The Art of Destruction by Michael Landy
COLCHESTER, England – Michael Landy is a British artist best known for a project in which he systematically inventoried all 7,227 of his personal possessions. Then systematically destroys them.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of this performance installation, “Breakdown,” which earned Landy international fame as “The man who destroyed everything. It’s not often that we still talk about conceptual works of art that no longer exist physically two decades later.
But an exhibition to celebrate the 20th anniversary of “Break Down”, as well as a new installation by Landy, presented at First site, a gallery in the south of England, shows that the artist is still a premonitory critic of consumerism. The exhibition, entitled “Welcome to Essex from Michael LandyAfter the county surrounding the gallery where the artist grew up, crosses September 5.
“Now is a good time for his work to get further exposure,” said Julian Stallabrass, professor of modern and contemporary art at the Courtauld Institute in London and author of “High Art Lite: The Rise and Fall of Young British Art “.
“Michael has always been, I think, one of the most interesting artists in the YBA group,” said Stallabrass, referring to the generation of young British artists who energized the contemporary art scene in the 1990s and early 1900s. 2000s. “Not just because of his anti-trade stance – or rather that his work often focused on trade and its consequences – but because of his long thinking about social class.”
“Break Down” was produced by the London-based non-profit organization Art Angel in a disused department store on Oxford Street, then Europe’s busiest shopping district. There, Landy spent two weeks in charge of an elaborate recycling facility reused to break down, pulp and pellet everything he owned, including the full archive of his works, his record collection, and his Saab 900 Turbo.
At the end of the process, witnessing about 50,000 visitors, he ended up with six tons of bagged waste. He was buried in a landfill in Essex, where much of London’s rubbish is dumped.
“Consumerism has become the No.1 ideology of our time,” Landy, 58, said during a recent tour of the anniversary exhibit. “We end up with all this stuff,” he added. “I wanted to take this apart.”
Like Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry and other YBAs, Landy comes from a working-class background. He studied at the prestigious Goldsmiths School of Art in London in the late 1980s, at a time before the introduction of tuition fees for higher education began to deter many students from low income families.
Unlike Hirst, Emin and Perry, whose imposingly priced works have regularly featured in art fairs and auctions, Landy never sought commercial success. The highest price paid for his works at auction remains $ 36,000, given in 2002 for his sculpture “Costermonger’s Stall”.
But in 1997, the Tate Gallery acquired its’Scrapping services’, a room-sized facility in which a fictional “people cleaning” company sweeps up human-shaped waste and passes it through a shredding machine. The sale of the work gave Landy some financial security.
“It was the first time that, materially speaking, I was ahead in my life,” said Landy, who celebrated his success by purchasing a Savile Row suit and the Saab that would become part of “Break Down”.
But doubts set in. “Is this what I tried to do?” I have a Saab car and a Richard James suit. What does all this mean? “Landy recalled wondering,” The thought occurred to me that I should destroy all my material possessions. “
ArtAngel had previously brought acclaimed art projects like Rachel Whiteread’s to life “Housing “ (1993) and Matthew Barney “Cremaster 4 “ (1994) and Landy said working with co-director James Lingwood was crucial for “Break Down” to happen. It took three years of planning. The enumeration of his possessions took a whole year.
“Oxford Street was the missing ingredient,” Landy said, recalling the vacant C&A store he was using to destroy all of his belongings. “This is where people come to consume things, the latest items.”
“People were angry, people were puzzled. We gave them a lot of choice for consumers, but it was mine, ”he added. “I felt like I was witnessing my own death. “
Landy and ArtAngel agreed that none of this would become a commodity. “It was a total erasure of the assets of his life,” Lingwood said. The artist was once again becoming someone who owned nothing and was in debt.
“He had a roof over his head. We bought him clothes. A friend of his probably gave him some money. He went home to Gillian, ”Lingwood added, referring to artist Gillian Wearing, who is now Landy’s wife.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Landy didn’t produce any art for a year after “Break Down”.
Then, in 2002, he returned to drawing, the medium that had captivated him as a child. He made a series of 12 carefully observed weed prints, “little things that grow in the cracks in the street”, for Paragon Press, specialist print editor.
“It’s an allegory of rebirth,” said Charles Booth-Clibborn, the publisher’s founder, describing Landy’s “Nourishment” prints. “They were like portraits of Londoners,” he added. “These plants exist in urban environments where it is difficult for plants to survive. But they are prospering, and he celebrated them.
In recent years, Landy has returned to large-scale installations. In 2010, he created a giant metal and Perspex bin for failed works of art at the South London Gallery. And in 2018, in the wake of what he saw as Britain’s self-defeating vote to leave the European Union, he implemented “Open for business”, A“ Brexit kiosk ”selling“ 100% British products ”such as cups and condoms decorated by Union Jack at the first Riga Biennale in Latvia.
Landy’s native Essex included two of Britain’s five districts with the highest votes for Brexit in the 2016 referendum. Since the 1980s Thatcherite, when the county became a bastion of working-class conservatism, it has been the victim in British popular culture of derogatory “Essex Man” and “Essex Girl”. caricatures, portraying its inhabitants as brash, uneducated and materialistic.
In addition to revisiting “Break Down” in Colchester, Landy investigates these stereotypes in a three-room installation about Essex, a place the artist describes as “England’s most misunderstood county”.
The show features aerial footage from local landfills, banners with Essex-themed tabloid headlines, and dumpsters filled with televisions showing interviews and comedies featuring Essex. It divided local visitors to the gallery in Colchester, the historic university town that was once the capital of Roman Britain.
Stephen Callely, 60, a retired teacher, was not impressed. “It doesn’t challenge us. We can laugh about it, ”he said after visiting the exhibit this month.
Still, 9-year-old Stella Clarke was intrigued by the ‘Break Down’ display, particularly a wall that reproduced a section of Landy’s property inventory, such as as “C542: Unique blue cotton / polyester sock from Sainsbury. ”
“It was a very strange thing he did,” Clarke said. “Maybe he was saying he didn’t need all of this.
Landy, too, was fascinated by art as a child. When he was 15, he had scratching work included in an episode of “Vision On”, a BBC educational television show in which children were invited to send in paintings and drawings. Yet when he requested the return of the coin, the BBC informed him that it could not be returned.
“They always destroyed work,” Landy said. “It was the start.”