COLCHESTER, England — Michael Landy is a British artist ideal-recognised for a project in which he systematically inventoried all 7,227 of his personal belongings. Then systematically destroyed them.
This yr is the 20th anniversary of that installation-cum-effectiveness, “Crack Down,” which introduced Landy global fame as “The Man Who Ruined Every little thing.” It is not generally that conceptual performs of art that no lengthier bodily exist are nevertheless currently being talked about two decades afterwards.
But a show to celebrate the 20th anniversary of “Break Down,” as properly as a new installation by Landy, on exhibit at Firstsite, a gallery in southern England, display the artist is however a prescient critic of consumerism. The exhibition, identified as “Michael Landy’s Welcome to Essex” immediately after the county surrounding the gallery where the artist grew up, operates via Sept. 5.
“It’s a great time for his function to get new publicity,” claimed Julian Stallabrass, a professor of present day and modern day artwork at the Courtauld Institute in London, and creator of “High Artwork Lite: The Rise and Tumble of Younger British Artwork.”
“Michael was, I believe, generally one particular of the most fascinating artists of the Y.B.A. grouping,” reported Stallabrass, referring to the generation of Youthful British Artists that energized the modern artwork scene in the 1990s and early 2000s. “Not just simply because of his anti-industrial stance — or fairly that his do the job was normally about commerce and its penalties — but since of his very long reflection on social class.”
“Break Down” was developed by the London-dependent nonprofit ArtAngel in a disused section shop on Oxford Street, then Europe’s busiest searching district. There, Landy spent two weeks in demand of an elaborate recycling facility repurposed to split down, pulp and granulate anything he owned, which includes the complete archive of his artworks, his history collection and his Saab 900 Turbo.
At the conclusion of the approach, witnessed by about 50,000 visitors, he was still left with six tons of bagged-up squander. It was buried in a landfill internet site in Essex, in which substantially of London’s garbage is dumped.
“Consumerism has turn into the No. 1 ideology of our time,” Landy, 58, explained on a latest tour of the anniversary exhibition. “We finish up with all this things,” he added. “I needed to consider that aside.”
Like Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry and other Y.B.A.s, Landy arrived from a doing the job-course history. He examined at the prestigious Goldsmiths artwork university in London in the late 1980s, at a time ahead of the introduction of tuition charges for bigger instruction commenced dissuading a lot of students from decrease-income family members.
Not like Hirst, Emin and Perry, whose imposingly priced works have often featured at global art fairs and auctions, Landy has in no way courted commercial achievement. The maximum price paid out for his operates at auction stays $36,000, supplied in 2002 for his sculpture “Costermonger’s Stall.”
But in 1997, the Tate Gallery obtained his “Scrapheap Companies,” a place-measurement installation in which a fictional “people-cleansing” organization sweeps up human-formed refuse and passes it through a shredding equipment. The work’s sale gave Landy a measure of monetary safety.
“It was the very first time that, materially talking, I was forward in my lifetime,” explained Landy, who celebrated his results by getting a Savile Row accommodate and the Saab that would grow to be element of “Break Down.”
But doubts established in. “Is that what I strove to do? I have got a Saab car or truck and a Richard James accommodate. What does that all imply?” Landy recalled asking himself. “The thought popped into my head that I need to ruin all my worldly belongings.”
ArtAngel experienced presently introduced to lifetime acclaimed art initiatives like Rachel Whiteread’s “House” (1993) and Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster 4” (1994), and Landy mentioned that collaborating with its co-director James Lingwood was important to building “Break Down” come about. It took three decades of organizing. Listing his possessions took an complete yr.
“Oxford Road was the missing component,” stated Landy, recalling the vacant C&A shop that he employed to wipe out all his possessions. “It’s in which folks come to consume points, the latest items.”
“People were being offended, folks had been bemused. They had been being supplied heaps of buyer selection, but this was mine,” he included. “I felt I was witnessing my individual demise.”
Landy and ArtAngel agreed that none of it would grow to be items. “It was about a full erasure of possessions from his everyday living,” Lingwood claimed. The artist was likely back to remaining another person who owned practically nothing and had some credit card debt.
“He experienced a roof in excess of his head. We bought him some clothing. Probably a pal of his gave him some cash. He went household to Gillian,” included Lingwood, referring to the artist Gillian Donning, who is now Landy’s wife.
Most likely unsurprisingly, Landy manufactured no art for a 12 months immediately after “Break Down.”
Then, in 2002, he returned to drawing, the medium that had engrossed him as a little one. He manufactured a collection of 12 painstakingly observed etchings of weeds, of “little things that increase in cracks in the avenue,” for Paragon Press, a specialist publisher of prints.
“It’s an allegory for rebirth,” stated Charles Booth-Clibborn, the publisher’s founder, describing Landy’s “Nourishment” etchings. “They have been like portraits of Londoners,” he additional. “These vegetation exist in city environments where by it’s difficult for plants to survive. But they do thrive, and he celebrated them.”
In modern decades, Landy has returned to significant-scale installations. In 2010, he designed a giant metal and Perspex trash can for failed works of art at the South London Gallery. And in 2018, in the aftermath of what he saw as Britain’s self-damaging vote to depart the European Union, he established up “Open for Business,” a “Brexit kiosk” offering “100 p.c British products” this sort of as Union Jack-embellished mugs and condoms at the inaugural Riga Biennial in Latvia.
Landy’s native Essex included two of Britain’s 5 districts with the highest votes for Brexit in the 2016 referendum. Ever given that the Thatcherite 1980s, when the county became a bastion of doing work-class Conservatism, it has fallen target in British well-known culture to derogatory “Essex Man” and “Essex Girl” caricatures, depicting its inhabitants as brash, uneducated and materialistic.
In addition to seeking back again to “Break Down” in Colchester, Landy is investigating these stereotypes in a 3-space set up about Essex, a location that the artist costs as “England’s Most Misunderstood County.”
The demonstrate includes aerial footage of area garbage dumps, banners with Essex-themed tabloid headlines, and trash-stuffed dumpsters piled with Tv sets displaying interviews and comedies that function Essex. It has divided nearby guests to the gallery in Colchester, the historic college city that was as soon as the money of Roman Britain.
Stephen Callely, 60, a retired teacher, was not impressed. “It does not problem us. We can snigger at it,” he claimed soon after browsing the exhibition this month.
Nonetheless Stella Clarke, 9, was intrigued the “Break Down” exhibit, notably a wall that reproduced a area from Landy’s inventory of belongings, this kind of as “C542: Sainsbury’s solitary blue cotton/polyester sock.”.
“It was a really peculiar detail he did,” stated Clarke. “Maybe he was expressing he did not need all this stuff.”
Landy, also, was fascinated by artwork as a boy or girl. At 15, he had a scratchboard work bundled in an episode of “Vision On,” an educational BBC Tv demonstrate in which little ones had been invited to ship in paintings and drawings. Still when he questioned for the piece again, the BBC knowledgeable him it could not be returned.
“They always ruined the operate,” Landy mentioned. “That was the beginning.”