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.” 

Continue reading “Secular stuff, a census for a century, and simple advice”

Note to self

Collage, 30 May

I’ve been writing diaries on and off since I was about seven years old. Lately, it’s been more ‘on’ than ever. 

Not just because, under lockdown, there’s fewer distractions of people to meet or places to be, but also because recording stuff feels important right now.

Countless photographers, writers, artists agree – and so do social historians. I feel somehow happier knowing that they’re gathering people’s experiences of living through Covid-19 – for example in this project from the Young Foundation, or this one from London’s Museum of the Home. Universities, archives and historical societies around the world are doing the same, inviting details of the “deeply personal, political, or mundane“, as the US-based ‘Journal of the Plague Year’ project puts it. Ordinary lives in extraordinary times. Continue reading “Note to self”