Death and Materialism

Market-wrought consumerism is considered an effective salve to distract one from the irreversible truth of eventual oblivion in death. The rush of acquiring, the complacency of having, and the apathy of discarding are all emotional stages of materialism that account for the ebb and flow of objects we keep in our care. But how do we deal emotionally not with the discarding of objects in the course of our life, but in the permanence of them in the face of our own demise?

In many western societies, a Will is a legally binding document that partitions one’s goods and assets for division upon those who succeed the deceased. In this instance, the deceased holds onto their possessions until several weeks after death. What usually ensues is a string of lawsuits from materialistic heirs claiming a larger portion of the deceased’s possessions than what was originally intended. The heirs win or lose against each other, and all will spend a substantial amount of money on the entire process, which in turn eclipses any genuine mourning or sense of loss experienced by the descendants.

Another, more philanthropic route, is for the soon-to-be-deceased to partition their own possessions while they remain. This is often the case seen in terminal illness or suicide; it assures the heirs will be able to enjoy their inheritance at the behest of the soon-to-be-deceased, but also that they will be able to experience mourning free from greed or materialism post-death.

In Miss Baik’s “LET GO(간다)” this more charitable route was explored in an exhibition that was part performance and part installation. In it, the artist displayed the overwhelming majority of her possessions (only not including those absolute essentials for her to continue to exist in her present life) alongside projections of views of the entirety of the objects. Viewers, strangers and friends alike, were then welcome to inquire about the objects or to take them freely as their own.

Despite not facing her own death (thankfully) Miss Baik says she has always been fascinated by the dead’s non-ability to take anything with them, including themselves, into the afterlife. This idea of letting go of not only social identifiers found in consumerism but also the physical self was so taken by the artist that she has donated blood from a very early age and is signed on to be an organ donor. In the face of her own death, there is nothing she wishes to keep behind, unless it would serve someone else’s greater purpose. Reflecting on these ideas, the artist’s conclusion is the actual lack of concrete ownership of anything and everything, since life itself is fleeting and ephemeral.

In a global material-based society, the shedding of oneself through the discarding of personal possessions is indeed a courageous and almost anarchic gesture. In a single display, Miss Baik has showed us that we are only really defined, and kept, by our experiences and memories. Admittedly, the artist herself did have some personal qualms with really letting everything go, and goes on to say you can really only truly let go when you are dead.

Meanwhile, the objects themselves have went on to lead another life in the hands of others. Those of Miss Baik’s possessions that were taken by viewers, may have ended that singular existence as “her thing” but have went on to live new lives as others’ possessions. Those viewers have even sent the artist photo-documentation of their new possessions’ new roles. 

Through this exhibition, the artist has died and been reborn into a more sustainable self-defined public identity, and as viewers we were invited to take part in her rebirth.

 Miss Baik at her exhibition

Miss Baik at her exhibition

If you'd like to find out more about Miss Baik you can check here