I am a practitioner of the can-I-have-its, a collector of things. I am the sort who walks through antique shops touching everything, wondering what place these objects could hold in my life. I flip through the ikea catalog and salivate, just a little. I am, indeed, firmly ensconced in the material culture. As a result, I have a lot of stuff, a LOT of stuff. And as an artist, it's worse, because there is always some potential use somewhere down the road for that quirky rusty, something-or-other. In the last months I have been exploring the place of the gift in our culture, and the relationship between faith and fear and abundance and scarcity. I believe that the structure of artificial scarcity is not only self-perpetuating, but in fact, self-catalyzing. What happens when we believe that there is enough? What happens when we act on that belief? So in the spirit of the gift, I am embarking upon a mission to give away the things that I do not need. It is a practice of faith, and an act of rebellion against dominant capitalist culture. Is it a little crazy? Probably. Is it going to be hard? Absolutely. But here I go.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Last week I had an old dear friend in town. We took a trip to the beach; we went to the Japanese Gardens and the Rose Garden; I brought her to my trapeze class; we visited a local winery where a friend of mine is the winemaker, and we also (gasp) shopped. I picked up and put down a lot of things that felt, initially at least, like they might lend a new sort of glowing shiny joy to my life. If I had THIS, just think how much happier I would be... In the end, most things landed back on the shelf, save for three purchases at Goodwill. I know, I know. I could sit here and justify, and I probably will, at least a little. See, I have been cooking with a giant pot and a tiny pot for years now. Anything middle-sized inevitably bubbling over the tiny pot (me being the sort who will convince myself it will all fit, rather than dirty a pot too big to easily wash in the sink that's likely already filled with dishes). There was a nice sturdy, copper-bottomed stainless steel pot of the perfect in-between size sitting on the shelf. I hemmed and hawed and picked it up and put it down for far too long, but ultimately, the pot won. It's already been used and appreciated, alleviating some of my guilt. The other two items, well, there's less excuse for them--a pretty red blouse, and something that is still labeling itself as a potential gift, so will have to remain a mystery.

The thing is, this project is making me think differently about wanting and needing. Maybe it's partially because I've made the process visible, but I think, too, it's made me stop and think about what's fueling those (still oh-so-present) consumerist desires. What drives me to believe that a new pair of boots will make my life better? In Ways of Seeing, John Berger talks about how advertising's job is to sell you your future better self. This future better you is just one purchase away. Glamor, prestige, true happiness--all wrapped up in a fancy watch, a bottle of liquor, the perfect pair of jeans. Advertising, consumerism, capitalism... they all depend upon that split between my present and future self, on the desire that spans the space between. The question becomes, then, what is the true root of that desire?

Berger says, "The pursuit of individual happiness has been acknowledged as a universal right. Yet the existing social conditions make the individual powerless. He lives in a contradiction between what he is and what he’d like to be... Publicity turns consumption into a substitute for democracy. The choice of what one eats (or wears or drives) takes the place of significant political choice. Publicity helps to mask and compensate for all that is undemocratic within society. And it also masks what is happening in the rest of the world.” (p 148-9.)

Something to think about.

Works Cited:
Berger, John. Ways of Seeing;. London; Harmondsworth: British Broadcasting Corporation; Penguin, 1972.

No comments:

Post a Comment