15 Years Later Break Down Reminds Us of Consumerism

It’s hard to forget the 2001 live art performance of Michael Landy. He famously destroyed everything he owned in his work entitled Break Down. Today, he is looking at his career in retrospect at a new exhibit, Out of Order. Despite years of work, Break Down is still at the forefront of minds today as modern culture encourages people to fill their buckets with material goods and wealth.

Landy’s work is still as relevant today as it was 15 years ago. Consumerism has only continued to grow. Part of his most recent exhibit is a printed list of all 7,227 items that he systematically destroyed, shredded, or smashed with the help of a dozen assistants.

People’s responses in 2001 were mixed at best. It’s hailed as a standout achievement amongst British artists today, yet it poses a disturbing reminder of the love of material things. It wasn’t just cookware and clothing that Landy destroyed.

He ripped up love letters, family photos, and even his father’s sheepskin coat. In 2001, visitors to the exhibit found themselves thinking of their own connections to their possessions. It was disturbing for many to see items destroyed that connected Landy to his past and should have elicited sentimental value.

This work puts an uncomfortable, yet important, focus on the relationship between people and their possessions. It is a stark reminder that all of our possessions are only a representation of our relationships with others. In reality, our connection to the past, present, and future is not destroyed when our possessions are absent.