been reduced to a bit of glue,’ explains Withers, ‘but we need to explore the language of crafts that can go into fixing something.’ The cracked wing of a puffin toy has been repaired by Ng Si Ying with a fine rattan weave, and multidisciplinary artist Attua Aparicio Torinos has made shards of glass from a Jewish wedding ceremony into a chain using lampworking – reconfiguring the pieces 15 years after their breakage. 

Sewing Chest, repaired by Rio Kobayashi, part of R for Repair 2022 exhibition
Detail of the sewing chest repaired by Rio Kobayashi, part of ’R for Repair’, 2022

A highlight in the show is the repairs carried out on a sewing chest by Japanese-Austrian designer Rio Kobayashi. The chest was opened up by a woman after her grandmother’s death to reveal paintings, and in turn a hidden dream of becoming an artist. Kobayashi used cherry, sapele and walnut to fix and extend the legs of the structure. ‘I wanted to show the ageing of the piece; it’s already got a story and I wanted to add and repair it with something that could age with it again,’ he says.

Next, he opened the chest’s elements and lay them flat to become a table: ‘I wanted it to blossom like a flower into something new,’ he says. He’s painted flecks of green onto the foot of the now-table, creating a modest symbol of foliage. 

Winnie the Pooh Clock – repaired by Brown Office, part of R for Repair 2022 exhibition
Winnie the Pooh Clock repaired by Brown Office, part of ’R for Repair’ 2022. The clock shows time zones at Walt Disney Studios, Winnie the Pooh’s ’100-acre wood’ and Singapore

There is a theme of international connection in the array, too. A designer from Brown Office, who repaired a ‘Winnie the Pooh’ clock from its former glory into a tri-time-zoned contraption explains its origins. Inspired by a fictional British bear, then designed by an American company (Disney) and made in China, the clock went on to sit in a childhood bedroom in Singapore and – when its edges peeled and elements began to detach – it came to the UK to be fixed by Brown Office and is now displayed in the V&A. ‘It was sometimes as much about repairing a memory as the object itself,’ explains Withers, and the accompanying stories allow for a sentimental appreciation of otherwise-ordinary items. 

The major lesson from this intricate exhibition is our need to utilise design to reduce waste. Withers explains that ‘you have to design value’ and is using this show to discuss ‘why people keep things, and how to design things that people want to keep for a long time’. §

broken pieces of glass
Wedding Glass repaired as chain by Attua Aparicio Torinos, part of R for Repair 2022
Wedding glass before and after being repaired by Attua Aparicio Torinos, part of ’R for Repair’ 2022