Secular stuff, a census for a century, and simple advice

Three things I learned or loved this month

Artful possessions (credit: Luca Laurence)

Twenty years ago a British artist gathered up 7,227 things he owned and spent two weeks methodically breaking them into pieces. In the heart of consumerist London – in a closed-down C&A store on Oxford Street – his paintings, hi-fi, clothes, love letters, cat food, passport, car and more became bits of metal, glass, ceramic, textiles. The pieces were sent to landfill until his only remaining possession was the boilersuit he was wearing.

The artist, Michael Landy, interviewed last year in the Financial Times, described it as “reversing the idea of production into a disassembly line”. In the act of destruction he was also creating something, of course. His two-week performance attracted some 50,000 visitors to the store, and led to works of photography and exhibitions.

Whatever you think about performance art – or about destroying things for art’s sake, in an age of environmental crisis – the work says something about our complicated attachment to material possessions. As Landy told the FT: “At the time I spoke about how I was witnessing my own death and also moments of elation and it being the happiest two weeks of my life.” 

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