Tall Guy and I went to the Curve Gallery at the Barbican Centre yesterday. Cupcake (my Canadian friend from work) alerted me to an installation by Song Dong, which she had seen a few years ago in Vancouver.
"It's neat", she said, "there's a lot of stuff... a whole life in a gallery."
The things belonged to Song Dong's mother, who lived through the cultural revolution in China. In Mao's China, wu jin qui yong - waste not, want not, was the way of life. We're talking triple R to the max - reuse, reuse and reuse. Broken shoelace? Keep it. Shoe box? Keep it. Old toothbrush? Keep it. You never know what might come in handy one day.
"Oh no," said Tall Guy once we had finally found the entrance (the Barbican is a bit of a maze), "this is one of your artsy-nerd places, isn't it... every time you take me someplace, it's weirder than the last..."
"Yep", I said. "It's gonna be weird - let's go in! You'll like it!"
Tall Guy went in first, and stopped dead in his tracks. "It's, um.... garbage..." he said, staring.
"No, it's a lifetime of things in a room"...
As we wandered through the stuff, Tall Guy became more enthusiastic.
He's not a hoarder, but he does keep things - who doesn't? He's got clothes that don't fit, parts of hardware, cables for things we no longer have.... because, well, you never know...
"Look at all those bottles!" he marvelled.
"Not more than we go through in a couple of years", I said.
"200 pairs of shoes!" he exclaimed.
"I bet we've already close to that many. Each" I said.
We looked at empty toothpaste tubes, mismatched crockery, and a collection of nails. We saw row upon row of carrier bags, stacks of birdcages, and an empty pharmacy of pill boxes.
"Wow," I kept saying whilst examining the multitude of items in the gallery, "we have a lot of stuff!".
"Yeah", whispered Tall Guy, "look - we've got a mug like that. Now let's go - I need to clean out the closet".
We left, but the installation will be on our minds and in our conversation for some time to come.
Waste Not will be at the Curve Gallery until 12 June, and I just might go back. Tiptoeing around the gallery, snooping through the collection, was a disturbingly engrossing way of getting to know Song Dong's mother, and a disturbing reminder of exaclty how much stuff we have.
It was more than, as a sign explained, "a staging of the individual against the homogenisation of society brought about by the state." For us, it provoked thoughts of consumerism and waste. We have loads of posessions. We generate SO much garbage. We reuse the odd jar, donate our old clothes, and keep gadget-less cables on hand, but, for the most part, the things we use just end up in the trash.
If you go, you might enjoy snooping through someone's things, quite shamelessly. You might end up inspired to clear out your flat. At the very least, you'll think twice before you toss the exhibition guide away - who knows? You might need that scrap of paper some day...