I recently watched the documentary “The Artist is Present”, which takes a look at the performance art of Marina Abromovic – specifically, her exhibit at MoMA in 2010. Known as the “grandmother of performance art”, her work has been as varied as it is visceral. While fascinating, inspirational, and weirdly emotional in a way I’m not ready to talk about yet (i.e., YOU’RE NOT MY MOM), I think my favourite part of the documentary was when Marina and Ulay broke up.
Not that break-ups are especially delightful or amusing (if we’re being honest, they’re usually both of these things, but for the purposes of this post we’ll say they’re wholly terrible experiences), but I really loved seeing this incredibly mature person, who had lived in near-poverty for decades, suddenly indulge in crazy-expensive clothes and spa treatments. Marina is probably one of the least materialistic people in the world, but dropping all that cash on things that made her feel pretty seemed to help distract her from minor things that were weighing on her (i.e., her appearance), so that her mind was free to focus on more demanding and necessary challenges (i.e., her work, her personal life, and her mental health).
This idea was really interesting to me, since I’ve always bought into the Jerry Seinfeld school of thought, in that “clothing is a tremendous pain in the ass”. It takes so much time and effort to shop, clean, and sort these stupid possessions, that using them as any sort of release would seemingly be giving them even more power than they already have. Before you know it, your clothes are strangling you. Come to think of it…turtlenecks.
But forgetting the owning for a second, what about shopping itself? I’ve seen enough spoiled teenage girls pulling their mothers around stores, choosing the latest fringe/fur-lined fad outfit, and as we speak there are rows of spa-fiends who are getting their weekly pedicure on feet that will only touch Loubitins. But the act of shopping has become such a large part of our society, that it’s hard to dismiss it entirely. People shop with friends, for friends, for family, for themselves, with family, with people they sort of know, for people they sort of know even less. And, worst of all, it all seems pretty enjoyable. At the end of the day, there’s something to be said for indulgence as a way of promoting mental health. After all, Maslow put esteem just one rung below self-actualization on that ol’ ladder of his. If we find mental comfort in the act of shopping and searching and hunting, how bad can treating yo‘ self actually be?
Haruki Murakami wrote a book called “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”, which is a beautiful, autobiographical account of his life as both a writer and a runner. For the entire book, Murakami only really talks about these two passions – writing and running – and how they have captured and defined his life year after year, in country after country. But then, oddly enough, near the end of the book, he starts talking about this record collection he’s also been building, and how searching for and selling LPs has also been a calming and consistent pass time which has resulted in a collection of which he is quite proud. Here is another dynamic, intelligent human who has spent a large amount of his life hunting through stores around the world – and who would likely define the quest for said records as more valuable than the actual records themselves.
When it comes to shopping, the line between obsession and catharsis is arguably pretty thin – but also very distinct. Malls and shops have become the new churches: you go in burdened by who you are and what you’re facing, and you leave feeling reassured that everything is going to be okay. That transformation is between you and whatever trinket, bauble, album or article of clothing helps your rediscover yourself.
Just promise you won’t sell yourself short.