Do It Yourself: Die Mitmach-Revolution

October 3, 2012


DIY. I think almost everyone knows what those letters stand for. And yet “do it yourself” has come to mean so many different things. In Germany, there is currently a travelling exhibition dedicated to the topic. It was conceived at the Museum für Kommunikation in Frankfurt, where it started its tour in August 2011. From there it carried on to the Museum für Kommunikation in Berlin in March of this year and ran until September. Of course, I left it until the very last minute to go and visit (although I did catch a brief glimpse of it during the Lange Nacht der Museen) and was in two minds whether to whet your appetite for an exhibition that’s no longer here for you to see. But the exhibition has actually travelled on to Dortmund, to the DASA Arbeitswelt Ausstellung, where it opened this past weekend and will run until the end of April 2013.

The exhibition – which translates as “Do it yourself: the join-in! revolution” – looks at the development of different DIY cultures, in its five sections on ‘Hobby’, ‘Work’, ‘Media’, ‘Counter-culture Movements’ and ‘Knowledge’. Before you enter, however, a touch screen quiz takes you through 14 questions to determine what kind of DIY type you are. What a fun way to start your visit. Apparently I’m a handicrafts enthusiast^^

The section on ‘Hobby’ then introduces the different DIY types in more detail – Tinkerer, Do It Yourselfer and Handicrafts Enthusiast. Examples of exhibits include a very cool and apparently fully functioning telephone made from old bathtub mixing tap parts, as well as a more traditional dolls house and an array of hand sewn bags. Materials and tools also get a look at – from traditional manual tools to power tools through the ages – as do DIY magazines and the development of DIY superstores. For those who like it multi-sensory, there are plenty of audio and video clips to peruse, from DIY adverts and cartoons, to video interviews with people whose hobby horses include e-guitars, guerilla gardening and crochet art. As well as the proverbial hobby horses, there are also some home made hobby horses on display, but just as I was thinking how much #MuseumBaby would enjoy those, an attendant sidled up to me and politely but firmly asked me not to touch them. Oops… (to my defense, it genuinely looked like they were intended to be picked up, and there were no signs saying not to touch).

The section on ‘Work’ includes a look at the role arts and crafts historically played in female education – any reader of Jane Austen knows that young ladies used to be expected to be ‘accomplished’ – with displays on knitting, sewing and embroidery. In more recent history, repairing, reusing and recycling things became an important part of life in the post war era, and is enjoying a renaissance in the modern concept of ‘upcycling’. Examples exhibits include darned clothes, re-glued broken teapots, and a checkers board made from bottle tops. The section also covers other ‘do it yourself’ approaches, such as scanning your own shopping at self service cash desks, designing and customising your own products, or assembling your own flat pack furniture e.g. from everyone’s favourite Swedish furniture house. Reference is made to a movement called ‘IKEA hacks’, where people take the self assembly one step further by redesigning the flat pack furniture into their own designs. I have to say, I was pretty impressed with the hack that takes one of IKEA’s most popular armchairs and repurposes it into a sled (as seen in the photograph below).

An interactive game challenges you to see how many items in a shopping trolley you can scan in 1 minute, and elsewhere a listening post on the history of self service lets you select your topic by scanning a barcode. For anyone looking to capitalising on their own DIY designs, there are some books to peruse on how to sell your hand made crafts.

The section on ‘Media’ considers not only at how the internet and web 2.0 have taken the distribution of DIY media products to a whole new level, but also looks at the 150 year history of amateur photographers, film makers and radio enthusiasts who have been telling their stories through their self made media. Stories include an amateur photographer who sent reports with colour slides from the war front during the 1940s, as well as examples of new photography technologies.

The section on ‘Counter-Culture Movements’ looks at various forms of protest and movements – from pirate radio stations and media protests, to guerilla knitting and city gardeners – as well as e.g. the hippie and punk cultures who championed self-reliance with their DIY approach to music, fashion, film and art. Interactive exhibits include examples of so called fanzines to read, and clips from film and video amateurs to watch. The interactive DIY crafts booth was sadly closed both times I visited.

Finally, the section on ‘Knowledge’ takes a look at the open source ecology, from the development of the Encyclopaedia in the 18th century to modern day forms of DIY knowledge management such as Wikipedia. Other exhibits include lithographs, telephone dials, telegraphs and Morse code. And several screens at the the end of the exhibition let you choose to watch episodes from a selection of ‘How does it work?’ TV shows, such as ‘Löwenzahn’ and ‘Sendung mit der Maus’, two very popular German kids TV programmes.

Overall it was a very enjoyable and interesting exhibition, and one I would recommend if you have a chance to visit it.


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3 Responses to “Do It Yourself: Die Mitmach-Revolution”

  1. Tine Nowak Says:

    Lovely review. I had to smile, when you mentioned the craft booth. So sorry it is allways closed. It is an exhibit in this show und not interactive. The “closed” sign was handmade by museum guards, because all the visitors started immediatly with crafting when they saw the booth. Hopefully it is coming alive again after beeing “freed” (by the finissage in april) from being an object in a museum. :)


    • jennifuchs Says:

      Ah, that explains it. It would be great to have a actual craft booth like that in a museum! And sorry for trying to play with the hobby horses…



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