The Art of Passive Aggression

Yesterday I was waiting for an elevator with my colleagues Michael & Clark. As we stepped inside the elevator, it took a little too long for the door to close and we had an awkward moment. In that moment, someone quipped we should just take the stairs and right on cue the elevator doors shut. We chuckled and I sort of deadpanned that it would be amazing to have a Passive Aggressive Elevator installed in the building.

On the way home, I thought more about that moment. It’s funny to me how people can have complex relationships with objects, but most of their interactions are designed to be pretty simple – objects don’t have opinions, they can’t argue. People on the other hand are completely different, people have feelings and opinions and biases and baggage and interactions get quite complicated. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in that complexity we (ironically) don’t think about how we treat each other.

I started to wonder what it would feel like to create an art piece after some of the nastier ways we treat each other. You would probably stage it in a kitchen, since that’s sort of a communal hub. Instead of having simple interactions with all the appliances, you would have to verbally abuse them to make them work.

You could imagine a Berated Blender that only had one speed. To make it blend faster, you would have to scream at the machine because it was going to slow. Or maybe a Stove of Shame that, in order to keep it warm, you needed to continually counsel it in a disgusted tone that it wasn’t living up to it’s potential. And of course you’d have to have a Passive Aggressive Toaster, in which you’d place the bread and press the lever only to have it not work until you loudly proclaimed that you would “have rather used the oven anyway”.

The big idea behind all this is that we’d probably feel stupid chastising at a toaster, but we don’t think twice about doing it to people. If you could create a moment that was so ridiculous, could you provoke people to treat each other better? Could you use humor and akwardness to interrupt people’s routines to help people be a little more thoughtful.

I guess creating an art piece that is passive aggressively trying to make people less passive aggressive could be sort of interesting. I figure all I need is a blender and an MIT student and we can make this happen.


  1. Colin:
    Don’t ever change 🙂 love this post and I will gladly work with you on this art piece.

    I am imagining a harassed refrigerator that you have to demand closure from by picking apart its inadequacies – the ice cubes aren’t frozen enough, the light is on but no one’s at home, or why do things always go there to die.
    Hugs from SF,

  2. I love this post, alongside Gretchen. I couldn’t help but think of my nemesis in the kitchen: the Jasper Morrison toaster (by Rowenta). It chirps when the toast is not evenly placed in the toaster and will not submerge the toast until you fix it. It continues to chirp until the toast is just right. I have had many a morning of moving the bread 1mm, then 2mm to the other side, and then back again. It is not always obvious what will stop the chirping, but when you finally do you feel like a winner. At first it was exasperating, and now I see it as a moment to stop, reflect, and take in my morning with more patience and a sense of humor.

  3. I would have the toaster scorch the toast until you shout at it to stop. It will sit there till you have ash if you leave it, just to spite. 😛

Leave a Reply