"Worn Again" shoes

“Worn Again” shoes

Fabric, rubber, leather, sticky tape. Early 21st century

A pair of shoes manufactured from reclaimed materials. The materials have apparently been chosen for their recognisable histories and aesthetic qualities, rather than for durability and comfort, which suggests they were a fashion item and not intended for heavy wear. Towards the end of the 20th century, with environmental concerns beginning to feature prominently in the public consciousness, designers and manufacturers adopted recycling and other ‘green’ strategies for their novelty market value, creating a successful new niche for what was dubbed ‘ethical consumerism’.

Architect's model for geodome structureArchitect’s model of a geodesic dome

Wood, synthetic glue. Early 21st century

Growing awareness of the impending crisis brought about a rise in grass-roots production and design, placing an increasing emphasis on technologies that could be implemented with readily available tools and materials. Innovations in architecture and a combination of traditional skills with new, pioneering technologies gave rise to a range of low-impact and sustainable housing designs, many of which have survived as the basic forms in housing today.

Kung-Fu Panda Toy

Kung-Fu Panda Toy

Synthetic. Early 21st century

Entertainment was an important industry, and immense resources were invested in the production of popular films. As well as box-office returns, the producers benefited from the marketing of celebrity prestige and of film-related merchandise, as in the case of this stuffed panda toy. The original film was an American animation, but capitalised heavily on the appeal of Chinese wildlife and culture, as well as cheap Chinese labour – the label names this country as the place of manufacture.

Plastic 'JEEP' with home repair job

Toy ‘JEEP’ with home repair

Plastic, wood, wire. Late 20th century with undated later modifications

Children’s toys reveal a great deal about the way people lived in the past. During the war-torn 20th century, toy replicas of military vehicles and equipment such as this ‘JEEP’ (modelled on a North American imperial army vehicle) were very popular. The original steering mechanism on this example has been painstakingly rebuilt, and the wheel replaced with a modified drawer handle, suggesting that somebody owned and cherished it at a time when such things were no longer being manufactured and sold.

Swallow Amulet

Swallow amulet

Steel alloy. 22nd century (?)

This crudely-made amulet dates from the period of recovery and was cut from a steel food container. When the swallow population survived the climatic destabilisation and began to re-establish a regular seasonal migration, it was taken as an auspicious sign of better times to come. This pendant may have been worn as a good luck charm, or simply as a sign of affection for the birds, whose regular migrations were seen as a symbol of continuity and hope in a time of sudden changes and chaos.

Oil lamp fashioned from incandescent light bulb

Oil lamp fashioned from an incandescent light-bulb

Glass, metal, cotton. Date unknown

The incandescent light-bulb was an early type of electric light. The current ran through a filament suspended in a vacuum or inert gas inside the bulb. The bulbs were fragile and energy-hungry, and were not in use for more than a few decades before they were replaced with more efficient types. This specimen survived as a family heirloom after it was transformed into an oil-burning lamp, possibly as a novelty gift.

Electric toothbrush

Electric toothbrush

Plastic and metal. Early 21st century

During the age of affluence, electricity was available in plentiful supply and was used for even the simplest of tasks. Gadgets such as this electrical toothbrush were common household possessions in well-to-do areas of the globe. Such items are rare today, since most have long since been ‘mined’ for their useful parts.

Cosmetics containers

Cosmetics containers

Plastic and metal. Early 21st century

Composed chiefly of synthetic ingredients such as paraffin and incorporating such harmful chemical substances as Sodium Hydroxide, (Caustic Soda), these skin care ointments are a spectacular example of the way clever marketing was used to disguise the properties of consumer products – many of which would in fact have exacerbated the symptoms they were sold to relieve, and encouraged long-term dependency for the sake of continued sales. The Aloe Vera was apparently included to restore the product’s association with nature and health.

Alarm clock

Alarm clock

Metals, plastic. Late 20th century

Time keeping is a useful skill but was particularly important in a world dominated by commerce and industry. The average household would have had several timepieces, as well as those worn on the wrist or carried on mobile phones and other gadgets. Weekday mornings for most people would have begun with the sound of an alarm ringing.

Display of assorted packaging

Assorted food packaging

Card, plastic. Early 21st century

By the end of the 20th century, the majority of the global population lived in cities – large areas of built landscape with dense populations and very little open ground. Food was grown elsewhere and shipped great distances before it was sold and consumed. For convenience, and to maximise the economic exploitation of resources and labour, food often reached the consumer in highly processed form, ready to be eaten immediately with little or no preparation. Producers competed for the attention of potential customers with the help of bright colours, shiny materials, promises, free gifts and special offers.

  1. Pre-sliced apple. The fruit was rinsed with synthetised C vitamins to preserve its colour and flavour.
  2. Dog treats
  3. ‘Chinese’ style ready Meal
  4. ‘Weightwatchers’ cookie bars. Body weight issues were widespread, and were attributed to a variety of causes, ranging from fat and sugar surpluses to processed food ingredients, lack of physical activity, emotional stress, anxiety and loneliness.
  5. ‘Kinder eggs’. A hollow chocolate treat with a mystery toy inside.
  6. Pop-corn (puffed maize) an ancient Central American recipe modified for preparation in a ‘Microwave’ oven.
  7. Instant ‘soup’ powder . Quick meals like this helped people cope with the fast-paced lifestyle.
  8. Ice lollies. Packaging was often printed with designs in landscape on one face and portrait on the other, for flexible stacking on supermarket shelves.
  9. Toothpaste. The promises on the carton were of questionable veracity.

Remote control device

Remote control, probably from cable TV unit

Various plastics, early 21st Century

Analysis indicates that these controls had the capacity to select from 999 television channels, of which several hundred, at least, were probably live – though we can only speculate as to what they were all for. Printed material from the period suggests a considerable proportion of the week was spent watching television. the related health issues prevalent at the time. To date, we have been unable to determine a function for the button with the intriguing “bubbles” symbol.

Waterproofing solution

Fabric waterproofing solution

Various materials. Early 21st century

Oil-based chemicals had many useful properties. The luxury of light-weight, breathable and fully waterproof clothing was probably an undervalued asset at the time.

Water 'filter' cartridge

Water “filter” cartridge

Polypropylene with polythene packaging, early 21st Century

Manufactured for sale in the United Kingdom, which had some of the cleanest tap water in the world at that time. Unclean water and poor sanitation caused the deaths of millions in poorer parts of the globe, while in some countries drinking water was used for all household use, even lavatory flushing. Sales records suggest the annual UK expenditure on filters such as this would have been sufficient to provide permanent clean water sources to entire affected populations where water was unsafe.

Solar-powered charger

Solar-powered charger

Various materials. Early 21st century

Electronic equipment became so integrated in everyday domestic life that people found it increasingly difficult to manage without it. This device could generate electric current from sunlight in order to recharge batteries when the user was out of reach of the mains grid. It was designed to fit an array of small gadgets, for which it came equipped with multiple detachable heads.

Cleaning product container

Cleaning product container

Plastic, Early 21st century

Hygiene was another area in which petrochemical technology was put to frequent use. These substances were valued for their powerful impact on grease, lime, micro fauna, and were used extensively for some time before their detrimental effects on human health and the wider environment became apparent. Cleaning products were probably a significant contributor to the near-collapse of the major marine ecosystems in the early 21st century.

Jig Saw

Jig saw

Various metals, plastic. Mid to late 20th Century

Oil was used indiscriminately to manufacture disposable items, which replaced renewable and longer-lived tools or materials, and were discarded with changing fashions and technology, or catered to convenience and minor comforts at the expense of long-term sustainability. Had it been used only for otherwise unachievable ends, the supply might conceivably have lasted until the present day. This saw dates from relatively early in the history of electric power tools, as can be seen from the its all-metal body shell. Recently refurbished with internal components mined from other tools, this saw is in working order today, centuries after its initial manufacture.

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