A common Shaker trademark is a small sticker that depicts a rocking chair and contains the words “TRADE MARK No. 0” and “Mt. Lebanon.” The Shakers, a 18th-century communitarian sect, produced rocking chairs for “The World” to support their communal livelihood as pacifists, feminists, abolitionists, vegetarians, and inventors. Converts who fled to Shaker communes sought escape from bad marriages, slavery, child labor, and industrialization and they often brought Shaker furniture with them. The chairs stood for another way of life. By the 1830s, over 6,000 Shakers shared possessions and lived on egalitarian communes made possible by the sale of their furniture, among other wares. Today, however, Shaker furniture is more often associated with images of early colonial America rather than the longest-lived American utopian experiment. Becoming familiar with this radical shaker history made me wonder: could a furniture movement today be fused with a radical politics and a more equitable economy?
This chair is a Free / Libre / Open Source Systems and Art project. Caroline Woolard made the designs, files, and assembly process for the Queer Rocker available for use and modification because many students, activists, and grassroots organizations cannot afford to purchase furniture. Woolard wants to furnish gathering spaces with unusual objects, and wants to contribute to an economy that celebrates racial, sexual, and economic justice. Woolard hopes to add spaces of reflection and healing to social movements, so many of which are, at present, focused on protest and progress. From the baby’s cradle to the retiree’s rocking chair, this form calms people of all ages. As an artist, Woolard learns by doing as well as by uniting research with action. Her aim with this project is that through its communal production and alteration, a radical politics will emerge.
Queer theorist Sara Ahmed suggests that “queer furnishing is not such a surprising formulation: the word “furnish” is related to the word “perform” and thus relates to the very question of how things appear. Queer becomes a matter of how things appear, how they gather, how they perform, to create edges of spaces and worlds.” This rocking chair is “queer” because it is simultaneously a dividing wall, a window, a table, and a chair. It is “queer” because its holes become its strength and its structure. It is “queer” because it makes the politics of its own production visible. It is never singular, as it desires adaptation and interdependence. It is “queer” because it rests in organizing spaces that recognize the rights of LGBTQ people, which have been and will continue to be won through grassroots community organizing for economic and social justice.
Queer Rocker (2012-2016) open source file, text, plywood, hardware. Photo by Martyna Szczesna.
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