MODELS

Someone called Ally S left a comment recently on an old post of mine where I posted some photos of a paper light switch I had made one day at work during my lunchbreak.

I’m fascinated to know what you do for a living –
how do you have time for all these things?!

It’s a question I get asked quite a lot, oddly enough, although making the light switch only took a couple of minutes and I did it during my lunchbreak.

The question did, however, remind me that I wanted to follow up on the idea of making models of light switches. I recently read The Size Of Thoughts by Nicholson Baker, and there’s a section on model aircraft which interested me.

Baker talks about how he often finds himself buying, but not then making airfix models:

The reason is that, despite the compensating attractions of glue, the activity of model construction goes to its final rest in one’s memory as a long, gradual disappointment. You think deludedly that you want to own the finished thing, joined, puttied, painted, decaled, and set under glass in a diorama made of bits of hot-mounted sponge and distressed Kleenex. But what you really want is to own, say, the Monogram MiG-29 kit at the apex of its visual complexity, where it can stimulate every shock and strut of your craftsmanly ambition, before it has been harmed by the X-acto knife and pieces of things have been bonded in permanent darkness within other things; you want it to be yours when both lateral aspects of each three-dimensional component, numbered for quick reference, hang symmetrically and simultaneously available to the eye in an arrangement of rectilinear runners and fragile jointure as fully intricate and beautiful as the immense wrought-iron gates that protect the fabled treasures in the Armorer’s Chamber of the Kremlin.

Oh God, I love Nicholson Baker.

He goes on to say that improvements in aeronautic engineering have resulted in aircraft which are less appealing to would-be model-makers:

The Cold War has moved from the upper atmosphere of spy photography to the wind tunnel, and aerodynamic drag has effectively replaced the Soviet Union as the infinitely resourceful enemy. But drag, unwelcome though it is to the airplane designer, is everything to the plastic-model enthusiast, because drag means rivets, knobs, wires, hinges, visible missiles, sensors, gun blisters – all those encrustations that inspire study, and make imitation difficult enough to be worthwhile.

Instead of models of smooth, sleek, aerodynamic, stealth aircraft, Baker finds himself more drawn to the idea of making models of the machines which manufacture the very kits themselves:

But if, on the other hand, Revell/Monogram were to offer a 1:48 model of the automated tape-lamination machine that Northrop designed to manufacture the composite materials that are moulded into its plane, I would sit up very quickly. There is a kit I would buy and build. And now, a regressive vision rises before me – a vision of a whole Revell/Monogram “Factory Floor” series, marketed along the lines of the “Yeager Super Fighters” series… The masterpiece of this urgently needed set of kits…would have to be a superbly detailed, vintage 1979 Cincinnati Milacron injection press, complete with warning decals, rotating screw, and a fully removable mold block ready to produce to MiG-29s a minute around the clock

By inciting later generations of avid modelers to acknowledge the intellectual satisfactions of factory engineering early enough for any potential zealotry in that direction to take permanent hold, we might also find that in passing we had done something small but helpful toward reversing the industrial collapse of the United States.

I’ve been having similar thoughts myself. Increasingly, I find myself wandering around Model Zone on High Holborn in a sort of daze. The models on sale all seem to be either forms of transport: civilian transport (planes, trains and automobiles); military transport (jet fighters, tanks, warships) or imaginary transport (X-wings, tie fighters).

What I would like is for Airfix to make a 1:1 model of a light switch or a plug socket. A model which once completed, would be virtually indistinguishable from the real thing, but which, in its unmade state, would reveal unknown truths about these commonplace objects.

The box, then, is the basilica of the unbuilt. You never quite rid yourself of the illusion that you will want to work on it as soon as you find a suitable chunk of time. Meanwhile, you are content to wander these galleries of imaginary hobbyistic space with the indefinitely postponed intention of deacquisitioning their contents and leaving their mounts as raw and wanting as stems plucked free of after-dinner grapes. The kit is informationally richer than the completed plane.

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