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