Bricolage Part 2: Bricolage, Techne and Mimesis

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Sheldon Castle, Fairhope, Alabama, 1946 (Photograph: Don Armstrong)

Sheldon Castle, Fairhope, Alabama, 1946 (Photograph: Don Armstrong)

Bricolage as Techne

Bricolage, as a mode of making, may be viewed as techne.

These two concepts have much in common. Techne as interpreted by Heidegger, and bricolage, as interpreted by Levi-Strauss:

  • Distinguish between pre-scientific and scientific modes of production, and consider both to be legitimate
  • Emphasize materials and materiality
  • Have potential aesthetic applications
  • Validate under-recognized creative works by marginalized creators with limited resources

They share the same set of four components:

  • Material (Bricolage: inventory)
  • Form
  • Purpose
  • Maker (Bricolage: Bricoleur)

A product of bricolage, viewed as a product of techne, reveals – indexes – its ad hoc nature:

  • Materials show signs of use from their prior lives
  • Owner’s/community’s ethos of “waste-not”
  • Sense of improvisation rather than staid formula

There is an important distinction, however, in Heidegger’s definition of techne and Levi-Strauss’s definition of bricolage:

  • Pre-scientific (pre-industrial) techne includes handicraft (craft skill)
  • Bricolage excludes handicraft

Designing versus Making

In bricolage, as in techne, the distinction between designing an object and making an object is important.

In indigenous, vernacular and pre-modern cultures these activities are often blurred, designer and maker the same person for example. In modern culture these are often treated as separate specialized activities.

In bricolage, “designing” is dependent upon and inspired by the inventory. This includes an often overlooked aspect of designing, determining what the object is to be – its purpose. Form follows material.

Untitled, Collage, Don Armstrong

Untitled, Collage, Don Armstrong

In bricolage’s opposite – industrial production (manufacturing, modern building construction, etc.) – the inventory – set of materials – is dependent upon the design. Material follows form.


Bricolage and Mimesis

Bricolage, as an aesthetic principle, may be broadened to go beyond the literal use of objects from an inventory within the bounds of the creator’s work place. It may be used to include mimesis: the mimetic use – imitation – of objects, especially those outside the physical inventory, in the creator’s everyday lifeworld at large.

The “inventory,” thus redefined, includes the entire world of things freely accessible to creator, any of which may be copied as model.

Examples of such a “bricolage plus” would include the imitation of:

  • Local vernacular architecture elements and properties in postmodern architecture
  • Musical elements from early blues music in current rock music
  • Vernacular speech tropes in Beat literature
Perry Lakes Canopy Tower designed by the Rural Studio, Newbern, Alabama (Photo: Carol M. Highsmith)

Perry Lakes Canopy Tower designed by the Rural Studio, Newbern, Alabama (Photo: Carol M. Highsmith)

Both types of “materials” – physical object and model – are available to the creator at no cost (the model isn’t literally used but may be freely copied). In both cases, as bricolage, inventory drives the form and purpose of the final object.

How do you engage in bricolage in your creative practices?

In these works, how do the materials index their previous use?

How did you use these indexical qualities as part of your aesthetic intent?


© Donald E. Armstrong and Material Practices, 2013



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