Chocolate Fireguards

A very short post on Chocolate Fireguards, which as the name suggests are objects which subvert their own function.

The first example is a real fireguard, though not one actually made of chocolate. It is an example of an object part of which unitentionally subverts its own function.

Graham Shawcross: Scoughall Fireguard 2010

Graham Shawcross: Scoughall Fireguard 2010

In front of a fire, the round metal handle gets so hot that it cannot be handled and the flat fitting ring forming the actual handle is too fiddly to use with a glove. This is an example of an accidental or unintentional chocolate fireguard.

Other objects are intentionally designed to subvert their own function, such as this hat-check or cloakroom ticket by Patrick Hughes, One Two 1962.

Patrick Hughes: One Two 1962

Patrick Hughes: One Two 1962

Or his paradoxical train set, Circular Train 1972, that moves on a track but does not go anywhere.

Patrick Hughes. Circular Train 1970

Patrick Hughes. Circular Train 1970

These are deliberately playful objects that invite us to reflect on and enjoy their paradoxical nature.

In other cases objects are designed to be self defeating in order to make a more serious point. This is the case with Mona Hatoum’s Untitled (Wheelchair) 1998.

Mona Hatoum: Untitled (Wheelchair) 1998

Mona Hatoum: Untitled (Wheelchair) 1998

In this work the handles of the wheelchair have been replaced by sharp knives so that anyone pushing the chair damages themselves. Also all sense of comfort has been removed from the chair itself, with the elements that are usually soft and comfortable, such as the seat and arms, being replaced by cold polished steel.

The mutual support represented by someone pushing a wheelchair is inverted so that the uncomfortably supported dependent person is forced to damage anyone who helps them.

Given Mona Hatoum’s Palestinian background this work is a subtle, or perhaps not so subtle, reference to the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis.


The first recorded use of the analogous concept of  a chocolate teapot is from the Guardian (January 1979); so the concept is not very old.

The Patrick Hughes One Two cloakroom ticket is reminiscent of the second part of the Stroop effect. With this effect the reading of the first list of words, where the words are appropriately coloured or all black, is much easier, faster and less prone to error than the second list, where the words are inappropriately coloured.

Green  Red  Blue  Purple  Blue  Purple

Blue  Purple  Red  Green  Purple  Green


Archer, M.,  Brett, G., de Zegher, C., Mona Hatoum, M. (1997) Mona Hatoum, Phaidon, London

Hughes, P., & Brecht, G. (1975) Vicious Circles, An Anthology of Paradoxes, Doubleday New York

Stroop, J. R. (1935). Studies of interference in serial verbal reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology 18 (6): 643–662. Accessed 13 Jan 2014


About Graham Shawcross

Architect PhD student at Edinburgh University Interested in order, rhythm and pattern in Architectural Design
This entry was posted in Aesthetics, Architecture, Brain Physiology, Design, Design Methods, Logic, Objects and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Chocolate Fireguards

  1. Chocolatiers have managed to produce a chocolate teapot that held boiling water for two minutes to make a drinkable brew.


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