It has simplified – and complicated – our lives with the modern intricacies that combine a watch, a camera, a theater and a map into a smartphone.
All of the above inspired photographer and tinkerer Todd McLellan to dive in deep and see how it all comes together.
The end result is the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibition “Things Come Apart,” on display through May 5 at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.
“This is probably one of my favorite exhibits that we’ve had at the museum in a while,” says Jennifer Hayden, the museum’s director of public relations and marketing. “The opening drew a lot of people and really engages an audience.”
It took two weeks for the museum to put up the exhibit.
Through more than 40 photographs, videos and objects encased in acrylic, “Things Come Apart” displays the complex parts that have spurred revolutions in product design and functionality across multiple industries with the staying power of classic designs, from the ever-changing navigational systems to the evergreen bicycle.
McLellan spent countless hours disassembling objects of all sizes and functions – from a watch to a laptop and a Walkman to an upright piano – with painstaking precision into hundreds or even thousands of pieces.
With each object fully stripped to its bare parts, he methodically worked backward, laying out each item in reverse order from the protective case to the smallest circuits until the true scope of each design was captured.
The resulting images, grouped alongside other items built for similar purposes, provide a visual history lesson of mechanical innovation and highlight the contrast between Olf World craftsmanship and sleek modern engineering.
“We don’t always think about the tools we use, but working on this project has given me a greater respect for engineering of newer technology,” McLellan says. “It’s remarkable how much modern design packs into so little.”
Hayden says younger visitors to the exhibition will also have the opportunity to become part of the experience through the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center’s Spark!Lab activities.
These collaborative, hands-on challenges offer hypothetical situations that allow critical thinking and team creativity to flourish and provide fun skill building in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math.
The Spark!Lab activity kits are provided through a grant from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.
Hayden says the museum was able to get the exhibit because it is an affiliate of the Smithsonian.
“We get about three or so traveling exhibits a year,” Hayden says. “In addition to focusing on nuclear history and science, the museum also focuses on STEM through our education department. Science, engineering and mathematics are important to us, and this exhibit helps us teach more about it.”