Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Break Down

Image from Google Images

As I sit in my makeshift home office, packing boxes strewn around the room, I am conscious of how uncomfortable the process of moving can be. It isn't so much the physical process, the frustration of having no Internet, or even the constant thoughts about what might go where and what colour we should paint the bedrooms  - that much I had expected. Rather, I have realised, it is the temporary absence of  certain lass than oobvious possessions that has so disturbed the order of my life.

For a start, I hate being without my books.  The fact is, I  have little need for any of them this week, but it still upsets me. And where are my paints? Come to think of it, what about my notebooks, and my binoculars and my camping equipment - I know I don't need it either, but I want to know were it is; that it is still there.

Get a grip. Here I am considering myself to be an non materialistic person, and yet take away my chattels and I'm approaching a mini break down.

Which brings to mind the performance art of Michael Landy, who ten years ago destroyed all his possessions in a public event called Break Down. It took place in a defunct C&A store in London and over a period of weeks he catalogued and destroyed absolutely everything he owned - from a Gary Hume painting, to his passport, his clothes - even his house keys.

Despite my cynicism of  much performance art, I remember being affected by the idea behind Break Down. It seemed to me audaciously brave to carry it out so completely. Perhaps at a subconscious  level I was horrified by the thought, and it has taken a house move to confirm it. I would like like to think that our possessions do not matter much - that the best things in life are not things at all - but I suspect that for me it is a naive and fanciful view of myself.

Michael Landy's latest project was called Art Bin. It involved the destruction of thousands of works of art , including contributions from Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst. He billed it as a homage to artistic failure, encouraging amateurs to ditch their forgotten works in a large skip that was taken to landfill. The idea feels almost as brave as Break Down.

For in the corner of my makeshift office is a deep stack of paintings, most of which will never be hung on a wall - in truth, many of them make my toes curl with embarrassment. And yet they are part of me, a physical manifestation of my past; some better ideas and some crap ones. I shall probably move them to the loft next week, but at least I'll know where they are; that they are still there.


  1. Oh I can empathise totally. I have not seen my worldly goods for 13 weeks. Funny what you miss most, it is definately my books.

  2. Things, when compared to lives, are not, of course, important but things nevertheless make up, inform and comfort the life of the owner. They make their own contribution to our well being and should not be forgotten. They might not make the top of the list of life's essentials but they do make the list nevertheless. Wishing you a quick move and a happy settling into your new home.

  3. Well, as someone who once moved twice within six weeks (and no, I am not of the gypsytravellers persuasion though sometimes I envy their lack of strong attachment to so much 'stuff'!) I like to think I have it down to a fine art. So, books are always one of the first things to be unpacked, and so I have one box which has the books contained in my bedside cabinet, a few old favourites but mainly books waiting to be read; plus some craft materials since I can't be without some needlework of some form or another on the go, knitting especially destresses me wonderfully; my current journal and a couple of notebooks are in there as well, plus my favourite mug for tea. Not essentials in many folks opinion, but essential to my feeling settled and at home as soon as possible, and to feeling calm when all around me are losing it! 'Cept the latter isn't true since nobody around me loses it anyway! But it sounded good, dontcha think?

  4. I've been thinking of a move for some time now, and slowly divesting myself of unnecessary items. It's a painful task.

    I often think of a guy who, back in 2001, sold everything he owned on E-Bay. Including his false teeth and his birthday. He documented it on a website, and then sold the domain, too. All my life for sale

  5. I've spent hours before hunting for a book just so I could go to sleep, not having read it, but certain of where it was. Was there a positive to packing - did you find things you'd forgotten but now want to keep?

  6. When we moved we didn't have room for a lot of the 'stuff' we'd had in the previous house. It was in various storage containers in our basement. I have gradually whittled it down and parted with a lot of it over the last 5 years and it was good to do it gradually as I saw that it had become less and less important to me.

  7. I think that it is extremely difficult to be non-materialistic. The Zen masters might teach us that there is not a speck of dust to which one can cling, but that concept is very difficult to translate into practice.

    I lived well enough when I had very little that I would call my own, as a child in my parents' house, and at that time I was also less materialistic, giving away some of my prized possessions when I had finished with them, to charity jumble sales in aid of other kids. (Enter aghast and irate parents)

    Now I have a wardrobe full of clothes I wear once a year and a CD collection many of which I will never play again in my life.

    I am finding less and less that I am able to pick something up and say to myself "What is going to happen here is that I'm going to put this thing in the cupboard/loft, and then in 4 years when I haven't used it I will pick it up and bin it. So bin it now."

    Perhaps the art is to retain those things that are either useful immediately or in the foreseeable future, or that have an emotional value. The trick is recognising when the utility is over, or that the emotion is now just a recollection of emotion.

  8. This is a really interesting post, Mark, as ever and throws up some fascinating lines of discussion. I particularly enjoyed the other Mark's comments above.

    When I am at our place in France I definitely feel calmer because there is so much less 'life stuff' there - none of all that accumulated crap that piles up at home and preys on your mind. I always hate coming back home after a few weeks out there for that reason alone. And it is certainly true that our house here is in need of a MAJOR chuck out - I am such an appalling hoarder because of the emotional memories and sentiment that I attach to things. However, I also realise that this can weigh very heavily - and that when you finally let go you, in every sense of the word, feel decidedly 'lighter'. One trick I learned is to take photos of things before you get rid of them - it acts as a sort of safety harness to the chucking out process!

    Books, I agree, are the thing that makes a home a home and you who you are. Way more than half the ones on my shelves haven't been read - yet they reflect the person that I am: the interests that I have, the ideas I pursue, the literature that has helped formed my thinking and sensibilities and view of the world. Priceless.