I’ve seen two things in the last couple of weeks that have unsettled me. Not disturbed, just unsettled. One was the Cow Leg Trouser from our marvellous Retroprogressive feature. The other was this story about artisanal pencil sharpening:

“With an electric pencil sharpener, a pencil is meat,” Rees said. “It’s this thoughtless, Brutalist aesthetic. For me, it’s almost a point of pride that I would be slower than an electric pencil sharpener.”

This is how Rees’ artisanal pencil sharpening works: You might send him your favorite pencil, but Rees more often selects and sharpens a classic No. 2 pencil for his clients, he promises, “carefully and lovingly.” He slides the finished pencil’s very sharp tip into a specially-sized segment of plastic tubing, then puts the whole pencil in a larger, firmer tube that looks like it belongs in a science experiment. Throw it at a wall, he says, and it won’t break. The cost? $15.


So far, Rees is the leader in the field. “Nobody else is doing what I do,” he said. “I guarantee an authentic interaction with your pencil. What mechanical pencil sharpener can say that? The X-ACTO XLR 1818? The Royal 16959T? Don’t make me laugh.”

“I’m going to have this nice, authentic, considered reaction with your pencil,” Rees said. “I just want to treat it with respect…”

Both of these things – the Cow Leg Trouser and the artisanal pencil sharpening – may have been embarked upon in a mood of high seriousness or they may be elaborate jokes, but whatever the intention I like the note they hit: internally plausible but externally absurd. The closest analogous thing I can think of is Duchamp’s Fountain. In which case perhaps they’re both art? If so, they must be very good – contemporary art is always threatening to unsettle but, for me at least, it doesn’t usually do half as good a job as these.
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5 thoughts on “Unsettled

  1. info@shopcurious.com'
    August 18, 2010 at 10:55

    Brilliantly funny! How absurdly arty – and curiously anal too…

  2. noreply@blogger.com'
    August 18, 2010 at 11:11

    awesome! love a bit of bloody-minded mentalness. I too want to have 'authentic interactions' with my office stationary.

  3. gawragbag@gmail.com'
    August 22, 2010 at 19:19

    Susan, I'm intrigued to discover what the words 'curiously anal' appended to a post of mine will do for its Google search appearances. Could be interesting and not in a Freudian way.

    Worm, I've decided to have my Google Android phone hand-polished with beeswax. Never mind the sheen, think of the aroma…

  4. noreply@blogger.com'
    August 23, 2010 at 08:47

    I once attended an adult course in art and spent 20 minutes of the first lesson learning the correct way to sharpen a pencil, so I can appreciate where this man is coming from.

    Of course, when it comes to slow points we mustn't forget to mention Dalton Ghetti

  5. gawragbag@gmail.com'
    August 23, 2010 at 08:54

    Ian: What are the dos and don'ts? Is waste a factor? Is sharpness of point the main parameter of success? And Ghetti: quite amazing stuff.

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