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An exploded view of a mantel clock made by E. Ingraham in 1928 reveals 59 components.

Photographer Todd McLellan has been collecting old, outdated mechanical objects for many years. He was fascinated by the items and always knew he wanted to do something creative with them. One day he decided to take apart one of the objects, an old black phone, and photograph the disassembled pieces. One deconstructed piece of machinery led to another and another until he had countless photographs.

McLellan found a new appreciation for modern design by painstakingly studying and taking apart these everyday objects. “Just looking at the uniqueness of an object in a way that other people don’t see it,” he says of his vision. “I try to share a different view. I wanted to create a portrait, of sorts, like still lifes in advertising.”

In the process, McLellan created a series of intricate artworks contrasting old-world craftsmanship with modern engineering.

Now, his portraits make up a Smithsonian Institution touring exhibition, Things Come Apart, at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London through Feb. 7. McLellan asks audiences to look closer at ordinary objects — a smartphone, watch, compass, power drill, even a bicycle. The exhibition explores how objects are designed, how technology has evolved and, in today’s disposable culture, how we care for these items.

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A disassembled mobile phone.

Proving that an object is more complex than meets the eye, the exhibit comprises more than 40 photographs, disassembled objects and videos in which the artist deconstructs and reconstructs objects in a new light to show what makes them tick.

While staying true to an object’s innate purpose, McLellan created images that demonstrate that these objects were already beautifully designed. His images also speak to a culture in which “planned obsolescence” runs rampant.

McLellan hopes audiences take away a renewed respect for things instead of purchasing and tossing them in favor of the next biggest and best thing. “You used to have TV-repair people back in the day. And I can see it — it costs more to repair than to buy a new one, which is sort of something that needs to be changed. Since I started this, I have seen a slow progression of people really interested in making change, which is great.”

Jane LeGrow, Lyman Allyn’s director of exhibitions, says Things Come Apart asks viewers to see the creativity, ingenuity, engineering and the beauty of the design that underlies these everyday things that we often take for granted. “It’s about rethinking our material culture and how we treat objects, which are pretty frequently considered disposable things,” she says. “This is a good way to open up those conversations about how do we make things last longer, more usable and ways we can create a more sustainable future for ourselves.”

LeGrow says the exhibition will engage more than simply art lovers. “We are always looking for shows that are going to engage families and people with different interests, and this one just ticks a lot of those boxes,” she says. “It’s an art show but it’s also sort of a science show. It’s about creativity and ingenuity and appeals to people with different kinds of interests who might not normally come to an art museum.”


Things Come Apart

Lyman Allyn Art Museum

625 Williams St., New London

On display through Feb. 7

860-443-2545, lymanallyn.org

This article appears in the January 2021 issue of Connecticut MagazineYou can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.