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?


edith amituanai and creating a home

Edith Amituanai, Daniel, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Daniel, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo, C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai is an Auckland-based artist whose photography I really admire. She’s still a really young artist and has achieved so much and consistently makes really interesting work. I can’t really help but view her work through the lens of an immigrant. Although I am not Samoan, I obviously come from a culture that is pretty different, both historically and in more contemporary times, to the English-based culture of non-immigrant New Zealand that dominates here, so as I was reading I came across a particular series of photographs she had exhibited, that sounded really interesting and relevant. It’s a body of work called La Fine Del Mondo that examines the immigrant experience in New Zealand.

Edith Amituanai, Bei Rei Pa (Talk), 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Bei Rei Pa (Talk), 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo, C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Tu Chha (Golden Couch), 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Tu Chha (Golden Couch), 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo, C-type photograph

Her work on this (which through the magic of the internet I’ve been able to view, despite not seeing it in person) as well as what she talked about in various interviews, really ~*spoke~*~ to me. I feel like she’s one of the few people who make art about things that truly matter to people, like on an instinctive level. And those things are about the concept of home and community and how a person or family creates a home, especially when they’ve moved away to a new country, where their cultural practices cannot be taken for granted anymore because they’ve been eye-dropped into a bucket full of English (Western?) water. And then of course, what happens when this move is not voluntary, but forced and how does a family negotiate this new life in that context and when it’s perhaps not permanent?

Edith Amituanai, The Lai Family, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, The Lai Family, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo, C-type photograph

In 2009 Ms. Amituanai first exhibited La Fine del Mondo at the New Zealand Film Archive in Wellington. This is a body of work documenting the settlement of the Lai family, recently arrived from Myanmar, into their new lives in New Zealand and their new home in West Auckland. It is a series of photographic portraits of the Lai family showing their efforts in negotiating a new house, school, culture and life, and was complemented by archival footage about a wider immigrant experience in New Zealand, including clips of Polish children who came to NZ as World War II refugees, as well as a TV3 news story on the Tampa asylum seekers, who had just become New Zealand citizens.

I really liked what Ms. Amituanai talked about in relation to La Fine Del Mondo in an interview here, and in particular I was struck by this idea of the common immigrant experience in New Zealand (which I guess must be similar in other countries) and what affects people the most and the things they think about while creating a new home in a foreign land. She saw that a lot of what she had been exploring in her work through her own Samoan – New Zealand upbringing and culture appeared in the experiences of the Lai family –  “It occurred to me that many things that I had been looking at in my own cultural milieu could be found in other immigrant cultures”.

And in particular, this statement really spoke to me:

“The adjustment to a new environment’s climate, language, new systems and finding new communities is one major effort. While another is not always being fully accepted by the new homeland. Also the experience of feeling like being in two places simultaneously, one in the new adopted country and the other placed in the ancestral homeland seems to be quite common.”

Edith Amituanai, Nunu, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Nunu, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Mr. Lai, 2010, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Mr. Lai, 2010, from the series La Fine Del Mondo, C-type photograph

I also really like how intimate her portraits are. I think her curiosity about people really comes across, and also a kind of realisation that she really tries to understand her subjects and never puts anyone on the spot. I also like the domestic scale of her work and how nicely they could fit in someone’s suburban home, even in the homes she depicts. There’s a nice feeling of a family snapshot in a lot of her work, and this is tempered by the fact that they are obviously works of art for the public, so there’s always a kind of shift between the two when you’re looking at them (especially in real life), which is really satisfying.

Also, this is much more superficial, but I really love that feeling of driving around at night when it’s quiet and people’s curtains are open and you get quick little flashes of their living rooms through the window as you drive by – a little whirl of warm light and things hanging on walls if their lamps are on, or flickering blue colour and little lightning bolt snippets of furniture if they’re just watching tv, that let you see for a short time how that person or that family lives their life, and the commonplace things they’re doing in that particular moment. That little secretive thrill, a flashing spy feeling, is what I love in some of Edith Amituanai’s photographs also.

All the photos in this post have come from the Pinterest of Anna Miles Gallery here, and you can also see more of Edith Amituanai’s work at the Anna Miles Gallery website here.


Happy Halloween! In honour of this occasion, here are some vintage photos of ~ghosts and hauntings.

The Lord Combermere Photo, 1891 – The figure visible in the chair on the left is reputed to be the ghost of old Lord Combermere of Combermere Abbey. You can read more about him and this photo here.

Henri Robin and a Specter, 1863 – Henri Robin was a 19th century French Illusionist who sought to disprove the Spiritualist beliefs popular at the time. He admitted to using two-way mirrors to make “spirits” appear, and the photograph above is a staged promotional image for one of his shows.

This photo is one of the many “spirit photographs” taken by a controversial early 20th century medium and Spiritualist called William Hope. Although he was outed as a fraud and his photographs proved to be hoaxes by a man called Harry Price, Hope continued to practice and publish his spirit photography even after being exposed. One of his most famous supporters was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The Wem Fire Apparition, 1995 – This photo of a ghostly girl looking on from a raging fire was taken at Wem Town Hall (Shropshire, England) in 1995, by photographer Tony O’Rahilly. No one remembers seeing her there. It is believed that she is the spirit of a young girl who died in a similar fire at the town hall in 1677. However, I have just now seen a Daily Mail article that claims this photo is a clear hoax.

spooky halloween stories

This Halloween eve, please enjoy one of the creepiest stories you are ever likely to read – The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins.

“I don’t like to look out of the windows even – there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast.”


Also! The Gutenberg Project is such an awesome resource, so here is a link to another fun haunted house story, The Haunted Hotel, by Wilkie Collins.


dust houses by maria a. lopez

Colombian artist Maria Adelaida Lopez makes these amazingly gloomy and sweet/sad houses by covering a cardboard model with vacuum cleaner dust. After moving to the USA for her Masters, she cleaned people’s houses for a living – the dust on the houses was originally taken from these cleaning sessions. Now that she’s no longer a student, but a practicing artist, Ms. Lopez receives filled vacuum cleaner bags to work with, but I just love the idea of the original dust houses so much.

I love how they are banal (because they came out of a really everyday, basic ritual), confrontational (because they boldly exhibit the dust collected in houses of rich people who don’t do their own cleaning) and quietly moving (because they are literally made up of the particles of matter that make up all our lives – the detritus of people’s lives is collected together in each house and “once you start getting closer you begin to first smell, then to see the hair, the skin, the lint, the debris… you have a physical experience”) all at the same time. Obviously there is also the loaded idea of the Latin American cleaning lady, but I don’t really want to talk about it, or know how to talk about it, since I’m not in the US and all I know is what I’ve been fed through movies and TV.

Lopez says that the models are of houses that “represent the ‘American Dream'” and that the entire series represents ideas around “domesticity and humanity, the meaning of dirt” and the idea of “putting one’s house in order”. There’s that whole thing about a house being like a directory of a person, where each room represents some part of the human body or personality, and I really like how these lovely objects connect to ideas like that as well.

You can read more about Maria Lopez’ amazing body of work here, and see more images of the dust houses, as well as a more thorough artist’s statement, here.

The Fisher’s Mansion; 2005

The Johnsons and the Ramirez; 2007

new haunted houses

I watched Paranormal Activity 4 over the weekend and while it was fun to watch, it was definitely the weakest of the series. I don’t think anything can top the first movie, but the second and third were both great in their own right and both contained some really clever ways of frightening the audience and creating tension.

Number 4 though, kinda fell flat. I liked that they evolved to the point where instead of just cameras, the action happened through more contemporary technology like the Kinect sensors as well as Skype and webcams etc. There were a couple of eerie moments like “Katie” reappearing in the weirdo house across the street as well as suddenly appearing in the Kinect sensors. Also I thought this scene was very creepy, especially because it was so calm and subdued:


The greatest frightening moments, in terms of creating a feeling of tension and dread was definitely the kitchen knife disappearing haha.

I felt like they had some really cool ideas, but they didn’t really follow through on anything. I kept expecting some of the devices they used to actually amount to something, but everything sort of coasted along at the same level of tension and atmosphere, until the end, which was exactly like the ending of Paranormal Activity 3 in terms of action and was therefore quite boring and unsatisfying. Like… the cat had no purpose, the cool “garage door open” automatic voice was never used properly, the opening and the shutting of the fridge came to nothing (I would have even preferred the standard horror movie trick of the scary thing appearing suddenly behind the closing door), the Kinect sensors were only used a couple of times in quite tame ways and probably most important of all, the two lead characters eventually stopped checking their recorded footage.

I think part of the success of the first three movies, especially the first, was that the characters, even while perhaps being skeptics in the beginning, had no choice but to believe and be frightened through watching the recorded proof of the events happening to them the morning after. There is just something so creepy about that idea. In 4, this was used only a couple of times, most notably when the creepy kid walks into the main character’s room as she is sleeping and falls asleep next to her, which she watches and gets weirded out by the next day. However, the rest of the time, no one really listens to anyone, especially the parents, and as a result, the creepy things that happen to them are not really that frightening to watch because their reactions are so skeptical right to the end. I liked the relationship between Alex and Ben for that reason, because it was mostly quite natural and they discussed the unexplainable events happening around them and on their recordings, even if they did nothing much about them.

Like remember the amazing use of the rotating camera in Paranormal Activity 3??


Even without the funny and shocking addition of the sheet thing, it just created SO MUCH TENSION. Like I definitely watched through my fingers because it was almost unbearable.

And the awesome and creepy Poltergeist-like goings on in the kitchen of Paranormal Activity 2:

And not to mention the titan of these movies, Paranormal Activity The First, with the horrifying stomping noises, and the staring scenes, which were the first time in a very long time I had felt completely unnerved and legitimately frightened by a horror movie:


I love that all four of the movies rely on using the horror of the unseen to such great effect (and the first two movies also use sound very effectively as well), however number 4 really did feel like it was just one big tease. I can kind of see that they thought they’d maybe push their luck and see how much they can stretch these moments of “nothingness” out, but it didn’t really work. Most of it was just too mundane to reach the breathless eeriness of the earlier films (especially the ending).

However I still really love the contemporary houses and contemporary technology used for these films. While I am a very huge fan of the classic haunted house story, with gothic mansions and mists and mysterious scratching in the walls and other crap, until this series of films, I had never felt the necessity of the haunted house story being updated for modern times. I think that horrible feeling of invasion and wrongness is heightened when set in a space that more people can identify with, rather than some beautiful gargoyle mansion or a lovely old house like in the Amityville Horror. I think the mundane, suburban nature of the houses in the Paranormal Activity series worked really well. I think I’ve said this before but I like that they don’t seem like film sets, but actual houses where someone lives, with cushions and socks and blankets strewn about, and the lack of any curated use of colour or decor. The first movie was filmed in the director’s own house, and although I am too lazy at this moment to google whether the rest were filmed in real houses also, it is enough that they feel that way.

Obviously the houses are only relatable to most people because of their contemporary contents and their banal architecture, not because many people share the same kind of lifestyle, since these characters are all obviously rich. So I kept wondering what a haunted house movie would look like, and how it would function, in a small, less cavernous, less affluent house, and if you could create the same kind of feeling of being hunted down in your own home, with less room to play with.