the weight of the things we own

Wedding Shower, 1951. LIFE Magazine. Photo by: Nina Leen

Wedding Shower, 1951. LIFE Magazine. Photo by: Nina Leen

There’s been this wave of photography and art work chronicling people’s possessions on the internet for a while now. From the anxiety inducing The Burning House, where people say that in a fire they’d save pens and their Moleskines over passports or family photos, to the shame inducing What The World Eats photo-set. From long-term fashion missions, like achieving the life affirming french capsule wardrobe of your dreams, to the slightly inexplicable, but still pretty, All I Own, where several Swedish students are photographed with all their possessions stacked in precarious piles next to them. From what I can see, it’s not even the artist, Sannah Kvist, that frames this work in such a political way (SWEDISH STUDENTS SHOW US HOW TO LIVE WITH LESS), but the legions of internetters who are obsessed with the ideas around documenting your possessions, putting them on display and that being a way of somehow finding out what is important.

Simon Evans; Everything I have; 2008

Simon Evans; Everything I have; 2008

There are also more diaristic projects, such as Simon Evans’ Everything I have and Kate Bingman Burt’s Daily Drawings of each of her purchases made over a number of years. And there are also more socially thoughtful art projects, without the internet gleam of a life on show, like photographer JeongMee Yoon’s Pink and Blue Project.

The Pink Project - Jiyeon and Her Pink Things, Light jet Print, 2007

JeongMee Yoon; The Pink Project – Jiyeon and Her Pink Things;  2007

I can’t quite put my finger on what it is exactly that’s going on here, but I feel like something’s bubbling just under the surface with this trend. Is it a trend? Obviously we all need certain things to survive (and that number is technically very small, unless you want to not only survive, but survive in relative comfort) and obviously we must all give thought to the things we need and what needs to be replaced or mended or bought, BUT is this something that we need to focus so much public energy on? I do admit that I find most of it really interesting, and I guess in 200 years it will be really good for some nice historian to get a picture of how a certain section of earth’s society lived in the 21st century, but what is the point of it all though… Is it just a comforting thing? Like a crisp list made in your brand-new diary, or a nicely arranged pantry. Is it all just a sensory thing?

When these projects cross a line between ‘satisfying list’ and end up in ‘curated’ territory, that’s when I start to feel a bit over it. There is something both comforting and alarming about these kinds of cleverly arranged sets of the objects we keep around us. I love a good solid photo of some things organised in order of descending size, or perhaps in a nice even sided square, but I can’t shake the feeling that there is a whiff of vanity and pointlessness about it all.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is that a lot of these curated collections of the items we possess, are usually accompanied by an undercurrent of understanding that it is better to own a few things, of great quality or great importance, rather than fill our lives with the detritus of capitalism. I think that most of these subtle messages are really pretentious. If I want a million things in my home by god I will have them if I can.

I remember once talking to a friend of mine about clothes and she said of her sister that she always goes for quality over quantity, but that she herself always goes for the opposite – three cheap tank tops over one expensive one (of course in this conversation the expensive clothes referred to came from Glassons, so it’s not like we were even talking about a difference between that and a couture hand-beaded gown). I found that so refreshing at the time, because all we ever hear is the exact opposite. Buy this ~investment piece and you’ll be happy. OH YA this million dollar bag is an investment. It’ll last my entire life~~~

Even discounting whether this is true or not (because I somehow doubt a bag made of the thin,~buttery leathers in use today would ever last someone an entire lifetime, and even if it did, that they would like that exact bag in that exact colour and style every single moment of their perfect lives until they croaked on their walnut investment piece bed) it’s still such a call to consumerism. Thinking of buying less to such a ‘perfected’ degree is still just thinking about buying with a more sanctimonious name. Sometimes I feel like this neurotic tide towards minimalism and simpler living and a capsule wardrobe etc. is not that minimalist, or even as genuine as it pretends to be, simply because of the thought processes it requires and the sway and weight it places on people’s minds. If your brain is so full of whirling thoughts on whether this or that object fits in better in your curated life (not to even mention your curated internet/blog life), how truly free are you of the weight of your possessions?


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