Helen: Exactly how much stuff do we consume in a lifetime?

Currently showing at the Barbican is an installation by Chinese conceptual artist Song Dong entitled “Waste Not” consisting of over 10,000 household possessions collected by his late mother Zhao Xiang Yuan over five decades. Somewhat disturbingly, critics’ reviews tend to centre on family, grief and memory, and even issues around compulsive hoarding, rather than using this as an opportunity to raise wider – more pertinent – questions about our ‘stuff’ culture.
Our ‘stuff’ stories are hard to visualise. Moving house provides a snapshot of our stuff at a given point in time. But what about all the stuff that has gone before: stuff that has worn out or broken, or that we discarded because it wasn’t fit-for-purpose or because our needs changed. Most of us put our rubbish out once a week; it is easy to forget about the stuff we buy and consume, and the waste we generate when it is gone. What I love about the concept of this installation is that it enables us to confront and comprehend our culture-of-excess through the reality of a lifetime of waste.
What is deeply disturbing is that this mountain of stuff is simply the output of one (frugal) individual. Multiplied by the global population, which surpassed 7 billion on 12 March 2012 according to the United States Census Bureau, you have to wonder for how long our environment can sustain this level of impact.
Waste Not is showing in The Curve gallery at the Barbican from 15 February – 12 June 2012. Free entry. Opening times: Daily 11am-8pm. Open late every Thursday 11am-10pm.