Never have so many owned so much as we do in the 21st century. Consumerism is spreading like a virulent disease infecting huge numbers of people. Far from fleeing and looking for an antidote it’s welcomed by many who seek to catch the bug and embrace it.
From where does our love affair with the inanimate come? The first objects were practical and necessary – clothes, tools and utensils and then excess commodities which could be traded in exchange for ‘foreign’ goods brought wealth and the ability to purchase more. But from earliest times we have evidence of purely decorative items such as jewellery and ornaments, artifacts which quickly became an indication of status or something cherished. Items became integrated and entwined in our personal history handed down from generation to generation, a familial wave passing through our lives.
Although many of us today continue to judge our success and that of others by what we own, abundance seems to have changed this relationship – things are replaced with an up to date version or simply because we have become bored and enjoy the fleeting satisfaction of acquiring the new. Many of us seek an identity – or perhaps seek to escape from ourselves – through the things we clutter our lives with. Barely grasped and with little time for emotional attachment, we no longer truly inhabit the gift of inheritance. Perhaps that is the way it should be, the inanimate remaining transient, pleasing one moment and forgotten the next.
However, there is a comfort in the familiar, in the multilayered existence of inheritance; a stabilizing, grounding sense of belonging which comes from things with which we grew up, the landmarks by which we navigated our early years. They are the threshold between our history and the present, between what has been, what is and what is yet to come. A kind of immortality we cannot ourselves achieve. Often they are not of much monetary worth, but offer the far greater value of connection.
In the above painting the jugs are from a collection of my mother’s, the string of pearls my grandmother’s and the oak cabinet on which they rest from my great grandparents home. By contrast, the flowers arranged in a mass produced vase offer a metaphor of contemporary ownership, admired for a short time before fading and being discarded to make way for the fresh.