The ten thousand things

As beautiful as a new refrigerator it won’t ever get again. Not in my house anyway. Could life itself be as clean, as simple, as clear as the first day you start using the new refrigerator. You wipe the migrating pot of gherkins with a wet cloth and place it reverently inside the door with its label forwards. Right, and now keep it up every day and defreeze it monthly and vacuum clean the back like the manual says.

Once in a while, about twice a year, one has to tidy up. A compulsion to clean takes hold of me and all of a sudden my legs are wobbling because I’ve been cleaning the grout joints behind the washing machine for hours. This is the moment someone could sell me a colon cleanse. Everything lovely and clean, even in the invisible spaces, especially in the nooks and crannies where you don’t look. I wish to live in the knowledge that everything, everywhere, is pristinely clean. In the end of such a (dare I blame my hormones?) ruined day it is clearer than ever that this is a never-ending and hopeless project.

I am not the only one with the desire to have a clean, simple, easy to keep up life. Search for “simplify” at and 2.527 books are the result. Quite often these self-help books call upon the help of God to make the right choices and schedules. Even though He doesn’t appear to have such a great talent for tidying up and simplifying. After all, He made an enormous amount of clutter in just six days, and used the seventh to rest. God did not spent his Sunday evening with a spreadsheet and a calendar, trying to divide the essential elements from the useless frippery. He saw that it was good. But He doesn’t have to live in the middle of it all, and also, He couldn’t foresee that us people would add so many things. Like pre-sliced pineapple in a plastic tray with a little plastic fork, and self-evolving new species like the phone charger.

The exhibition of Michael E. Smith at the Appel Arts Centre seems the result of a fanatic clear out by someone without any sense of esthetics. Someone who has read a self-help book on decluttering and has got it all wrong. Who thinks: so all the things I never ever use and don’t even remember what they are for, and that ugly itchy sweater, those I keep. All other things have to be thrown out. Present what’s left in an empty space, with the lights turned off. Right, that clears things up.

When I think an artist didn’t understand a self-help book, it must be me that doesn’t understand the art. So I read the informative flyer (no notices with titles available). “He creates empty urban locations of sorts, with a few surprising remnants of human presence.” I do not feel as if I’m in an urban environment. I’m clearly in a museum. But say, for the fun of it, that this museum is standing in a post-apocalyptic world. Is then the message of this post-apocalyptic museum “everything once valuable has lost its function and shine. We are just mucking about. These worthless objects are just lying here.”? If that were the message, the few nicely presented works, like a piece of lacquered coat, and three pallet jacks on a marble floor, undermine that message.

But if the message of the post-apocalyptic museum was: “everything is lost, all we have left are these very rare and valuable objects to link us to the past”, then the works that are purposefully presented in a corner or against some air grate don’t fit in.

michael-e-smith-2Something else mentioned in the leaflet: “Smith’s work is redolent of mortality and transience, but at the same time always has an undertone of (dark) humour.” I think I detect this humour in a work consisting of two vertical bars with a pair of “dropped shorts”. Dropping your shorts is slapstick. Clothes can easily be used to refer to the human body. Cloth is soft and has an organic quality, like flesh. In the works of Michael E. Smith they are combined with industrial objects and can in that sense refer to the connection between man and machine, man and waste, man and the monster it has created. But this also doesn’t work so well in this exhibition. Because the clothes he has chosen are so ugly and synthetic that it falls more in the category of waste than that we would associate it with our own body.

So, we get out of this inconsequential exhibition feeling confused and depressed. But we have consumed an experience instead of buying a new thing, or inventing one. And that is truly good of us.

Want to see the exhibition for yourself? Be quick, only till 08-30-2015


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